It’s not surprising one of the many heroes emerging from the rescue efforts of Hurricane Harvey, Jim McIngvale of Houston’s Gallery Furniture, is a small business owner. After all, small businesses are the backbones of their communities, whether supporting local emergency relief, Little League, or the United Way. But where can small businesses hit by Hurricane Harvey turn for help?
McIngvale, known to Houston residents as “Mattress Mack,” transformed his two furniture warehouses into emergency relief shelters, giving over 400 displaced Houstonians a warm, safe, dry place to stay as well as free meals. Staffed by a team of volunteers he pulled together, McIngvale sent out his fleet of 24-foot trucks to rescue people stranded throughout the city.
“We’re trying to help them out because they’ve done so much for us over the years,” said McIngvale, as he allowed tempest-tossed Houstonians to sleep on his brand new mattresses, even allowing them to bring their pets.
But once the waters recede, McIngvale, like other small business owners in hurricane-impacted parts of Texas (and now other areas hit by Hurricane Irma), will have to deal with the losses they incur. Hopefully, McIngvale’s insurance company allows him to claim the loss of inventory as well as losses from “business interruption.”
As the painful recovery begins—a recovery that may be the costliest in U.S. history—if you’re a small business owner, the following steps may help ease this difficult period:
- Apply for low-interest disaster loans. If you’re looking for a low-interest loan to help you recover, go to the Hurricane Harvey page of the Small Business Administration (SBA) for information on how to apply. These loans are available not only to small businesses, but also to homeowners, renters, and private non-profit organizations.
- Take advantage of deferred loan payments. If you have an existing small business loan from the SBA as of August 25, 2017, your principal and interest payments are being automatically deferred for 12-months in counties declared as Federal disaster agencies. Businesses in nearby counties may be eligible for a nine-month payment deferral.
- Apply for federal assistance. Register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) online at http://www.disasterassistance.gov/ or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). FEMA provides emergency cash grants for housing, medical, and other disaster-related needs. If you need to get a roof over your head before you can run your home-based business, this comes in handy.
- Contact your local Small Business Development Center (SBDCs). SBDCs are always called on after disasters to help small businesses complete the forms necessary to get federal disaster relief, recover their critical records, and relaunch their businesses. They’re a godsend.
- Contact your insurance agent. For information on settling insurance claims after a disaster such as Hurricane Harvey—or Hurricane Irma if it should come to pass, or wildfires, or earthquakes—check out the Insurance Information Institute’s website.
- Check with your industry association and vendors. Your own industry may have specific help for your type of small business. For example, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation is providing relief to booksellers who’ve incurred losses due to Hurricane Harvey and publisher Simon & Schuster is helping both libraries and booksellers restore their inventory
- Watch out for scams. If you’re applying for an SBA loan or for other forms of government assistance, you’ll never be charged fees. If someone tells you otherwise or demands fees, you’re being scammed. If you need repair work done on your small business, thoroughly check out contractors. After disasters, unfortunately, some people take advantage of others.
Everyone, and every small business, should also be preparing for the next disaster, wherever you live. Climate change is bringing more frequent and more ferocious disasters. Right now, huge fires are currently devastating large swaths of the West, with businesses in Oregon and Washington having to close due to fire and smoke. Develop an emergency plan and get adequate insurance. Determine the most critical components of your business and plan to protect those—employees, data, power, phones, Internet, building access.
Small business owners are a can-do, resilient bunch. Like Gallery Furniture owner McIngvale, we understand the importance of community and strengthen the communities in which we live. Let’s help them get back on their feet.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2017
This article originally ran in USA Today on September 6, 2017