Gov. Bill Lee sends $44 million of federal cash relief to business owners — after axing federal aid for laid-off workers

Sen. Heidi Campbell calls decision ‘an immoral double standard’

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Lee’s plan to distribute $44 million worth of new federal assistance to business owners employs an “immoral double standard” between companies and people who were laid off during the pandemic, says Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville).

The cash windfall for these businesses comes just weeks after Lee said he was opting the state out of federal assistance for Tennesseans who qualified for unemployment after being laid off.

On Wednesday, Gov. Lee announced a state proposal to increase federal assistance to businesses by $44 million. By Lee’s numbers, the average payment to business owners will be $39,111.

In Gov. Lee’s mind, $300 a week of federal assistance for a parent who lost their job is bad, but millions worth of federal assistance for business owners is good,” Sen. Campbell said. “That’s an immoral double standard.”

Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville)

Under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program included in Congress’ CARES Act, out-of-work Americans are eligible to receive an additional $300 a week with their state jobless benefits.

Gov. Lee will begin rejecting those federal dollars for the unemployed starting June 30.

But, under Lee’s new recommendation, 1,125 business owners in Tennessee will soon see a fresh round of federal cash payments totaling $44.6 million.

“No one is arguing that these business owners are unworthy of assistance. Just like no one should be arguing that people who lost their job through no fault of their own are unworthy of support,” Sen. Campbell said. “Tennesseans shouldn’t have to own a company to get respect and fairness from the governor’s office.”

The Lee administration will distribute the new round of federal funding to business owners through the Supplemental Employer Recovery Grant Program. The program, also known as SERG, was announced in October 2020 to provide direct payments to business owners capped at $30,000 for eligible expenses or costs. The Lee administration says $73 million has been distributed to 3,243 businesses so far.

Under Lee’s enhancement, a third of the business owners who qualified previously will receive $44.6 million more — with an average cash payment of $39,111.

“It’s an insult to families,” Sen. Campbell said. “People are going to suffer because of the governor’s cuts to unemployment, while struggling business owners are getting another, even bigger bailout.”

This slide from a presentation to the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group details Gov. Bill Lee’s plan to distribute an additional $44.6 million to Tennessee businesses just weeks after he opted out of federal assistance for people who lost a job.

Lee presented his plan Wednesday to members of the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group, a panel appointed by the governor to assist in overseeing the distribution of federal funds.

Lee’s cash enhancement for businesses draws federal dollars from Tennessee’s $2.4 billion share of the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which provided money to the states to respond to the pandemic.

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