Donald Trump Donald Trump's administration has shut NC small business owners out.
Trump in an April 3 photo at the White House. (Image via AP/Alex Brandon).

A North Carolina lawmaker writes about the struggle for small business owners and minority-owned businesses to access CARES Act relief for COVID-19. 

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 and emotional investment disappear within days. 

While we are all suffering from the impact of COVID-19, the economic impact is hitting some harder than others.

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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.

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. 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. 

They are trying to keep their staffs working as much as possible, but they still owe rent and have loans and mortgages to pay. They need financial assistance but are afraid they will never be able to pay back additional loans. And the sad fact is that the federal response through the CARES Act has been confusing, unfair, and inadequate.

According to a new study released by Piedmont Rising, North Carolina — which has more than 890,000 small businesses — has received just 66,677 of the Trump administration’s Paycheck Protection Program loans. Eighty percent of small businesses that applied for relief money didn’t receive any at all.

The program, which has been championed by Sen. Thom Tillis and other Republicans, “has failed to assist the vast majority of small businesses, including in North Carolina, with a large share of minority-owned businesses left behind,” according to the report

We must support these businesses, not just for their economic impact, but because they strengthen our communities. 

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We need places to dine, drink, and connect. We need venues to help us reflect and heal through art, experience the self-care of exercise, and get 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 Raleigh this week, I am committed to passing the next round of economic support for local business; especially those that will continue to face the financial consequences of safety and health restrictions until we are completely rid of the coronavirus. 

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.