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Small business owners blast Senate's $908 billion relief bill – Crain's New York Business

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As the U.S. Senate debates a new $908 billion Covid-19 relief bill, New York’s small business community says it is suffering and fears the federal rescue package will be too little too late.

“I’m in pain,” said Timothy King, vice president of a Brooklyn real estate firm. “I walk the streets every day, and I see vacant store fronts. I’m afraid for so many people who may never reopen.”

King received funds from the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program this past spring, anticipating Washington’s favorable loan terms would be adequate to survive a few months of mandated shutdowns. But as Covid-19 enters 2021, he finds himself needing more federal help just to survive.

“That money is long gone and I’m yearning for a second round of PPP,” he said.

It’s not clear how much of the $288 billion appropriated in the Senate’s bill for small business assistance will go toward additional PPP funding. As it stands, that number is less than half of what was needed for the nation during the spring, a prospect that worries small business owners, who have seen their revenue decline by 50% from early January, according to a new report by Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office. 

No small business group is in worse shape than the city’s restaurant industry, which has lost more than 150,000 workers during the pandemic.

The Republican-led Senate has declined to vote on the bi-partisan Restaurants Act—a $120 million relief package exclusively for restaurants—since it was passed by the House of Representatives in October. The hospitality industry is now left to hope that some portion of that $288 billion will trickle down to them.

“It’s absolutely shameful that our government leaders continue to fail our nation’s restaurant owners and workers who have been devastated and are losing so much due to the pandemic,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York Hospitality Alliance. “The failure to support these small businesses will be a stain on our history.”

Restaurant owners feel the Senate bill doesn’t go far enough in terms of protections and assistance. This simply won’t cut it, according to Roni Mazumdar, owner of three restaurants in Manhattan.

There is also the concern regarding the Cares Act mortgage forbearance and Gov. Cuomo’s eviction moratorium, which are both due to expire on Dec. 31. The fear is that once these protections expire, a tsunami of evictions and foreclosures will come down on small businesses and employees alike.  

The final pain point is a lack of targeted assistance. For instance, as restaurants gear up for outdoor dining in the winter, some owners suggest Congress add an element in the bill that allows certain costs to be written off, like propane tanks for outdoor heating. The tanks typically range from $40 per tank and cost another $20 to fill.

“These are very simple things, but they are costing restaurants an arm and a leg,” Mazumdar said. “There is no way we can make ends meet,”

The city has provided some help, but it’s not enough. Last month, the Partnership for the City of New York and Peter G. Peterson Foundation used a $2.8 million grant to set up the Small Business Resource Network, an online portal and citywide initiative aimed at giving targeted assistance to minority and immigrant business owners. But it can only offer advice and guidance, and not pay any bills.  

Robert Schwartz, owner of the 111-year-old Eneslow Shoes & Orthotics, has experienced the lack of federal assistance first-hand. He shut down his flagship location at 32nd Street and Park Avenue this month. He’s now down to two locations in the city after entering 2020 with four stores. Of his 35 full-time employees he began the year with, 19 are still with him, all of whom are either working part-time or collecting unemployment benefits.

“There’s nothing I can do,” he said, pointing the finger at Congress and the financial services industry for failing to help. “They don’t understand that people are out of work and people are living with each other just to get by. The scale of lost income at the middle class and working class is just insane.”

As more stores close, and Congress debates the finer points in another aid package, small business owners brace for a cold winter.

“What does it mean for the future of our city if next Christmas 20-30% of retail business are gone?” King asked. “We’ve become a hollowed-out shell of a beautiful place.”

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