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Lt. Gov. McKee Hosts Small Business Conference Call: SBA Loan Concerns, Level Playing Field for Small Garden Shops

Office Activity Update April 14, 2020

Today, Lt. Governor Dan McKee held one of his bi-weekly conference calls with several hundred Rhode Island small businesses.

The first panelist on the call was Matthew Weldon, Assistant Director of the Department of Labor and Training, who reported 150,000 unemployment insurance claims have been filed by Rhode Islanders to date. He added that new software would be available soon to speed up the processing of claims. He also reported that unemployment insurance is now available for individuals who do not typically qualify. He added that the $600 federal benefit is being applied to all claims.

Next, Lt. Governor McKee introduced Mark Hayward, District Director of the Rhode Island Small Business Administration (SBA) Office, for an update on assistance the SBA is providing to small businesses. Hayward reported nearly 5,000 have been issued for a total of more than $1 billion. He added that the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) is available to get employees back on regular payroll. Hayward also noted that the PPP forgiveness guidelines will be rolled out soon. Anyone with any questions for the SBA can email mark.hayward@sba.gov.

The Lt. Governor announced that he is preparing a letter to be sent to Rhode Island's congressional delegation that will include recommendations from the small business community regarding additional flexibility during the 8-week PPP forgiveness period, the inability for many to achieve the 75% payroll requirement and additional assistance for microbusinesses that do not qualify for PPP.

Lt. Governor McKee then introduced Justin Gontarek of Oceanside Graphics to discuss the Gift it Forward initiative. The website (rismallbusiness.org) has had 75,000 visits and more than 4,000 hits on the "buy a gift card" link.

The following small business shared their feedback on the call:

- Bonnie Gomes, Owner, WADK Radio: Reported that employers who have employees who do not want to return to work should contact Assistant Director Weldon at the RI DLT at matthew.weldon@dlt.ri.gov.

- Bill Kitsilis, Restaurant Owner: Received his PPP loan and will listen on future calls for guidance from the SBA.

- Joe Thibaudeau, Owner, Ritual Sweat Society: Applied for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and is not eligible because his employees receive 1099 forms for the work they perform as independent contractors. This will be addressed by the Lt. Governor in his letter to the congressional delegation.

- Tyler Young, Owner, Young Family Farm: Believes there is unfair competition in his industry because the big box store garden centers are allowed to be open while the smaller greenhouses and nurseries are closed. The Rhode Island Farm Bureau sent a letter to the federal government on this issue. The Lt. Governor is working locally to level the playing field for these small businesses.

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