CHEYENNE — During the current Wyoming Legislative session — the first to take place in midst of a pandemic that forced businesses to close temporarily and caused unexpected economic hardship — legislators are focusing on supporting Wyoming’s businesses.

Below is a brief summary of some business-focused bills that could bring much needed funds and support to Wyoming businesses.

 

HB 9 — Short time compensation program

Sponsor: Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee

Status: Introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Minerals Committee Jan. 29.

What it does: The bill would set up something commonly known as a short time compensation, or worksharing, program within the Department of Workforce Services. A short time compensation program would serve as an alternative to layoffs for employers experiencing a reduction in business related to COVID-19. The program allows employers to keep employees on staff while reducing their hours. At the same time, it allows employees facing a reduction in wages to collect a percentage of their unemployment compensation benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages.

How it impacts local businesses: Many on the minerals committee see this as a win-win for both government and business. With a worksharing program, participating employers will be able to keep their employees on staff — albeit at more limited hours — and avoid the burden of needing to fire, and eventually rehire, quality workers.

The state benefits because they do not have to pay out a worker’s full unemployment benefits. Even better, provisions in the federal coronavirus relief bill include an appropriation to completely reimburse all short-term compensation programs, so it comes at no cost to the state.

Sound bite: “The benefit as I see it, and this is me speaking more as an employer than a legislator, is that I get to keep my employees,” Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland said during a Jan. 20 minerals committee meeting. “I get to keep the people I trained, the people that know our business, and they can continue to work… At least in the short term — a two, three, four, five month window — it is a great opportunity for me to maintain and keep my most valuable resource, which is my employees.”

 

HB 10 —  COVID-19 large business relief program

Sponsor: Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee

Status: Introduced in the House and referred to the House Minerals Committee  Jan. 12.

What it does: The bill reappropriates $10 million of federal CARES Act funds to the Wyoming Business Council to provide funding for grants for large businesses — defined as those that paid more than $1 million in taxes and $10 million in gross payroll and employed more than 100 employees —  impacted by COVID-19.

How it impacts local businesses: Although large businesses haven’t been affected by the pandemic as noticeably as smaller businesses, they have still taken a hit, according to Rep. Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins. Supporting those businesses, in addition to smaller operations, helps ensure the long term stability of the state’s economy. Burkhart estimates roughly 40 businesses across the state would qualify for the grant funding.

Sound bite: “Those larger companies have kept a lot of our communities going,” Burkhart said during a Jan. 20 House Minerals Committee meeting. “They’ve kept their people employed out of their own pocket, while some of them have lost up to 40% of their production and their income. Those employees who kept working were able to get takeout from local restaurants, keep local businesses going, make purchases and really bolstered our communities in which they’re located. So the bill recognizes that and offers some relief in a small amount to those companies that meet the criteria.”

 

SF 50 — COVID-19 business relief programs agriculture

Sponsor: Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee

Status: Passed on third reading in the Senate Feb. 1.

What it is: A bill that reappropriates $80 million of federal CARES Act funds to the Wyoming Business Council to provide funding for grants for agricultural businesses impacted by COVID-19 through the end of 2021.

How it impacts local businesses: Agricultural businesses, unlike many other businesses, weren’t necessarily able to document lost revenue during the distribution of COVID-19 relief grants last year as many had not yet sold their products, said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander. But this bill acknowledges those businesses have indeed been impacted, due to a decline in prices and demand, and are in need of government assistance.

Sound bite: “As I recall the discussion from this bill, it related to that fact that our friends in agriculture weren’t necessarily able to show a monetary loss in the sense there were no sales in their businesses,” Case said on Feb. 1. “Even though the value, say of cattle, fell tremendously, they weren’t able to bring that forward and receive funding before. This bill is an attempt to kind of correct that and say ‘No, you really did have a loss’ … even though they kind of failed the strict test that was imposed before, which had to do with revenues.”

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