PROVIDENCE, RI – Today, local small business owners were joined by Lt. Governor Dan McKee and other elected officials to announce the formation of the RI Small Business Coalition and a grassroots effort to encourage the State of Rhode Island to allocate at least 10 percent of its $1.25 billion federal COVID-19 relief funds to issue grants to small businesses impacted by the pandemic.
The coalition formed in response to Lt. Governor Dan McKee's call to action for the small business community to support his proposal that the state issue grants to small businesses using the federal COVID-19 relief funds it received through the CARES Act. Last week, the Lt. Governor's Office, in partnership with local business owners launched an online petition to build community support for the effort: rismallbusiness.org/petition. Over 2,100 individuals have already signed the petition.
According to CARES Act guidelines, distributing grants to small businesses is an allowable use of the funds, while using the funds to balance state budget is prohibited. A growing number of states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Alaska, Arizona and others have already dedicated a portion of their COVID-19 funds to support small businesses.
"Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the heart of our communities. I commend our state's small business owners for taking time away from running their businesses to unite, organize and support each other across industries and communities in a way that Rhode Island has not seen before," said Lt. Governor Dan McKee. "We know that not all small businesses qualified for the federal Paycheck Protection Program. We know that for many, the Economic Injury Disaster Loans were not enough. Other states have recognized these shortfalls and used federal COVID-19 relief funds to issue grants to keep struggling small businesses afloat. Rhode Island must take action to support its small businesses swiftly and equitably."
The coalition, led by Chris Parisi, Founder of Providence-based Trailblaze Marketing, will execute a grassroots strategy to encourage all Rhode Islanders to join thousands of individuals who have already signed the petition. The strategy includes outreach to all Rhode Island elected officials to urge them to sign the petition and stand with the small business community. Small businesses owners will also reach out to their customer bases and professional networks to bolster support for the movement. Additionally, the coalition is working with the Lt. Governor's Office to encourage city and town councils to pass resolutions in support of the effort. The towns of Cumberland and Foster are slated to hear resolutions in the upcoming weeks.
"As small business owners, we are uniting during this pandemic to ensure our voice is heard and our struggle is understood," said Chris Parisi, Founder of Trailblaze Marketing in Providence. "Financial assistance often comes too slow or too late for small businesses. Many of us operate on thin margins and cannot cover expenses for more than a couple of months. During a pandemic, rent doesn't go away, utility bills keep coming and debt piles up. That's why we need the state to step up and allocate at least 10 percent of federal COVID-19 relief funds to help save Rhode Island small businesses now. Other states are taking action. Every day that our state waits, more small businesses move closer to closing their doors."
During the press conference, other members of the coalition shared personal stories of how COVID-19 continues to devastate their small businesses.
"In just a few short months, my small business went from a growing company with 12 employees looking to expand, to cutting programs, downsizing our staff and dealing with a projected $100,000 gross revenue loss from projections for 2020," said Judah Boulet, Owner of No Risk CrossFit in Smithfield. "All boutique gyms, yoga and spin studios, and other small fitness businesses were closed by the state to help stop the spread of coronavirus. We closed our doors and continue to do what is right for the collective good. Now, we need the state to do right by us and use federal COVID-19 relief funds to help us keep the doors open so we can make a living, pay our bills, support our families and continue being the foundation of the communities that our businesses call home."
"Access to child care is an essential component of reopening and reenergizing Rhode Island's economy. Small early learning and child care facilities like mine are at the heart of this industry and for many of us, every day we think about whether or not we can continue to operate," said Nancy Beye, Jamestown Town Councilwoman and Owner of Jamestown Early Learning Center. "Small businesses owners in all industries are doing their best to take everything day by day, but there is a growing uncertainty and increasing anxiety about how much longer we can continue without support from the state. Unless you own a small business and know what it's like to have employees and their families depending on you, I'm not sure you can understand the stress and frustration we feel."
"As small business owners, we put everything into running our businesses and for many of us, COVID-19 has taken everything we have. Sometimes it feels like there's just no hope," said Jennifer Ortiz, Owner of Executive Cuts Barbershop in Providence. "To be able to reopen my doors and keep my customers safe, I invested thousands of dollars to meet social distancing requirements and upgrade cleaning measures. This created a significant debt that I did not have before the pandemic and one that will be difficult to manage down the road as the lack of activity and foot traffic in downtown Providence has impacted our finances. Whenever I see another small business announce they're closing their doors, my heart breaks because I know that's one of the hardest decisions a small business owner will ever have to make."
Small business owners interest in joining the RI Small Business Coalition and supporting its grassroots movement to save Rhode Island small business now can sign up at rismallbusiness.org.