CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Thousands of business in Wyoming have received federal relief aid during the pandemic but records show some have now been asked to repay some or all of the money because of miscalculations and other reasons.
Wyoming Business Council data provided to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle through a public records request revealed that more than 200 businesses were asked to return relief aid after third-party audits. The Tribune Eagle reported that about $3.5 million was returned voluntarily and another $9.7 million was requested from the remaining 175 businesses.
The Wyoming Business Council is tasked with administering the state’s grant programs throughout the pandemic. CEO Josh Dorrell said the council requested returns because some businesses miscalculated their projected losses and others lacked a full understanding of the grant programs’ spending requirements.
Dorrell said in an interview last week that some businesses were not able to work with bankers or accountants, but even those that had professional assistance still missed some things.
“I think most of them were honest mistakes, but at the same time, they were mistakes,” Dorrell said.
The requested returns represent a small portion of the funding disbursed through the state’s three largest grant programs, officials said. About 3% of about $425 million distributed since the pandemic began last spring was the subject of either voluntary returns or requests for returns, according to state data.
Dorrell said 54 businesses paid back all of the money that was either used improperly or unspent by the end of the year deadline, while another 25 businesses submitted plans to repay the funds by June 30. He also said 34 businesses that had been sent invoices had not yet responded to the council’s request for repayment.
Frontier Trampoline Park, which opened in Cheyenne a month before the pandemic began, had to pay back the most money - about $231,000 of the maximum $300,000.
“We had to use this money to keep our doors open,” park co-owner Kat Jaber said, adding that it was partially her fault for not understanding the program’s rules but noting the process was not straightforward. She also said her business already paid back funds with the help of a bank.
“Unless you’re some sort of attorney, I don’t even know how anybody could ever understand that application and what any of the terms meant,” Jaber said. “Granted, I’m thankful that they had the opportunity to supply these grants for businesses. Essentially, it just floated us for a couple of months until we had to pay it back.”
Other businesses across the state have opted for a months-long repayment plan.
Among the businesses that were audited were “a number of cases of fraud identified,” Dorrell said, with some actions being pursued by federal agencies as well as a few counties to address those cases. Dorrell said he was unable to comment on any of the ongoing investigations.
The state is expected to use the returned money for other eligible expenses under the coronavirus relief package, which originally had a spending deadline of Dec. 30, 2020, that was extended through the end of 2021. Wyoming has already spent more than $1 billion, or about 93% of what was allotted to the state under the federal funding.
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