Jun 17, 2020
By Alfonso Lopez
Jun 17, 2020
By Alfonso Lopez
Lopez represents the 49th District (parts of Arlington and Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates and serves as Majority Whip. He previously served as the Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration under President Barack Obama. He is a Democrat.
“It’s been flawless so far, beyond our expectations.” That’s how Donald Trump described the small-business lending program that his administration was supposed to be using to deliver hundreds of billions of dollars to struggling businesses that had to virtually shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But like most other pronouncements he’s made during this crisis, it was far from the truth.
The White House’s economic response to the pandemic has been plagued by the same incompetence as the failed health response that has allowed the virus to spread and kill 100,000 Americans. And as small business owners across Virginia attempt to open up again, they’re counting on federal programs for help that have been severely mismanaged by the Trump administration.
The rule shifting, opening up of loopholes, and preference for big banks and their allies meant big companies got funding at the expense of Main Street businesses that needed the most help. By the end of April, just 7% of small businesses had received help, while large corporations raked in more than $1 billion dollars that was meant for small businesses.
In Arlington, one florist said he applied for a small business loan from the federal government, but hasn’t heard back. “It’s so important to get the response. Without them we’d be dead,” he said to WJLA. He’s not alone. Business owners from Roanoke to Virginia Beach have run into problems trying to get help.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Trump’s Small Business Administration changed some of the rules in the Paycheck Protection Program to make the relief funds come with stricter conditions that will end up putting some small businesses in debt. And companies with ties to Trump and his staff walked away with millions: a “flawless” giveaway to the wealthy and well-connected.
Rather than focus on helping the countless working families scraping to keep up with rent, he funneled millions in relief to his billionaire friends, including handing $27 million in relief funds to a campaign donor’s private jet company.
Worse yet, minority-owned businesses fared particularly badly under this program. Experts estimate up to 90% of minority- and women-owned small business could be shut out of receiving PPP loans. And businesses in states hit hardest by outbreaks received a smaller proportion of funds than others.
In Virginia, with one of the highest percentages of minority-owned businesses in the country, this is a major problem.
While Republicans have been pitching reopening as a panacea that will give a major boost to small businesses, the truth is they still need help. But while Democrats in the House were busy negotiating another round of relief, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued that states should just go bankrupt.
I worked at the Small Business Administration under President Obama. I know what it takes to run successful programs that get small businesses the resources they need to grow. That’s why it was so hard to see mismanagement in the Trump administration prevent business owners across our Commonwealth from getting help during this crisis.
While Trump is busy floating conspiracy theories about President Obama and threatening our Governor, Vice President Biden has been holding virtual meetings with small business owners across the country to hear directly about their needs.
In Virginia, I recently hosted a virtual meeting of Latinx business owners who were suffering because of the administration’s failed response. Senator Tim Kaine joined me and three Latina business owners, Rosalia Fajardo, Maribel Meruvia, and Rose Bonilla. We tackled the unique challenges our communities face during this pandemic and Vice President Biden’s plan to get us out of this crisis.
Fajardo was blunt. “The small business community has been devastated. The plans [Trump] implemented never came to us. Never. The only help and the only aid they have been getting has been locally.” Meruvia echoed that experience.
“I have been hearing from a lot from Latino companies that they have not been able to get loans in the first round, that they were denied. Small business owners of color have been especially crushed during this pandemic, and the vast majority of their businesses haven’t been able to receive the financial assistance they need to stay afloat,” she said.
“The United States was the best prepared nation to deal with this, but we’ve handled it worse than virtually any nation on the planet,” said Sen. Kaine. With all the resources and expertise at our government’s disposal it didn’t have to be this bad. But leadership matters, and our current leader built his career by stiffing small businesses. Virginians, especially hard working small business owners across the Commonwealth, deserve better.