Barry Ivey

Louisiana state Rep. Barry Ivey, a Baton Rouge Republican, speaks at a meeting of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee on Aug. 19, 2020

(The Center Square) – Louisiana legislators asked Monday if a program meant to help small-business owners with COVID-19-related expenses could be streamlined.

Lawmakers created the Main Street Recovery Grant Program with $275 million allocated through the federal CARES Act. Business owners could apply for the $15,000 grants starting July 28.

About $40 million had been spent as of Friday, said Nancy Keaton with the state treasurer’s office, which is overseeing the program.

“Every day, additional dollars go out,” she said.

Legislators acknowledged the need to try to avoid waste and fraud as much as possible. But they said they expected the money to get into peoples’ hands faster.

“It is concerning to me that we put this kind of money aside for small businesses and so little has been used,” said Rep. Barbara Frieberg, a Baton Rouge Republican.

Legislators said applicants are finding the application form too lengthy and complicated. Some business owners have said the federal Paycheck Protection Program was simpler.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said the application did not seem “difficult” to him. Eventually his office will audit the program, and it will need to line up with requirements laid out in the CARES Act. If not, the federal government may want to claw back some of the money.

Keaton said treasury officials will continue to evaluate the program and work with the auditor’s office on possible tweaks.

“It took a little while to stand up, but it looks like it’s starting to flow,” said Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.