By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce scored a big win for local small businesses during a time of crisis.
Its biggest victory was engaging with the Washington state Congressional delegation to ensure that the need for extending the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) was fully understood. As part of its most recent advocacy effort, the chamber was one of about a dozen signatories to a letter written to members of Congress to change the terms by which the PPP was supposed to be paid back.
“The way the program was set up, small businesses needed to hire back most of their employees, but with reopening schedules, that was very hard,” said Alicia Teel, senior vice president of public affairs and communications for the chamber.
If businesses did not hire back all employees on schedule, they would be liable for repaying the entire amount of the loan, rather than having it forgiven. This could have driven many businesses into bankruptcy.
“We advocated to extend the schedule,” she said. “The key is that they needed to meet that criteria for the loan to be forgiven, and it was very hard to meet that criteria with the original date.”
The chamber, along with the other organizations, advocated at the local and federal level to change the deadline. In the end, Congress did extend the deadline until the end of the year and made other substantial changes to make the program easier on small businesses.
Rep. Adam Smith, in an email to the Northwest Asian Weekly, said, “We value all the input we received from around the district, and always welcome feedback to ensure federal programs are working as intended for the community.”
The passing of the new version, called the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, on June 3, allowed small businesses much more time to rehire employees, and represented the biggest win for the broad coalition of advocates that included the chamber.
Beyond this, the chamber has written letters to local and national leaders advocating for increased funding for small businesses weathering the coronavirus pandemic.
Its advocacy work was in part spurred by the grim realizations revealed by a study it commissioned about the impact of the pandemic.
The study, undertaken by Community Attributes, found that 40% of jobs would be impacted, mostly affecting low-income households with annual income of less than $38,000. It also found that small businesses downtown were highly dependent on Amazon, which had the highest workforce in the state, of 50,000. Each employee was ending an average of $25 per day, generating total daily revenue of $2.6 million for small businesses in the area.
The state would be massively impacted, it predicted, since 71% of its budget comes from sales and gross receipts tax, compared to 41% for the national average of other states. The report strongly recommended that new funding sources and new approaches to the management of revenue be found.
In a flurry of letters to President Trump, the King County Council, and Gov. Jay Inslee and state congressional leaders, the chamber urged action to help small businesses secure more funding. Heeding their plea, the Washington State Department of Commerce brought together a coalition of groups to help local businesses navigate the hurdles to access federal funds.
The Small Business Resiliency Assistance program, as it is called, focused on “disadvantaged communities” by bringing together a list of organizations that would provide coaching, translation and other services.
The Department of Commerce also announced that the organizations joining the coalition would be eligible for reimbursement of “allowable expenses for translating information, conducting outreach and providing business coaching, mentoring and education on what assistance is available to small businesses now, and to prepare for the future post-COVID-19 emergency response,” according to the announcement.
Meanwhile, the chamber has also been offering webinars on its website to help small businesses navigate the challenges of applying for funds, avoid fraud rings, and apply for unemployment insurance. The webinars, which have appeared twice a week, now involve topics related to the opening up of the economy. On June 24, the chamber is offering a roundtable with leaders of the construction industry.
The Chamber has also delivered 6,400 bottles of hand sanitizers to area businesses, Teel said. It has distributed masks and is also making available 46,000 masks and face coverings to Washington businesses at businesshealthtrust.com/chamber-bht-cares.
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.