ST. THOMAS—During the afternoon portion of Thursday’s Finance meeting, the Committee took testimony on Bill No. 33-0410 an Act providing for the disbursement of monies to the Virgin Islands Economic Development Agency (EDA) to establish the Small Business Relief Grant Program and the COVID-19 Disaster Loan Program. The proposal is sponsored by Senators: Donna M. Frett-Gregory, Kurt Vialet, and Janelle Sarauw.
In his testimony, Wayne Biggs, Jr., Chief Executive Officer of the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority (“USVIEDA”), said The USVIEDA is in full support of the Bill. He pointed out that many businesses in the Territory were able to benefit from the federal assistance administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) through its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).
He informed the Committee that many small mom and pop businesses could not access these programs for various reasons and remain in need of financial assistance to remain viable. Economic Development Bank of the U.S. Virgin Islands (EDB) added Biggs, participated in the PPP, and issued 69 PPP loans throughout the Territory valued at $545,810 to qualified small businesses. A breakdown of loans made by the EDB by island and total value are as follows: St. Croix: 30 loans – $251,846; St. John: 8 loans – $51,240; St. Thomas: 31 loans – $242,724.
According to Biggs, the proposed legislation is timely, and that the grant and low-interest loan programs created by the proposed Bill will have a positive effect on the small business community and the economy of the Virgin Islands as a whole. He recommended several technical amendments that several senators agreed were necessary.
According to the Bill sponsors, Senators Vialet, Frett-Gregory, and Sarauw, the Bill specifically provides for the disbursement of monies to EDA to fund programs to establish the Small Business Relief Grant Program; authorizing the EDA giving grants not to exceed $10,000 to a small business that has been negatively impacted as a result of the shutdown imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Covid-19 Disaster Loan Program, and authorizing the EDA to give loans not to exceed $50,000 to businesses negatively impacted by the shutdown because of Covid-19.
The Bill also authorizes EDA to promulgate rules and regulations to administer the programs, and most importantly, report to the Legislature on the status of the programs not later than November 15, 2020, with a final report, due no later than 60 days after the December 31, 2020 deadline. COVID-19 CARES ACT funded this program.
Senators at Thursday’s Finance meeting were: Chairman Kurt Vialet, Donna Frett-Gregory, Allison DeGazon, Janelle Sarauw, Marvin Blyden Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle Francis Oakland Benta, Myron Jackson, Alicia Barnes, and Athneil “Bobby” Thomas.