Small business grant program to begin in July, but details raising eyebrows

New details surrounding small business grant program show potential conflict of interest

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Louisiana Treasurer John Schroder says businesses will be able to apply in July for their share of the $300 million Main Street Recovery program that lawmakers approved during the regular legislative session.

Shops with 50 or fewer employees will be able to apply for a grant worth up to $15,000 to cover coronavirus expenses that the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) did not. Forty million dollars of the program is set aside for minority and veteran-owned businesses.

“If we get those businesses back up and going, that makes all the difference in the world to our constituents and to the state,” House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, said.

Schroder estimates roughly 450,000 businesses would be eligible.

Louisiana lawmakers essentially borrowed the idea from Mississippi. The plan uses federal coronavirus aid that would have otherwise gone to local governments to reimburse pandemic expenses, though it’s not clear whether local entities need the $300 million because they will still get a large chunk of Louisiana’s $1.8 billion appropriation from Congress.

“When we come back in the fall and [estimate state tax revenue], we want to know that our economy came back faster and stronger because of this program,” Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said.

Lawmakers gave Schroder control of the program, arguing its work resembles the treasurer’s efforts to return unclaimed property to Louisianans. That decision was a sticking point for others at the capitol, who questioned why Louisiana Economic Development (LED) was not selected to handle the business grants.

Schroder says he intends to farm out Main Street Recovery’s day-to-day operations and management to consultants. The law allows him to spend up to $15 million on administration.

Lobbyist, Jason Decuir, and former lawmaker, Joel Robideaux, who pushed lawmakers to adopt the idea from their positions on the state’s economic recovery task force, are among the applicants to manage the work.

Lawmakers, including the House’s second-ranked Republican, Houma Rep. Tanner Magee, say it would be inappropriate for Decuir and Robideaux to bid and cash in on the work since they helped to design the program.

A spokesperson for Decuir did not return WAFB’s request for comment. Robideaux’s spokesperson directed questions to the treasurer’s office since the bidding process is already underway.

“I don’t mind spending money, as long as it’s wise,” Schroder said, referencing the $15 million allotment for administrative costs that could be awarded to the program manager. “As long as it’s spent in a way that’s transparent and accountable, we will do what we have to do.”

Robideaux told the Baton Rouge Business Report he and Decuir have experience managing similar programs and dismissed concerns about a potential conflict of interest.

“I think all the applicants are connected somehow,” he said. “But I know they got a lot of good applicants and I’m confident the selection process is going to be above board.”

Here is the list of respondents. The Treasurer will have no comment on the selection process until it is completed. The treasurer’s office says they are are in the process of redacting the proposals to remove proprietary information.

  • Advantage Capital Management Corporation
  • Cabildo Strategy Services LLC and Focus Strategies Louisiana LLC
  • Jason Decuir and Joel Robideaux
  • Deloitte Consulting LLP
  • Hammerman & Gainer LLC
  • MLCworks
  • NewCorp Inc.
  • OpenGov
  • Postlethwaite & Netterville

Schroder says he’ll select a consultant by July 4.

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