Bowens Wharf Bridgefest

Small business owners and employees are reeling in response to a global virus that’s shut their doors, leaving hundreds, if not thousands of employees out of work, more than doubling the state’s unemployment rate.

Federally, politicians are debating programs designed to help both business owners and their employees. Locally, groups are also looking for ways to provide support. At times it doesn’t go quite smoothly.

Take Lt. Gov. Dan McKee’s Conference Call to small businesses today.  Some people waited with anticipation only to find they couldn’t get on the call because capacity had been reached. 

Meanwhile, the Small Business Administration is initiating loan programs and other initiatives that are designed to help business owners, said Mark Hayward, the Small Business Administration’s Rhode Island District Executive Director.

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Perhaps the most significant development is that lenders, whose loans are backed by the SBA are being asked to postpone both interest and principal payments for three to six months, tacking those on the back end of loans, Hayward said.

“This is a liquidity issue,” he said.

Last week, Hayward said, the SBA initiated an Economic Injury Disaster Loan program to cover fixed expenses, including payroll, mortgages, lights. If a business receives the loan, Hayward said, payments are deferred for a year.

Another program that’s being discussed for businesses with 500 or less employees are loans that would cover two months of operating expenses, including payroll. The proposal includes loan forgiveness if a company demonstrates they used the money for the purposes for which they applied.

Hayward said he’s personally received upwards of 300 emails a day from small businesses, some with heartbreaking stories.

“These people are passionate about their businesses,” Hayward said. “It’s their lives, their livelihoods, and they have great concern for their employees.”

He mentioned the woman businessowner who reached a Hayward colleague at the local SBA office and was in tears for 45 minutes.

“Until we can get that under control, it is a huge issue,” Hayward said. “I think people need to take this extremely seriously… People have got to keep hunkered down If we continue to socialize, we are passing this with unknown intent.”

Business owners are calling with questions ranging from technical issues to needing help filling out loan forms. He urged those with questions to reach out to him at Markhayward@sba.gov.

In other business-related developments:

  • Business owners in Newport and Bristol Counties who have been impacted by COVID-19 can access support through Connect Greater Newport’s Business Retention & Expansion program. This free resource, created through the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce in partnership with municipal leaders, business owners, resources organizations and education institutions, is available to help, guidance and resources to help businesses overcome the challenges resulting from the Coronavirus. For more information or to schedule a virtual consultation go to www.connectgreaternewport.com/coronavirus-updates For more information about Connect Greater Newport visit www.connectgreaternewport.com.
  • Lt. Gov. McKee, chair of Rhode Island’s Small Business Advocacy Council, today joined Justin Gontarek and Nicholas Rego, founders of Oceanside Graphics RI, to announce Gift it Forward, a new website, RIsmallbusiness.org, that makes it easier for Rhode Islanders to support small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The site features three main resources: Business registration: Small business owners can submit information on how Rhode Islanders can purchase gift cards from their business. Once approved, the business will be added to a categorized database on the site. Community nominations: Rhode Islanders can nominate local businesses to be included in the gift card database. All businesses will be contacted before their information appears on the site. Corporate giving: Larger companies interested in supporting small businesses can submit their contact information through the site and the Gift it Forward team will work to connect them with a business in need. Businesses with questions about the program can e-mail info@RIsmallbusiness.org. Rhode Islanders can join the Gift it Forward conversation online by using #GiftItForwardRI.