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Lt. Gov. McKee Hosts Small Business Conference Call: RI Senate Update, Feedback from Farmers

April 17, 2020 - Office Activity Update

Lt. Governor McKee today hosted another small business conference call to help small business owners get answers to their questions and to allow them to share their feedback on changes to the local economy. Lt. Governor McKee opened the call with a warm welcome to everyone and reiterated that the state's top priority is the health and safety of all Rhode Islanders.

Mark Hayward, District Director of the Rhode Island Small Business Administration (SBA) Office, provided updates on the Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Over 8,000 applications for total of $1.3B have been received.

Lt. Governor McKee introduced Deputy Director of the Department of Business Regulation Julietta Georgakis who reported on the new executive order requiring face coverings that is applicable to employers, employees, and customers.

The Lt. Governor introduced the following State Senators who provided updates related to small business:

- Senator Louis DiPalma: Highlighted that he continues to address constituent issues related to unemployment in his district. He added that he is assisting small business with continuity planning and how they will be able to transition through reopening.

- Senator Sandra Cano: Urged everyone to think about the microbusinesses that are unable to obtain financial assistance. She also voiced her concerns to the undocumented workers who are waiting for citizenship and cannot get assistance while out of work due to the pandemic. Cano encouraged small businesses to contact the Rhode Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

- Senator Josh Miller: Noted that he is a small business owner. Miller added that he has been working with constituents on telehealth issues, property and sales tax matters, Unemployment Insurance, and hospital protocols including Health Source RI.

Lt. Governor McKee introduced Justin Gontarek of Oceanside Graphics to discuss the "Gift it Forward" website. The site has had 81,000 visits to date and more than 900 businesses have signed on to the website.

The Lt. Governor introduced a panel of small farmers to discuss concerns:

- Richard Clark of Clarks Family Farm: Reported a concern of not being able to sell his current inventory to make room for the new season of inventory that will arrive very soon. His noted that his sales are very slow due to curbside only sales. Clark feels the smaller greenhouses and nurseries are at a distinct disadvantage with the big box stores who are open for business as usual.

- Vincent Confreda of Confreda Farms: Reiterated that small businesses will suffer greatly due to an unfair advantage with the big box stores. He also stressed that the smaller independent businesses are much more capable to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

- Heidi Quinn, Director of the RI Farm Bureau: Reported that she has 1,300 members in Rhode Island and 5 million nationwide. She stressed that Rhode Island needs to open small greenhouses and nurseries now.

- Bill Stamp of Stamp Farms: Noted that neighboring states are doing much more with their small greenhouses and nurseries. He added that Mother's Day is around the corner and much of the local farm industry depends on these sales.

The Lt. Governor repeated his stance that he does not want to see the big box stores closed, but would like to see a plan that allows all greenhouses and nurseries to open for business with safeguards in place to protect the health and safety of everyone.

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