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More coronavirus aid for North Dakota businesses clears 1st hurdle

More coronavirus aid for North Dakota businesses clears 1st hurdle

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The North Dakota Emergency Commission on Tuesday approved another $50 million in coronavirus aid for businesses through the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

The program still requires approval by the Legislature’s Budget Section, which next meets Sept. 17.

The money comes from the $1.25 billion the state received from the federal CARES Act economic rescue package. The bank has returned $120 million of unused funds to the Emergency Commission for reallocation, after administering previous loan relief programs that were overfunded.

The new program sets aside $50 million to provide $50,000 grants to pandemic-impacted businesses for loan interest rate relief, Prairie Public reported. The money would be administered through local banks.

“I know a number of you have talked to bankers, business owners, and have concluded that this program is going to have a lot of interest from a lot of companies,” Bank President and CEO Eric Hardmeyer told the commission, which is made up of the governor, secretary of state, House and Senate majority leaders and chairmen of the appropriations committees.

Hardmeyer last month presented the concept of loan interest relief for businesses hit by the pandemic, using unused CARES Act money. That proposal was shelved, with legislators on the commission not comfortable voting on a concept. They asked for more details before deciding on approval.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, on Tuesday said he would have preferred that the program begin at $25 or $30 million and be expanded if justified by demand.

“I don’t see any reason to have the $50 million setting there, when you can start it at $25 or $30 million," Delzer said.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, suggested the $50 million amount.

“No question that this is going to help get our businesses back on their feet, and get our economy going,” he said.

The vote was 4-2, with the opposition coming from Delzer and House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington.

If the Budget Section approves, applications are likely to be accepted in October, at which time they'll be reviewed and ranked, according to Gov. Doug Burgum.

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