By John Arensmeyer
February 5, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
America’s small-business community has been gutted. From shuttered storefronts on Main Streets around the country, countless jobs lost and a steep decline in consumer confidence and demand, the global public health crisis has pushed small businesses to their limit. Around the country, business owners are now carefully watching to see how President Joe Biden will put America’s public health and economy on track to recovery during his first few months in office.
In order to truly tackle the economic fallout from the pandemic, the new administration and Congress must recognize and address the disproportionate impact on small businesses owned by people of color and those in underserved communities that already faced systemic barriers to their success. Our most recent national survey revealed 1 in 5 Black and Latino-owned small businesses will not survive past the next few months (compared to 14 percent of white small-business owners), and even more may be forced to temporarily close and permanently lay off employees. Supporting our nation’s diverse entrepreneurs will be essential to getting our economy back on track, and we must prevent closures that are starting to become inevitable for entrepreneurs of color like Adriane Anderson, a Black small-business owner in Georgia.
In August 2019, Adriane opened Bless the Occasion — an event-planning service she spent five years building that she now fears is slipping away. Just as Adriane’s profits began to increase early last year the pandemic hit, triggering restrictions on social gatherings. She was forced to close for months, and Adriane’s revenue plummeted as a result. While she finally received a federal Emergency Injury Disaster Loan, what she was approved for wasn’t nearly enough to help her sustain her business. In the interim, Adriane has had to divert funds and go further into debt.
Unfortunately, Adriane’s story isn’t unique as she is one of many entrepreneurs, particularly entrepreneurs of color, who find themselves in need of a lifeline. This is why a small-business agenda for Biden’s first 100 days must be at the forefront of the administration’s policymaking to ensure the survival of America’s innovators and job creators.
The first step the administration can take to ensure economic recovery is prioritizing policies that will put money in the hands of struggling small businesses. While Congress passed an additional stimulus relief package that recently re-launched the Paycheck Protection Program, it is critical that the president work with congressional lawmakers on measures that will ensure entrepreneurs have access to the tools and resources needed to sustain their businesses for more than just a few weeks. This includes immediately implementing a grant program similar to the proposed SBA Lifeline Grant Program to ensure the smallest business have access to federal funding. President Biden has already proposed $15 billion in small business grants and $35 billion in low-interest loans, which is a great first step, and we urge the administration to propose allocating even more funds for a robust grants program.
Secondly, Biden has made it clear that his administration’s top priority is to get the pandemic under control, and this is equally important to small businesses. Each day that passes without a comprehensive plan to control the spread of the virus worsens the economic effects on small businesses. Implementing a commonsense plan to put our nation’s public health and economy back on the path to recovery will ensure businesses can operate confidently and safely and boost consumer demand.
Meanwhile, as the pandemic continues to surge, we must also secure the health and well-being of business owners and their employees. Congressional leaders must work with Biden to restore provisions of the Affordable Care Act that were removed or chipped away at during the previous administration and work on bipartisan solutions to bring down health care costs. Guaranteeing health protections for those with pre-existing conditions, enacting a public option that will enable the purchase of competitive insurance packages and addressing the rising cost of prescription drugs can all help stabilize costs for entrepreneurs and their employees — an issue that is of top concern for small businesses. After all, no one can work or run a business when they’re sick or worried about how to pay their health premium.
It’s encouraging to see the Biden administration is already taking steps in its first few days to promote strategic and smart solutions to bolster our small business community. Help seems to be on the way, but with our small-business community seemingly on life support, we cannot afford a single delay. What small-business owners need now is for congressional policymakers and the White House to work together swiftly on relief that will allow them to survive beyond the next few months.
John Arensmeyer is the founder and CEO of Small Business Majority, a leading advocate for critical public policy issues including access to capital, health care, retirement and numerous workforce issues.
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