Efforts emerge to support small businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 economic downturn

By ANDREW WILKINS

Local and state officials are working to provide relief for Oregon’s business community— and as of Friday, March 20th the federal Small Business Administration has approved Oregon’s disaster declaration for COVID-19.

For more information, and how to apply go to the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans page here. The Oregon Economic Development Association wrote that there was a two-to-three-week timeline and five days for disbursement on the loans.

Apply for SBA Disaster Loan Assistance

According to its website, the SBA can provide up to $2 million to help “meet financial obligations and operating expenses” that could have been met if the disaster hadn’t occurred.

SBA EIDL fact sheet

Efforts in Portland

Wheeler said that on Monday, March 16th, he authorized a task force led by his office and Prosper Portland, the City’s economic development agency, to assist small and large employers and their employees struggling with the economic impacts of COVID-19.

In a press conference Tuesday, March 17th, Mayor Ted Wheeler discussed how the City was working to mitigate the downturn’s impact on small businesses in Portland.

“Every option will be on the table to support the resilience and the recovery of our local economy,” he said.

Watch the business-focused part of the Tuesday, March 17th press conference, or read the highlights below.

Update: On Wednesday, March 25th, Portland announced $1 million for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 economic downturn, the Oregonian reported. The city will prioritize women- and people of color-owned businesses, with some conditions, according to the executive director of Prosper Portland.

The biggest news, however, that came out of that press conference is that the City barred evictions, and is allowing tenants impacted by COVID-19 to delay paying rent during the state of emergency. He also announced that the City’s tenants and borrowers would have a three-month deferral on rent and loan repayments.

Wheeler said the task force is also partnering with major employers and small businesses, front line communities, labor partners, work force development partners, and foundations. Wheeler also acknowledged cooperation from key City and County partners and Business Oregon.

Wheeler said he met with downtown property owners on Tuesday as well.

To help vulnerable businesses, Wheeler said Prosper Portland was immediately making $150,000 in grants available in a partnership with the Jade District Neighborhood Prosperity Network.

As home to many Asian-owned business, Wheeler said the Jade District is “amongst the hardest impacted by the economic downturn related to COVID-19”.

With time, Wheeler said he expects resources will be expanded to other areas.

Grants are being awarded to businesses in the Jade District and Old Town, and immigrant owned businesses and / or API owned small businesses are prioritized.

The Jade District Steering Committee also added $50,000 to the program. The deadline to apply is 11:59 p.m., March 23rd. Apply to the Jade District-Oldtown COVID-19 Small Business Response Fund here.

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Wheeler said he is convening partners in the private sector to develop a commercial eviction strategy and other financial relief. He also thanked private landlords who allowed their tenants to defer or forgo payments.

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For non-profit organizations impacted by the downturn, the Oregon Community Foundation has established the Oregon Community Recovery Grant program. Guidelines are still being formulated, but you can get more information and apply here.

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Also on Tuesday, East Metro Economic Alliance called on small businesses across the state to share with the Governor’s Office how they’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Share a story with Leah Horner (leah.horner@oregon.gov), Brown’s Jobs and Economy Policy Advisor.

Tina Granzo was helping spread the word about the EMEA campaign on social media. She served on the Montavilla East Tabor Business Association for four years, and knows that a lot of small businesses are suffering.

She wrote that the help will be good, but it needs to come quickly. “… with some businesses, the owners put everything they had (all equity) into their businesses and (as with Bipartisan [Cafe]) did things like pay employees a living wage, taking much less for themselves,” Granzo said. “So, not much of a back-up or safety net (even while waiting for help).”

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Wheeler said he would be meeting with banks and credit unions on Thursday, March 19th, asking them to make sacrifices because he knows they are sitting on substantial reserves.

“As tenants are unable to pay rent, landlords and build owners would then not be able to pay the mortgage they are due,” Wheeler said at Tuesday’s press conference. He said he’ll ask the banks and credit unions to give them more coverage during this cash crunch.

Thursday, Wheeler said they would also be convening their two task forces and meeting with the business community on Thursday.

As of Monday morning, March 23rd, there’s been no update from the mayor or governor on these business-related initiatives.

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A survey of more than 900 Oregon businesses by Built Oregon found that respondents are losing an estimated $4.8 million in sales. See some of the results of the survey below. The survey was first reported by Portland Business Journal; find more details here.

When asked for what kind of help they needed, many business owners responded: no-interest loans to cover rent and payroll; emergency working capital loans; and assistance for workers, according to the story.

More calls for action from the Portland business community:

At the federal level, the United States Chamber of Commerce has called for bridge loans for the 68 million American workers that are employed by enterprises with more than 500 employees.

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Negotiations over relief measures are moving fast in Washington D.C., and as of Sunday afternoon the Tax Foundation reports:

“… the Senate released an updated version of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The bill builds upon an earlier version of the CARES Act and is intended to be a third round of federal government support in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis and associated economic fallout, following the $8.3 billion in public health support passed two weeks ago and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”

The Tax Foundation will provide updates as the happen.

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