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Stephen Gilchrist: Congress Should Emulate the President’s Commitment to Protecting Small Businesses

Small businesses — particularly minority-owned enterprises — will need substantial assistance to weather the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Congress should follow President Trump’s example and move quickly to provide the support entrepreneurs need to continue serving as the backbone of our nation’s economy.

Protecting the private sector is pivotal to ensuring that America’s fundamentally healthy economy quickly rebounds after the end of the ongoing health crisis and resumes the steep upward trajectory it has followed for the past three years. Huge numbers of businesses all over the country have been forced to temporarily close or significantly curtail operations in order to combat the spread of coronavirus, and we can’t allow the workers who depend on those businesses to become collateral damage in our fight against the pandemic.

Although the White House has implemented numerous initiatives to support small business and protect millions of blue collar jobs, the Executive Branch doesn’t have the power to spend the kind of money that will be needed to keep the economy afloat. Unfortunately, ideologues in Congress have been stalling the substantial aid package that will ultimately determine whether thousands of small businesses across the country are forced to close their doors forever. The President’s proactive measures bought small businesses some crucial time, but that time is rapidly running out.

Just two days before he declared a national emergency that gave state and local leaders access to $42 billion in disaster relief funding, for instance, President Trump ordered the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide $50 billion in low-interest loans for companies that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic — a figure he has asked Congress to match with an additional $50 billion in order to ensure that adequate financing is available for all businesses that might eventually need it.

The following week, the President signed legislation that provides paid leave for workers who are either quarantined, infected, or who can’t work due to other coronavirus-related issues. In addition to reimbursing small business owners for the cost of providing paid sick leave, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act extends the tax filing deadline by three months, giving businesses access to the money they have set aside for quarterly taxes.

These economic relief initiatives are especially important for the black community, because many of the minority-owned enterprises that exist today are still relatively new, having only been established within the past few years thanks to the broad-based economic boom this country was enjoying before the coronavirus hit. These vulnerable businesses will need all the help they can get to survive this crisis, and much of that support will have to come from the federal government as part of the massive stimulus package being negotiated between White House officials and lawmakers in Congress.

“We’re working urgently with Congress on legislation to support the millions of workers, small businesses and industries who’ve been hit hard by the virus through no fault of their own,” President Trump said recently during one of his daily coronavirus task force briefings. “Our goal is to get relief to Americans as quickly as possible so that families can get by and small businesses can keep workers on the payroll.”

Congressional Democrats, however, have abandoned the bipartisanship that characterized early coronavirus relief efforts, reverting to the obstructionist approach they have taken for most of the Trump presidency. After shooting down a promising deal in the Senate because it did not include enough permanent constraints on private businesses as a condition of receiving government assistance, Democrats in the House of Representatives came up with their own proposal that is packed with “poison pill” provisions intended to exploit the coronavirus crisis to advance their Party’s radical ideological agenda.

As Chairman of the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce, I’m outraged that any of our elected officials would continue to put partisan politics over the needs of the American people at a time when the entire country is wracked with fear and uncertainty — not just for the health of themselves and their loved ones, but also for our collective economic future.

The unemployment rates for both blacks and Hispanic Americans have hit record lows in recent years, but without adequate support for minority-owned businesses, all of that progress could be as risk.

If our elected officials put partisanship aside and work together for the greater good, however, the U.S. economy will come roaring back when this deadly pandemic is finally over — and small businesses will once again be at the forefront of our renewed economic renaissance.

Stephen Gilchrist is the Chairman of the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce and serves as a member of the Black Voices for Trump coalition advisory board.

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