HUDSON — Officials from all levels of government advocated support Monday for a proposed bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate to give small businesses an economic boost after industries took a substantial revenue hit in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., spoke in favor of the Reviving the Economy Sustainably Toward a Recovery in Twenty-Twenty, the RESTART Act, or bill No. S.3814 in the Senate, during a press conference Monday afternoon in the public square of Hudson’s Seventh Street Park, 700 Warren St.
The RESTART Act establishes a loan program with the Small Business Administration to guarantee loan amounts to certain businesses affected by COVID-19. The measure allows paycheck protection loan recipients to use the funds for 16 weeks — double the eight weeks allotted under the Paycheck Protection Program — if the business has fewer than 500 full-time employees and suffered a decline in revenues of at least 25%, according to congress.gov.
“Businesses are struggling to pay rent, utilities and wages,” Gillibrand said Monday. “The majority expect they will have to close their doors for good if they don’t see some sort of federal aid. ... Small businesses, their employees and the local economy can’t afford to wait any longer.”
The RESTART Act would fund six months of payroll benefits and operating expenses, and provide business owners with flexibility they need when they can rehire workers or use the funding, officials said.
Gillibrand criticized the Paycheck Protection Program, which had limited funds and required businesses to maintain prepandemic employee headcounts, or rehire that full headcount by June 30, 2020, to receive full loan forgiveness.
“That’s simply not possible for restaurants and entertainment venues that are either closed for the foreseeable future, or have fewer employees on site because they’re serving fewer customers,” Gillibrand said. “The RESTART Act would create a new loan program tailored to their needs.”
U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19; and Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, also spoke Monday in favor of the bill.
“People still need relief to endure these challenging times,” Delgado said. “The PPP program expired in early August — early August — and here we are in October. We must extend the life of these programs and provide additional specialized funding for these businesses.
“...The key here is there’s flexibility in how you can utilize these funds,” the congressman continued. “They are not tied to payroll, which means you have the ability to cover other business expenses — it can be used for rent, to keep the lights on ... for [Personal Protective Equipment] to keep your business safe and attract people to your doors.”
RESTART Act loans would be forgiven up to the business owner’s amount of total losses incurred in taxable year 2020.
“Our communities are hurting at the most micro level and the most macro level, and it’s essential to be able to support small businesses, which are the backbones of our communities — the heart and soul,” Barrett said of the region’s multiple retail, nonprofit and agricultural businesses.
“Let’s restart our communities and our state and our country,” the assemblywoman added.
The pandemic hit the hospitality industry specifically hard, with roughly 400,000 workers losing their jobs in the industry this year.
Monica Byrne co-owns Home/Made Hudson, at 119 Warren St., with wife Leisah Swenson. The restaurant and creative studio that focuses on food, design, flowers and special events, was shuttered in March when the coronavirus first ravaged the state and nation.
“This new act will allow people flexibility and room to pay their operating expenses and cover it for a long period of time — so it makes a big difference,” Byrne said of local businesses similar to hers, which pay premium amounts for monthly rent and utility bills.
“...It’s not a handout or a charity — businesses are pausing for public safety, and until public safety gets handled, we can’t conduct business,” Byrne explained. “If all the businesses close, the long-term ramifications are so much bigger. What happens to communities that have boarded up stores? The whole economy falls apart: Loss of jobs, increase in crime [and] property values go down.”
The RESTART Act establishes a loan program for small businesses with 5,000 full-time employees or fewer, forgiving 100% of program loan amounts providing loans are not greater than 45% of 2019 gross receipts, or up to $12 million, with no payment on principal for the first two years of the loan. Loans will be provided for a maximum of seven years, according to congress.gov.
“The PPP, in theory, was a great idea to keep people employed and try to keep the unemployment rolls down,” Byrne said. “If it had been rolled out faster, it may have been more effective. By the time it came out, people were also already on unemployment.
“...If small businesses can’t keep their doors open, then having employees doesn’t make a difference,” she added, “and having the flexibility to keep doors open and keep functioning going on during this period is essential.”
Other officials agreed the RESTART Act would be a step in the right direction as businesses continue to fight economic hardship brought on by the pandemic.
“The senator’s RESTART Act is a critical component of the recovery for small businesses in Hudson and Columbia County, particularly our restaurant retail and hospitality sectors,” said F. Michael Tucker, president and CEO of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation. “Its passage would help these businesses immensely coming into the winter months.”
Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson, who introduced Gillibrand at the start of Monday’s press conference, said the bipartisan bill is a strong, significant piece of legislation that would help businesses across the state and region.
“It’s action that we need to see, especially for our small businesses in the city where we’ve already had a handful that are not coming back,” Johnson said. “You know more with the fear they will also be closing down forever. I think this particular bill affects us directly because most of our restaurants and businesses have 500 employees or less, and this gives a chance for really generous offers for them.”