If your small business died in the last six months, blame Trump. If your small business is suffering, blame Trump. It wasn’t Covid-19. President Trump could have rescued American small businesses, but he didn’t. And this week, he could help save hundreds of thousands more if he took action, but he won’t.
I’ve been closely monitoring what has—and has not—been done for small businesses since the start of the pandemic. At virtually every turn, President Trump and his Administration ignored the needs of small business or actually made it harder for them to survive. Moreover, his continuing refusal to develop a national policy and coordinated response to the pandemic has turned what could have been a limited shutdown into a long, lingering economic disaster. The worse may be yet to come.
It’s almost impossible to know the exact number of small businesses permanently shuttered since March, but it’s at least in the hundreds of thousands. 73,000 businesses on Yelp closed for good by June—and Yelp only deals with a tiny percent of small businesses. According to the Census, one-third of small businesses have experienced a “large negative impact” and another one-half “moderate negative impact.”
Let’s look at some of the many ways this Administration—along with Senate Republicans who followed the President’s lead—have abandoned small businesses.
** No national “Small Business Recovery Plan”
The major program to help small business was the PPP—the “Payroll Protection Program.” Look at that name—the program was designed to keep workers off unemployment, not save small businesses. The Administration never proposed a program to directly help small businesses survive.
** Loans, not grants, for small businesses
Both the PPP and EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) were structured as loans. Compare that to what others proposed. Senators Ben Cardin and Ron Wyden proposed a “Save America’s Main Street Act” giving direct grants to small businesses, and the Democrat-led House of Representatives’ bill authorized $100 billion in small business GRANTS.
Meanwhile, what was the President saying? “We have to save these companies. These are companies that weren’t in trouble three weeks ago, and now they’re in trouble because of what happened.” Unfortunately, he was vigorously advocating for a bail-out for huge corporations—which then received a HALF TRILLION DOLLAR allocation, including $27 billion (primarily in GRANTS) for the airline industry.
** PPP administered by banks, not SBA
The botched and bungled roll-out of the PPP is well documented: large corporations pushed small businesses out of the way, billions going to big businesses. All this was predictable. Banks weren’t equipped to deal with small businesses in these numbers and were clearly likely to give preference to their best (biggest) clients. At the time the PPP was proposed, small business organizations urged the Administration to advocate what European countries adopted—direct help from the government. But they were clearly looking out for big banks, who made between $14-$24 billion in fees.
** Effectively made PPP forgiveness funds taxable
Congress specifically indicated that PPP loan forgiveness amounts were NOT to be taxable. Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, single-handedly decided that expenses used to justify PPP forgiveness would NOT be tax deductible—in essence countering the intention of Congress.
** Unnecessarily complicated PPP forgiveness process
Leading conservative business groups, including bankers and accounting associations, time-after-time urged reducing the program’s red tape for small businesses, estimating the Trump Administration rules cost small companies thousands of unnecessary dollars.
** Reduction of EIDL grants
The only “grant” for small companies was a measly $10k for advances for EIDL loans. Mnuchin decided that this meant only $1k for each employee retained, significantly lowering the amount of grant money available to the smallest businesses.
But perhaps the President’s biggest failure is his inadequate response to the virus itself. Trump declared he was going to be “a wartime president.” We had an invader in our land—a virus—but Trump was, and is, unwilling to develop a national program to fight that invader.
“Leadership from the Administration in those early months could have prevented this crisis from becoming a catastrophe,” said Amanda Ballantyne, Executive Director of Main Street Alliance. “And when we finally had a shutdown, that time was squandered.”
Ballantyne warns the worst may be yet to come. “We think the blood bath is going to be third quarter,” as PPP and unemployment monies run out, stretched-thin state and local governments lay off workers, and the warm weather that propped up small eat-outside restaurants and other outdoor activities end.
Small business owners see what this President refuses to acknowledge: the health of the economy is directly and completely linked to getting the virus under control. With more than 1000 Americans dying every day, people will not feel safe. And until people feel safe, the real economy (not Wall Street) will not recover. More small businesses will, unnecessarily, die.
This week, Congress is back in session, and Trump could be advocating real relief for small businesses, but he’s not. Imagine how much better off small businesses would be if we had a President and Administration that actually cared about small businesses.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2020
This article originally ran in USA Today on September 9, 2020