Long hailed by elected officials as “the backbone of the American economy,” small businesses are receiving renewed attention in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This support will help entrepreneurs and business owners across the country keep the lights on and the checks flowing to their employees. But small businesses deserved Washington’s attention long before the outbreak began.
Every election season, it seems that small businesses become a popular sound bite. Candidates from both sides of the aisle and every level of government preach their resounding support for the independent and family businesses that account for a majority of the national economy. In fact, it often seems like support for small businesses is the only issue candidates actually agree on.
All too often, that bipartisan support fades away once the election ends. In recent years, small businesses have faced rising commercial rents, monopolistic consolidation among competitors and outdated regulations—issues that require policymakers at every level of government to take action. Yet change has occurred slowly, if at all.
Then came the coronavirus outbreak. Within days of the outbreak surging in the United States, small businesses across the country were under strict orders to close their doors or limit their operations. Understanding the devastating impact these measures would have on the nation’s small businesses, lawmakers took swift action. Congress quickly passed the CARES Act to provide nearly $350 billion in relief and is poised to allocate more funding as needed. Meanwhile, the Small Business Administration began making Economic Injury Disaster Loans available for small businesses in need of advances on funding. This relief allows small businesses to continue making payroll and to offset other COVID-related losses.
“Would you believe the day would come when politicians actually begin to act on their rhetoric to support small businesses?” says Jim Wilhite, owner of Love TV Sales & Service in St. Louis, Missouri. “It’s unfortunate that it took a pandemic to realize actions from politicians to demonstrate any support for them.”
This support for small businesses is telling. Small and local businesses employ a majority of American workers. By funding small businesses, Congress recognized the important role they play in the lives of everyday Americans. When small businesses do better, American workers do better.
Eventually, the country will overcome the coronavirus pandemic. But the importance of small businesses won’t change. While the pandemic rages on, lawmakers must do their part to ensure that small businesses can survive the downturn. That way, American workers will have jobs to return to when the stay-at-home orders lift.
Just as important, lawmakers must continue their support of small businesses once the pandemic subsides. The challenges that existed before the outbreak won’t disappear without prolonged attention. Even after the pandemic, small business owners need action—not just rhetoric—from their elected officials.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught lawmakers anything about the national economy, it’s the essential role that small businesses play in Americans’ everyday lives. As employers, as job creators and as engines of local economic activity, small businesses will play a crucial role in the recovery that lies ahead. Let’s not forget that role once the recovery turns to reflection.