Mike Harting, CEO of 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg, is calling on elected officials to take quick action to help small business owners during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
In an open letter to elected officials sent to the St. Pete Catalyst and posted on the company’s Facebook page, Harting said small businesses need cash to prime the pump. He’s asking for the Small Business Administration and its lending partners to disperse cash now, and for elected officials to suspend all taxes and licensing for six months.
“The backbone of this country is small business. It is the St. Pete Bagel company, Bob Lee’s tires, Walter’s Lawn Service and the 4th Street Shrimp Store. Small businesses like these are responsible for 45 percent of the total U.S. economic activity and comprise 41 percent of private sector employment. Helping out here will be much harder than helping United Airlines, Home Depot and Wells Fargo, but it is just as important,” Harting wrote. (See the full letter below.)
His letter comes as the U.S. House and Senate are negotiating a third emergency aid package. A vote is expected Tuesday. On Monday, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said it is likely to include direct cash assistance to families, and additional paid sick leave and emergency family leave provisions. It also includes a $350 billion loan program for small businesses, as well as loans and loan guarantees for passenger and cargo airlines and for business deemed important to national security, according to the Washington Post.
On a conference call with Tampa-St. Petersburg area business owners, Castor outlined the provisions of two earlier emergency aid packages, while Eileen Rodriguez, director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida, filled in details on state and federal loan funding.
The first package, passed in early March, has funding for state and local public health agencies to prepare and respond to the crisis, as well as money for vaccine development, medical supplies and personal protection equipment. It also provided $7 billion in low-interest loans to affected small businesses.
The second package, the Families First Response Act approved a week ago, provides free coronavirus testing for everyone; food assistance for schools, food banks and seniors who need home delivery of meals; and paid sick leave, paid family medical leave and substantial resources for unemployment insurance.
“Unemployment insurance is going to be an answer for a lot of laid-off workers,” Castor said. “The state of Florida is going to have to expand what they do on unemployment insurance because currently they only provide 12 weeks. They’re going to have to go to many months … The governor did already waive the requirements that someone has to be looking for a job.”
Qualified workers at small businesses will get two weeks paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventative care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members, Castor said. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave for people caring for children whose schools are closed, or whose childcare provider is unavailable because of coronavirus, she said.
The measure covers part-time and self-employed workers who pay employment taxes, she said. It doesn’t cover people at companies with more than 500 employees, who likely already have sick leave and medical leave.
“I know the small businesses out there will say, how can I afford providing this to my employees?” Castor said. “You will be reimbursed for the full amount within three months in the form of a payroll tax credit. They’re also going to try to get funds out to businesses that would struggle within that three month period and they need it faster. The reimbursement will also cover the employers’ contribution to health insurance premiums during the leave, and all of that is fully refundable, which means that if the amount the employer pays workers who take leave is larger than what they owe in taxes, the government will send you a check for the remainder, and that goes for self-employed and gig economy workers as well.”
Under Florida’s Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program, activated March 16 by Gov. Ron DeSantis, small business owners can qualify for up to $50,000 or an interest-free, short term loan with a one-year term, Rodriguez said. It’s for Florida companies in business since at least March 8, 2020 and with two to 100 employees on the payroll.
At the federal level, the U.S. Small Business Administration has activated the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
“Small businesses can qualify for up to $2 million, so this is. a much larger loan, and a longer term loan,” Rodriguez said. “The state loan I talked about was interest-free. This one does have interest rates, but they are fairly low. The interest rate for for-profit companies is at 3.75 percent, and for non-profit companies it is 2.75 percent.
“These are working capital loans. So if you need help with payroll, paying any fixed debt, paying any accounts payables or other types of bills, then this is a good loan for you to go after. Most companies will go after both loans because you can get the Florida bridge loan process fairly quickly. You’ll get that money in your hands when you need it, which is right now. Then when you get the SBA loan, which remember is a longer-term loan, you can use the proceeds from the SBA loan to pay off the Florida loan, and then you only have one loan to worry about.”
Business owners filling out the loan applications have to describe the economic injury they have had, including documentation showing operations in previous years.
“You need to make a really good case for yourself regarding what your losses have been, and I would strongly suggest that you also take into account potential projections,” Rodriguez said. “This disaster isn’t over. It’s not like a hurricane that came and went and we know exactly what the damages are. This is an ongoing situation, so you might want to consider if this is going to last another three weeks or four weeks, what additional economic damages will your business suffer.”
3 Daughters’ Mike Harting’s open letter to elected officials