Hoarding billions in stimulus dollars leaves small businesses behind | Opinion

 By Donna Bullock and Danilo Burgos

In case you missed it: Republicans who control the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate went home for the summer after passing a budget that hid away billions of dollars in stimulus money instead of using it for what it was meant for: helping workers and businesses.

We all know restaurants, bars and social clubs were hit hard by COVID-19. These businesses couldn’t move to remote operation when the virus hit, and their impact on our communities is much, much larger than their annual revenues.

If you ask the men and women struggling to keep the doors of their family business open, they’ll tell you they’re weathering the worst storm they’ve ever seen – and they need help now.

– Donna Bullock and Danilo Burgos

These are the mom-and-pop operations that not only create the jobs, but also sponsor the Little League team, allow young entrepreneurs to sell lemonade or cookies outside the front doors, and host nights where part of your bill supports other community efforts.

Sadly, revenue at these small community businesses is down almost a third from pre-pandemic levels – and one in four of those businesses have shut the doors. The numbers are even more staggering for Black and women-owned businesses.

Our restaurants, bars and social clubs are there for us when we need them – which makes it even harder to admit the state wasn’t there for them. Earlier this month the U.S. Small Business Administration published a list of more than 100,000 businesses nationwide eligible for grants aimed right at the kinds of food service operations that were hit the hardest.

The program was able to help a lot of businesses – but, ultimately, only one in three applicants saw a dime. That’s not good enough, and we have the money to do this right.

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Pennsylvania’s rebounding economy left us with a $3 billion budget surplus. The American Rescue Plan delivered us $7 billion to help us recover and rebuild from the virus’ impact. Sadly, the Republican majority in the House and the Senate chose to hoard this money in a government vault instead of returning it to the people. The GOP claims we need to save for a rainy day.

If you ask the men and women struggling to keep the doors of their family business open, they’ll tell you they’re weathering the worst storm they’ve ever seen – and they need help now.

Our Pennsylvania Rescue Plan would invest real dollars in our community entrepreneurs – including an additional $250 million in direct payments to businesses such as restaurants, bars and social clubs.

Plus, we want to invest more than $300 million in additional funding to create a paid sick leave program for workers that would operate like the unemployment compensation program – workers would pay into it and have a fund they could tap to take leave without forcing truly small businesses to offer a plan, and we want to give workers more power over their retirement by creating a user-driven investment plan.

When we see states such as New Jersey and Ohio investing hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting local community businesses it makes it even more apparent we’re not doing enough for our businesses and our workers.

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The plan does a lot more to help us rebound, too. The plan invests in health care jobs and improving access to care for everyone.

The plan creates jobs in high-demand industries and helps pay for the training our workers need to get the careers they deserve.

The plan invests in our high-tech, high-wage biotechnology industry doing the research to save lives now and in the future.

The plan improves access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet in cities and in rural areas – another problem the virus didn’t create, but the virus certainly showed the depth of the need.

There’s a lot more good we can do.

Most importantly: the plan opens up the government vault and puts the money to work in our communities, where every dollar invested has the power multiplied over and over as those dollars are spent in the communities and used to create even more jobs and buy more supplies and improve everyone’s lives.

We will keep fighting for jobs and businesses, and we respectfully ask you to join us. Please, contact your state lawmakers and ask them to support the Pennsylvania Rescue Plan.

State Reps. Donna Bullock and Danilo Burgos, both Democrats, respectively represent the Philadelphia-based 195th and 197th state House Districts. Bullock is the chairperson of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.

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