ATHENS — U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., advocated in Greene County on Monday for an extension of federal aid to small businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, completing his annual 62-county state tour.
Schumer, the U.S. Senate minority leader, stood outside Field Goods, at 742 Schoharie Turnpike in Athens, on Monday calling on Congress to pass the HEROES Small Business Lifeline Act, which includes a second round of forgivable federal Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
The legislation would be part of the next congressional COVID-19 relief package, and would extend the PPP loan period through the end of March 2021.
“I know the struggles of businesspeople,” Schumer said, adding his father owned a local extermination company. “If we can’t literally hug one another, we have figuratively hugged one another and helped things going, and that includes incredible sacrifices from our small business people like Field Goods to stay alive.”
The Capital Region is home to about 57,000 small businesses of about 1 million statewide. About one-third are expected to close permanently by the pandemic’s end, Schumer said, adding private-sector jobs in the region decreased by 10% last year.
“Many of the people who lost their jobs [during the pandemic], the majority were from small businesses,” he said.
Field Goods partners with hundreds of local farms offering farmers market-quality products at various pick-up sites in the Capital Region, and started offering home delivery services when the pandemic began after receiving a PPP loan this spring.
“Our PPP grant was very important to us,” Field Goods founder Donna Williams said. “We were able to maintain our employee base because of it.”
The loan helped Field Goods, which also supports local farms, stay afloat, said Michael Waterman, CEO of Field Goods and food distributor Hudson Harvest.
Field Goods provides between 1,500 and 2,000 people with food each week at about 600 pick-up locations.
“When COVID hit, we essentially knew all pick-up sites were going to close and that we would have no business,” Waterman said. “Within one week’s time, and thank you to PPP and all the other aid we were able to pivot to entirely home delivery what felt like overnight. Without your program, I would say we would have a business that would look very different — one I don’t even want to imagine.”
The company delivers to about 500 homes.
“Fewer individuals than we did before, but nonetheless we’re still getting all this great food from local farms into hands of individuals and without the PPP we wouldn’t be saying that,” Waterman said.
Second PPP loans would allow businesses to receive aid worth 250% of monthly payroll costs up to a maximum of $2 million. Small businesses and those with fewer than 200 employees, self-employed borrowers and rural and historically underserved communities will be eligible for the second round of assistance, Schumer said.
The proposed legislation also addresses other issues business owners experienced with the first round of PPP loans this spring. Nonprofit and 501c6 organizations, such as local chambers of commerce, are eligible for the second round of forgivable grants, but were excluded from the program this spring.
About 18% of Capital Region small businesses are nonprofits.
“This is money in the pockets of these businesses — we need to send a lifeline to our small businesses,” Schumer said. “...Those who suffered the most will benefit the most.”
The program was also amended so business owners close with a banker, do not receive accelerated or enhanced benefits, reserves 10% of all funds for businesses of 10 employees or fewer and sets aside $15 billion for small community lenders.
The senator said the legislation must be included as federal lawmakers continue to negotiate a comprehensive COVID-19 relief package.
“It’s a very comprehensive bill that will keep our small businesses going until we get through this awful crisis,” Schumer said.
Schumer’s Athens visit Monday — on his 70th birthday — completed his 22nd annual tour of the state’s 62 counties.
“This is the most important 62-county tour I’ve ever done because of COVID,” Schumer said. “I learn, and then I translate that learning to crafting legislation that’s good for New York.
“You cannot be a good senator if you just sit at your desk, take telephone calls and read. You have to get out there and meet the people.”
The senator previously visited the business in 2013 before Field Goods expanded to its Schoharie Turnpike facility.