We Need Targeted Assistance for Neighborhood Businesses
A gym owner. The owner of a music venue. A hairdresser. Call after call, I hear it in their voices. The tension between wanting to do the right thing for the safety and health of their community and seeing their years of personal investment disappear within days.
While we are all suffering from the impact of COVID-19, the economic impact is hitting some harder than others. As the state and federal governments respond, there should be elements of that response that are targeted toward those local businesses that are most directly and immediately impacted.
Things are particularly hard on local businesses that must remain closed during the early phases of recovery. Fitness facilities, entertainment venues, and personal care businesses all remain shuttered. Restaurants remain as carry-out only. These businesses will likely face significant health and safety restrictions as long as we have virus transmission.
While major corporations and chains operate some of these businesses, I am most concerned about the thousands of locally-owned businesses impacted by these restrictions. These are businesses with no shareholders or lines of credit to lean on, where all of the people affected – from the owner to the janitor – live in our community.
We know these people. They are our friends and neighbors. We rely on their services. We see how hard they work. We know they are not rich. Their businesses provide for their families, but with little margin for unforseen circumstances or the financial reserves to see them through this crisis.
To support the public good, these neighbors are trying their best to follow public health guidelines, and they’re thinking ahead about how to re-open safely.
But the bottom line is that they don’t know how long they can afford to stay closed. They’re trying to keep their staffs working as much as possible. And they still owe rent and have loans and mortgages to pay. They want financial assistance from wherever they can get it, but they are afraid they will never be able to pay back additional loans beyond what they already have. And the sad fact is that the federal response through the CARES Act has been confusing, unfair, and inadequate.
They want to know what the timeline will be for re-opening? What restrictions will they remain under? If they can only open at 20% capacity, or even 50% capacity, they will likely be out of business before the summer is over.
We need these businesses, not just for their economic impact, but because they strengthen our communities. We need places to dine, drink, and connect. Venues that help us reflect and heal through art. And the self-care of exercise and a good haircut. These businesses, owned by our friends and neighbors, are not only part of our community — they help to create it and will help to revive it.
When North Carolina legislators head back to our legislative session on May 18, I will strongly advocate that the next round of economic support for business should create a special category for those local businesses that have and will continue to face the financial consequences of safety and health restrictions until we are completely rid of the coronavirus. These business owners that carry the greatest burden for ensuring our health, wellbeing and safety should be compensated for their sacrifice.
Further, this assistance should be in the form of direct cash benefits, not just loans. Failure to adequately help these businesses meet their bottom-line needs will, at best, only prolong the time until their eventual failure. None of us want that.
There’s a restaurant owner from Hillsborough I talk with every week or so. He tells me what his challenges are and asks for things that would help. He’s thinking creatively and trying to find every possible path. He can imagine a future where he’s holding on. But underneath our business-like discussion, I can hear his fear.
His voice — and the voices of so many others I’ve spoken with — will be in my head as we return to Raleigh. I will make sure my colleagues understand the urgency of helping our local businesses. Because helping these businesses helps all of us. We have to do it and we have to do it now.
Graig Meyer is the State Representative for House District 50, covering portions of Orange and Caswell Counties. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the News of Orange and Caswell Messenger.