The gradual reopening of D.C., Virginia and Maryland has created some economic optimism, but small businesses say they still face a long road to recovery.
Many employers have had to lay off workers, still struggle to pay bills and are dealing with a maze of requirements to get federal or state assistance.
Steve Green, the owner of High Mountain Sports in Garrett County, Maryland, said he’s making headway, but it hasn’t been easy. As the pandemic began, he had to deal with a dire economic situation he had never faced before.
He said that on March 23, “we laid off everyone, including myself.”
“Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Green said.
REOPENING PLANS AROUND THE REGION:
- Northern Virginia
- Montgomery County
- Prince George’s County
- Frederick, Anne Arundel and Charles counties
But Green and other small businesses are getting help through a work-sharing program that has been supported by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Though it took some time, Green said getting the financial assistance has been critical to staying in business.
Green and Ann Costlow, the founder of the Sofi’s Crepes chain in Maryland, took part in a video conference with Van Hollen and others this week to shine a light on the issues small businesses are facing, and show how federal and state programs can help them.
Costlow said some Sofi’s Crepes franchises in residential areas have been able to do OK with takeout orders. But her location in downtown Baltimore has been hit hard.
“That location — our business has been down about 80%,” she said, noting that the government help has been a lifeline.
Van Hollen, and Maryland state Sens. Katie Fry Hester and Jim Rosapepe, are trying to get the word out to small businesses that there is funding they can tap into as they gradually bring workers back.
Hester noted that Maryland has had a work-sharing program for decades, and that Van Hollen is looking to expand on a small similar federal program. Essentially, it allows the employer and the state to share the payroll costs, so the employee can still collect unemployment.
As an example of how it could help, Hester cited how the operator of a preschool could keep workers on the payroll during what could be a very slow reopening for that type of facility.
“Instead of having to let go of all these amazing employees you’ve already managed to recruit, and hire, and train over the years, you can keep them on by paying half of their paychecks and having the state pay half of their unemployment,” she said.
Van Hollen said it’s important for federal and state assistance to be flexible, since the reopening is going to take time.
“As we move to reopen, it’s not going to be like throwing a light switch from off to full on,” he said.
Green said he has been able to start bringing workers back and to add to their hours each week. He hopes to soon get some of them back to full-time status.
One aspect of his business that helped keep bringing in revenue was the surge in biking during the pandemic. He noted a lot of people just wanted to get out of their homes.
“It was really bad, and now we’re starting to see the light of day,” Green said.
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