Idaho small businesses could get some help from the state as they poise to reopen under Gov. Brad Little’s Rebound Idaho plan. Little is using $300 million in federal dollars to issue grants to qualifying companies.
He announced the move Thursday as he said “90%” of businesses would be allowed to reopen the next day under his initiative.
Grants of up to $10,000 will be awarded to businesses who have not received other federal grants through the Paycheck Protection Program. Those that were awarded less than $10,000 through the federal program would also be eligible for this state grant. Other eligibility requirements will be finalized at 9 a.m. May 5.
“No other state in the country is putting up a larger amount from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to help small businesses with cash support,” Little said in a press conference.
Idaho will receive $1.25 billion in federal aid for its coronavirus response, though further cash assistance from Congress could be possible.
The governor’s stay-at-home order has officially been rescinded, but replaced by another order to enforce the restrictions laid out in Phase 1 of his reopening plan.
The order still bans certain businesses from opening, like bars, dine-in restaurants, gyms and large venues, among others. It lasts indefinitely until amended or repealed by Little and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.
Violation of the order is still a misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The four-phase plan slowly lifts restrictions for certain businesses every two weeks if certain targets are met. Those include a drop or generally low levels of confirmed coronavirus cases, few people being admitted to the emergency room with COVID-19-like symptoms and high health care capacity to treat a potential spike.
If all of those criteria are met, nearly every restriction on Idaho businesses would be dropped by June 13, though large venues would still have some physical distancing requirements.
“Everyone must do their part to ensure we can progress to stage two by wearing face coverings in public places, washing their hands frequently and following the other guidelines for all stages,” Little said.
But the state must develop strategies for testing and contact tracing – things that officials have previously struggled with in the past.
“Those plans are still in varying stages of progress and likely won’t be published by Friday,” Niki Forbing-Orr, a spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said Wednesday.
Still, Little said that doesn’t give him pause as the state begins to relax these restrictions.
“I’m confident that we’ve exceeded our hurdles for Stage 1,” Little said.
“While testing and contact tracing are great tools, the best tool we have in our toolbox is the people of Idaho” by continuing to socially distance themselves from one another Jeppesen said.
The state is also increasing funding for regional public health districts to hire new people or buy new equipment to help with these initiatives.
Though the state is relying on individuals to keep their exposure to others in check, local governments have been reluctant to enforce the order.
The City of Boise’s legal staff told its police force to not cite or arrest anyone and refer them to the state health department, which has no ability to enforce the governor’s order.
Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling last week said that she isn’t going to prioritize the enforcement of the order. Instead, Kling said she was encouraging businesses in Idaho’s third largest city to follow the governor’s directives.
“We are not going to go in and shut them down,” she told Boise State Public Radio. “But what we are going to do is ensure that they are following the health safety guidelines.”
In a statement, Kling said “as a last resort, officers who find businesses or citizens in violation and blatantly and unapologetically violating the health district directives may, if necessary, issue a citation.”
Little said that the state does need the help of local governments in these efforts and that he hopes residents will recognize that “this is the right thing to do.”
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