America’s business owners are some of our nation’s most precious resources. From Silicon Valley to the fusion food truck down the street, entrepreneurs know how to identify opportunities and adapt to survive – the exact skills our society needs to weather the coronavirus pandemic. As local economies remain shuttered and states extend stay at home orders, it is imperative that our elected officials at every level of government craft policies that support our business owners as efficiently as possible, through generous public grants.
Entrepreneurs trade in efficiency. There isn’t an HR department calculating sick pay or an IT team securing remote networks. There is a deeply concerned human or three that lie awake at night weighing devastating options amidst the firestorm of this crisis. How to take care of their team without losing their livelihood? How to homeschool their kids and learn the basics of small business administration (SBA) loans? How rotten is the milk in the fridge and is it even safe to go get more? When our business owners are asking themselves if it is safe to go for milk, it is irresponsible for our governments to only offer relief options that add to their plates.
While it was heartening to see our representatives act quickly to secure relief funding for businesses, those funds are highly constrained and are currently exhausted. As of April 16, 2020, the SBA site read:
Lapse in Appropriations Notice: SBA is unable to accept new applications at this time for the Paycheck Protection Program or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)-COVID-19 related assistance program (including EIDL Advances) based on available appropriations funding.
EIDL applicants who have already submitted their applications will continue to be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Even when funding does become available again, optimistically through a fourth COVID federal disaster relief act, local and national banks are ill-prepared to lend it, with staff untrained on SBA application processes and overrun with requests. Additionally, the small-business administration is a class-divided resource, inaccessible to many minority and women owned businesses across the country due to a rampant belief gap. Most concerningly, SBA relief has come primarily in the form of loans, saddling entrepreneurs fortunate enough to receive funds with complex regulations and additional responsibilities. No matter how generous the terms, and even when forgivable, loans consume precious fiscal, mental, and emotional space that our business owners cannot spare.
A pandemic forces a question of essentials. What is essential right now? What resources? What labor? What healthcare? Loan administration and interest payments on my tax dollars are not essential. A significant number of our city, county, and state governments have figured this out and are generously meeting these needs with unprecedented levels of grant-making aimed at supporting business owners. Securing a grant still takes work and follow-through, but the surge of effort is finite, and leaves business owners more time and energy for innovation.
While grant-making is not the historic standard for relief funding, the conditions of abnormality this pandemic is creating are as novel as the virus itself. In the face of this new havoc and its heartbreaking losses, entrepreneurs are responding with innovation. Restaurants are pivoting to feed their laid off staff and serve as curbside respites, fitness studios are exercising remotely, and artists are showing online. We must insist that our governments innovate alongside them.
Linked is a compilation of grant programs aimed at this end. This list was compiled to aggregate and disseminate as many resources as possible to support businesses through this crisis. The programs in this list are primarily taxpayer funded through economic development corporations and departments of commerce. They focus on businesses with less than 100 employees (and as few as one employee). These creative solutions and resilience have the potential to infuse our political and economic systems with the adaptability and perseverance required to survive this global crisis. Our entrepreneurs, with the right support, are best suited to carry this torch.
As a taxpayer, I want my money to give entrepreneurs a lifeline, and a vote of confidence: their ideas, their hard work, and their vision for the future is my community’s best shot at coming out the other side of this pandemic thriving.
Liz Alspach is a University of Arkansas graduate student. She is currently researching local government grants to support business owners.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.