(AP file photo) House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, bottom center, leads the Utah Legislature in a special session in June. Lawmakers on Thursday changed several federal programs for COVID-19 money in hopes of paying more money to tenants, businesses, artists and other beneficiaries before the Dec. 31 deadline to spend it .

Vast sums of COVID-19 relief dollars have already flowed to help Utah businesses, farmers, displaced workers and nonprofit groups – but millions more are still on the government’s books .

State lawmakers voted on Thursday to change their rules again for this mountain of money sent to the state under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, claiming that they wanted to make spending easier, especially before unused funds expire at the end of the year.

SB6009 also extended a forgivable loan program to Utah’s oil, gas and mining companies while rejecting a proposal to provide the same help to companies in the renewable energy sector, leading a Democrat to accuse his colleagues of “choosing winners ”.

Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem and the bill’s main sponsor, also included key language affecting the Utah deportation process as part of an aid overhaul. to the rental supported by CARES who had warned housing advocates that this could harm some tenants.

The bill won unanimous approval in the Senate and a split vote in the House, with 13 Democrats voting against. The measure is now heading to Governor Gary Herbert for his consideration.

Hemmert told colleagues in the Senate that some aid programs they created in previous emergency sessions had seen their budgets depleted quickly, including those that helped nonprofits and heritage and community groups. arts, retraining of laid-off workers and a shopping promotion program called Shop in Utah.

But money for loans to farmers, rent assistance to individual tenants and businesses, and a program to help small employers buy protective gear such as masks and hand sanitizer were still on the table. , Hemmert said.

“We’re trying to make this money very easy to get out,” Hemmert said at one point. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said that amounted toput more money where it can be effective and move money to help those who need it. “

The SB6009 removes some caps and other limits on grants and loans, shifts money from underutilized programs to more in demand ones, and gives state officials overseeing spending more flexibility in how they distribute the money among the programs – in some cases without having to seek the authorization of the legislator.

He also created a brand new $ 5 million grant program for oil, gas and mining companies, an industry that Spendlove says “has had a huge impact because of the coronavirus.”

By in a vote cast both online and in the House chamber, members defeated an attempt by Representative Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, to add renewable energy companies to those eligible for loans from the program after a Republican colleague complained that these companies do not pay the state separation tax on minerals.

Hemmert said the general intention of SB6009 is also to direct more funds across the board to small businesses in Utah.

SB6009 lowers the standard for farms to prove they have been financially harmed by COVID-19 to receive loans. Commercial tenants can apply for rent assistance, but use it to make mortgage payments. New startups can also apply for rental assistance under the invoice. Rules for obtaining money to purchase protective equipment are relaxed, as are those for nonprofits with smaller budgets to apply for grants.

A $ 20 million program previously set aside with CARES money to help troubled tenants is being adjusted to allow landlords to apply on their behalf, but only if those landlords guarantee they won’t. ‘will not evict tenants.

“The goal of this program is that there will be no evictions for non-payment of rent until the end of the year, when all that money has to be spent,” Hemmert said of the $ 20 million rent assistance program, noting that Only About $ 600,000 of those funds set aside in June have been used so far.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that people can stay in their homes,” he said.

Rep. Sandra Hollins and Senator Luz Escamilla, both in D-Salt Lake City, requested some sort of notice from tenants when landlords demanded payment of their past due rents. “There are a lot of sometimes predatory practices,” Escamilla warned, although she did not seek to change the bill.

Earlier Thursday, housing advocates said a separate part of SB6009 limited the application of the CARES law to certain tenants, threatening to escalate a potential crisis with evictions. A first legal review released by the Utah Housing Coalition said the changes could “leave thousands homeless and deeply in debt.”

But Hemmert said the provision instead sought to clarify that a 30-day federal eviction moratorium for those who are behind on their rent and living on certain government properties does not affect the state’s process for issuing payment or release notices for other reasons.

“The goal is that there will be no more evictions for lack of payment,” said the senator. “There may be evictions for other reasons, but lack of payment shouldn’t be a problem because everyone should be able to access this money.”

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