Carleen Birnes 0

Save Maryland's Small Businesses

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Dear Maryland, Anne Arundel County, and Annapolis Elected Officials:

We are small business owners in Anne Arundel County. We first want to thank you for your service and your leadership during the ongoing crisis resulting from the coronavirus. We appreciate the work you are doing to protect us and our community during this difficult time.

However, we write because small businesses in our county urgently need your help. We were encouraged when Congress and the President passed the initial CARES relief package that included small business assistance. The largest and most important parts of that package were the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). Our initial encouragement has been shattered by disappointment. Here is the bottom line: almost none of us who applied for assistance received it, and those who did receive assistance received far less than what we asked for and what we need.

We are not alone in being neglected and we know that we speak for other businesses in Anne Arundel County and in Maryland. A study on April 18 showed that Maryland’s small business funding under CARES assistance, measured by percentage of funding granted versus what was requested, was in the bottom fifteen percent in the country. As we know that Congress is now considering follow-up legislation to the CARES Act, we write to let you know how that program failed us and to make recommendations that will provide the support we need.

We understand the need to restrict business activity to protect our safety. Lives come first. But the restrictions are having a devastating impact on our businesses. Many will not survive much longer without support.

We say this with heartbreak because we would rather work than ask for assistance. All of us are passionate about what we do, and as business owners and entrepreneurs, our independence, business creativity, and work for our community has been incredibly rewarding. Many of us contribute to charities or volunteer, and even now are giving what we can. The stakes could not be higher for our businesses, our families, our lives here in the county, and for the county’s way of life.

We are in real danger, just like small businesses all over America. A recent study showed that two thirds of the country’s small businesses say they cannot survive more than three months without assistance. Many of us are facing the same urgent need to find revenue to keep our businesses from closing. We love what we do, but it rarely leads to riches, and our businesses operate with a very small profit margin that does not allow us to close for long and continue to pay our employees, or our leases, rent, and mortgages. Since the crisis started, we have juggled our finances and our own pay to keep our employees going but we cannot do this much longer. All of us are suffering from the stress of not knowing how long we can keep going the businesses we have worked our lives for, how long we can support our employees who depend on us, and how we will take care of our families if our businesses close.

Losing our businesses would be a tragedy for us and for our families. We have poured our lives into our businesses. Our colleagues, co-workers, and customers are more than business relationships. They are our friends and neighbors. Our businesses are barber shops and bankers, restaurants and real estate agencies, gyms and gas stations and grocery stores, landscapers and law firms, construction companies and car dealers and coffee shops, hotels and health care providers, marinas, and medical practices. All our community non-profits are also affected—they qualify for the federal small business help that failed.

These businesses and non-profits are the heartbeat of our community. Studies by the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation show how vital small businesses are to the life of our county, and how devastating it would be if the coronavirus crisis forces widespread closures. There are over 17,000 companies in our county that meet the federal definition of small businesses and they employ over 200,000 people. Almost ninety percent of those small businesses have fifty or fewer employees and almost eighty percent have ten or fewer.

Media reports reveal why we, and other small businesses, were cut out of CARES assistance. First, the PPP was severely underfunded. The PPP fund ran out of money on April 18—shortly after it opened. Second, the process is tangled with red tape and bureaucracy that most small businesses like us do not have the time or expertise to deal with. For example, applicants are required to go through banks to get the funding. Small businesses in Maryland are getting locked out of government assistance—that we pay taxes for--by private banks. The process favors companies with pre-existing loan arrangements, lawyers, and accountants. There is already lawsuit challenging the legality of allowing banks to make decisions regarding CARES small business support. The EIDL process is so slow that it has granted less than five percent of the money in the program.

Third, many larger companies and institutions are violating the spirit of the law by taking advantage of legal loopholes to get small business funding. Recipients of CARES small business assistance include large national corporations like Ruth Chris Steakhouse. These companies have thousands of employees, trade on the New York Stock Exchange, have corporate lawyers and shareholders. It is an outrageous injustice for companies like this to take emergency small business relief away from small independent businesses like ours that need that support to stay alive. This must be stopped.

Other CARES relief programs, outside of the small business assistance, give billions to those without our urgent need. Over seventy billion dollars of CARES tax relief will go to 43,000 millionaires, giving each millionaire 1.6 million dollars. Harvard University, with an endowment of 40 million dollars, will receive nearly nine million dollars.

We have no objection to coronavirus support of larger companies or institutions and recognize it is critical for them to continue in operation. But their support should not come at the expense of our survival. People and institutions who do not need help should not receive it. Not everyone is a millionaire. Not everyone eats at expensive steakhouses. Not everyone goes to Harvard. The rest of us need the assistance we pay taxes for, and we need it now.

We ask for your partnership to obtain new small business coronavirus relief that works with the following provisions:

  • A new small business assistance program with enough funding to provide grants and loans to keep true small businesses alive until they can safely reopen.
  • Maximize use of grants that need not be repaid rather than loans.
  • Make loan programs interest-free.
  • Exclude large corporations from small business assistance.
  • Limit coronavirus relief programs to people and institutions in need—those without the money, revenue, and resources to sustain themselves for the anticipated duration of the virus-related restrictions.
  • Simplify the application and grant process so that it can be easily and quickly completed by small business with limited administrative capacity—and require the government to process and provide funding fast.
  • Eliminate private banks from the process, or, if that is not feasible, limit the role of banks to administering assistance and exclude them from making decisions on whether applicants receive assistance.
  • Speed the process of granting EIDL applications.

We look forward to hearing from you about next steps in the process and would appreciate the courtesy of your reply as soon as possible so that we can decide what to do next.

Best regards,

Anne Arundel County Small Businesses

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