Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Jean-Marie Caterina said her real estate business, Caterina MacLean Real Estate, was rolling along just fine this fall until the government shutdown hit.
Then, she said, banks were unable to process mortgages because lenders couldn’t confirm basic information, such as Social Security numbers.
“I had some first-time buyers whose mortgage process was held up,” she said.
A seller who listed a home just before the shutdown found scant interest in his house. Caterina said that she can’t prove it, but she blames that lack of interest on the shutdown, reasoning that potential buyers knew they would probably face hurdles if they wanted to move ahead before the shutdown was resolved.
Caterina, whose brokerage is based in South Portland, was one of a handful of small business owners who met Wednesday with staffers for U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, D-Maine, to talk about the impact of the 16-day shutdown and express their concerns about the potential for another shutdown later this winter.
Many businesses nationwide were affected by the shutdown in a variety of ways, from being unable to get financing on loans backed by the Small Business Administration, to lenders being prevented from checking tax information provided by applicants, to business owners being unable to verify the work eligibility of potential employees.
The meeting Wednesday was put together by the Maine Small Business Coalition, a program of the Maine People’s Alliance, a liberal advocacy group. Andrew Francis, a communications associate with the coalition, said the group was formed as a counter to other business lobbying groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which he said too often represent big businesses at the expense of smaller businesses.
Owners of other businesses at the meeting said the shutdown had affected their plans to expand, like a brewery owner who said she had to hold off selling a new brew because federal officials who need to approve bottle labels were furloughed.
James Shol, who owns Rubar International, an ethnic grocery in Portland, said his business slowed after the shutdown because many of his customers receive government assistance. He said those customers were concerned that the shutdown would result in their aid being cut, a worry that grew after a computer glitch caused many electronic benefits cards to be rejected in the middle of the long Columbus Day holiday weekend.
James Pineau, a Pingree aide who attended the meeting, said the message he received from the attendees was that the shutdown had been a challenge to the businesses. He said Pingree has instructed her staff to intervene to see if they could get federal agencies to speed up issues for the businesses that were delayed by the shutdown.
Caterina said she hopes that in the long run, the shutdown will represent only a speed bump in the economic recovery, which had been accelerating, especially in the state’s housing market. But she’s worried about what could happen when the temporary budget agreement, which allowed the government to reopen, expires in January and Democrats and Republicans reopen budget negotiations.
“My concern is we’re going to have to go through this again,” she said. “The uncertainty really hurts.”
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: