Senators Jim Brewster, Jay Costa, Vince Hughes, John Blake, and Pam Iovino today called for $550 million of funds allocated to Pennsylvania through the federal CARES act to be used for a program they are calling the Main Street Business Revitalization Initiative, which will issue grants.

“This pandemic has exposed the fragile ecosystem and slim margins that small businesses and their workers function within every single day,” Costa said. “As Pennsylvania begins to recover both economically and physically from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must make sure that our business owners have the resources they need. We must seek a just recovery from this pandemic.”

The Senators are calling for $425 million to go to traditional main street businesses, and a separate $125 million to be allocated to historically disadvantaged businesses.

Pennsylvania has received $4 billion from the federal government that must be spent or allocated by December 31, 2020. The Senate Democrats have proposed a robust plan for those funds called PA CARES.

“These main street businesses did not cause this pandemic, but they are feeling its worst financial effects,” Sen. Hughes said. “Our plan gets these small businesses the financial assistance they deserve. Money has been sitting in Pennsylvania’s account for six weeks, which is money intended, by the direction of the federal government, to assist small businesses, and that money needs to go out immediately. The question is: Why are we waiting? The answer is: We can wait no longer. Small mom-and-pop, main street, and neighborhood businesses — especially those businesses in historically disadvantaged communities who have born the financial brunt of this pandemic — need this help. Our plan gets it to them immediately. All grants and no loans. They need this cash now and our plan gets it to them now. From the barbershop in North Philadelphia and to the nail salon in Pittsburgh, and from the pizza shop in Scranton and to the auto body shop in Erie; our plan sees their pain, especially those in historically disadvantaged communities, and responds to it. Real money in real time.”

This initiative will be run by Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) who are committed to providing flexible loans, debt relief and business technical assistance to support the recovery and sustainability of Pennsylvania businesses. CDFIs are known to be “first responders” during periods of economic turmoil because of their keen knowledge of and connection to the communities they serve. More importantly, they have a demonstrated capacity to focus on the critical needs of small businesses.

The Main Street Business Revitalization Initiative is a retroactive way to address the serious challenges of the main street small business community caused by the COVID-19 and the devastating but necessary closures ordered in Pennsylvania to protect public health.

“Our small businesses – restaurants, barbershops, cafes, bakeries, boutiques – are the heartbeat of our communities and the backbone of our economy,” said Senator John Blake. “Throughout the pandemic, their bills have continued to mount despite limited or no sales at all, insufficient income and, to-date, inadequate support and funding from the federal stimulus package.   Our proposal will provide $550 million in grants to Main Street small business owners throughout the state using Pennsylvania’s share of the federal CARES Act COVID-19 relief package.  It will allow small business owners to pay health care premiums, insurance policy premiums, rent, loan payments, real estate tax payments, as well as covering some of the costs that must be incurred to ensure the safety of workers and customers as businesses reopen.”

Eligible businesses will include barbers, salons, restaurants, bars, and taverns, retailers, coffee shops, neighborhood hardware stores, garden shops, realtors, childcare facilities and the numerous other small businesses who have suffered economically during this challenging time.

Previous business assistance programs have inadvertently disadvantaged many main street businesses who were unprepared to tap into the network of assistance. Through the assistance of CDFIs, main street businesses will have access to job protection and initiatives through financial institutions they are comfortable with.

“To spur a vigorous economic rebound, state and federal resources must be deployed effectively including using federal CARES dollars to help small businesses that have been severely impacted by the pandemic,” Brewster said. “Driving funds out now to help businesses get their operations underway, cover costs, and navigate the regulatory environment in the immediate aftermath of a government-mandated closure is an excellent approach.

“The stimulus plan that I offered earlier this year to re-ignite business activity and speed the economic recovery once the pandemic’s health risk was addressed included elements to aid small business. Pushing financial assistance while promoting safety and security for workers and consumers is the way to reengage our economy in a meaningful way.”

“Small businesses represent nearly half of the private sector workforce in Pennsylvania – 2.5 million jobs. They are the job creators in our communities, yet they were glaringly overlooked by federal business relief programs,” said Senator Iovino. “While small business owners are making difficult decisions about how long they can hang on, they need to know that a lifeline will be available to them. We do not want to see any of these businesses fail, and the $550 million Main Street Business Revitalization Initiative is exactly the kind of lifeline that these economic drivers need.”

As many Pennsylvania counties are now in the Yellow phase of reopening and on their way to Green phase, businesses cannot be expected to open their doors and have all the issues of these past months disappear.

Local businesses, and the workers that they employee, need the legislature to act and disperse funds that will aid in the lost revenue and assist in building back up the business back bones of our community.

The Pennsylvania Senate Democrats have released their PA CARES plan with initiatives that include assistance for the business community, housing assistance programs, student debt relief, veterans’ assistance, utility assistance, and food bank support. Read all proposals here.