Editor’s note: This commentary is by Eliza Cain, a co-owner of Red Hen Baking Co. in Middlesex.
First, a little history. 2008 saw the worst financial crisis in this country since the Great Depression. In response to the economic devastation, Congress enacted the Troubled Asset Relief Program to bail out America’s big banks. To the tune of $700 billion. Today, with the coronavirus pandemic hitting small businesses harder than anybody else, it is Main Street, not Wall Street that needs the bail-out.
Small businesses are the backbone of this country. In Vermont they make up 99% of our businesses and before this crisis, employed almost 60% of the state’s workforce. Covid-19 has brought us to our knees. We are not going to survive this pandemic without further government action.
Congress’s initial attempts to help support small businesses were designed to essentially put the small business economy on life support. Hopefully it will provide some short-term relief to some. However, even that is unclear with the programs being massively underfunded and the money that does exist being mired in bureaucratic delays. In fact, just this week the White House announced that the Payroll Protection Program – the program designed for small businesses to retain their employees – is out of money. Unfortunately, these programs will not help the majority of small businesses as they aren’t workable for most and exclude many businesses in need.
Last month, workers filed for unemployment in previously inconceivable numbers. Mass unemployment will devastate our economy for decades to come, cause unnecessary suffering and further endanger lives.
But this bleak future is not inevitable. By restoring and maintaining Main Street jobs, Congress can avert mass unemployment and refocus our disaster response on the pandemic. We need added and expansive federal action to protect Main Street jobs, workers, and businesses while they hibernate and/or adapt to save lives during the pandemic. Small businesses need grants, not loans. We need expanded and immediate cash flow to be able to keep our businesses going. And our workers need improved unemployment insurance, income support, and safety protections.
I want to be clear that Vermont’s congressmen get this. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch understand the importance of small businesses and the struggles we face. I am confident that they are doing everything in their power to advocate for Main Street businesses and workers. Sadly, I am not as confident about many of their colleagues in D.C. who seem to be more beholden to large corporations than to their own constituents. Legislators who seem more concerned about protecting their future campaign contributions than their hometown businesses. This letter is for them.
Our small business economy faces extinction without direct subsidies to Covid-19 impacted businesses. Tens of millions of jobs are at stake — along with people’s health care, sick leave, retirement, and other important benefits that are needed now more than ever. It is not an exaggeration to say that the vast majority of small businesses will not survive without the right government action. It is time for Congress to take action to help the American people, not just American corporations and campaign coffers.