The state of Arkansas on Friday announced a $50 million grant program aimed at helping the state's hospitality industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a news release Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the grant "will help businesses that were disrupted by the precautions necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19."
Under the program, approved by the Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday morning, Arkansas businesses in the personal care, tourism, travel, recreation and hospitality industries will be able to apply for "business interruption" grants of up to $250,000 from Nov. 16-25.
The money will come from the state's share of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism; the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; and the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration will oversee the program.
"We have heard the businesses in the hospitality and personal care industries who continue to be impacted by this pandemic and desperately need help to continue to operate and to do so safely," Stacy Hurst, secretary of the parks department, said in a news release. "With the help of AEDC and DFA, I think we have developed an excellent program that will provide the most help we can give where it is most sorely needed."
The program is aimed at businesses of 250 or fewer full-time employees. The departments said grants will be awarded on a prorated basis depending on the total number of applicants and the amount of reimbursement requested. They expect to award them in December.
The grant program comes as businesses in the hospitality industry have grown frustrated by the lack of further federal aid and persistent COVID-19-related restrictions that include capacity restrictions at restaurants and entertainment venues.
"We're trying to get funding anywhere we can," Montine McNulty, CEO of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, told Arkansas Business last month. "The industry is in real need. … The hotels have a huge financial hurdle to get over. It will not be solved with a small grant program. They're going to need some major help."
Tourism is Arkansas' No. 2 industry and employs more than 100,000 people.
Earlier this year, the state Department Commerce issued $115 million in grants under a program called "Arkansas Ready for Business." The program was broader in scope than the one announced Friday, aimed at a larger swath of Arkansas businesses, which could receive up to $100,000 and use the money to buy personal protective equipment, no-contact thermometers, no-contact point-of-sale payment equipment, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer stations.