The COVID-19 era is unprecedented. In a world increasingly prone to hyperbole, unprecedented becomes used often for things that are infrequent, or irregular, but make no mistake this is unprecedented (at least it is in the last 100 years since the Spanish Flu of 1918. Never has a pandemic so thoroughly dismantled our everyday lives.

As much as the pandemic has hurt our economy and our livelihoods, there are certain stories and programs that have shown the character of our communities. Both the town of Brunswick and city of Bath have initiated business support loans, individual businesses have bought lunches for our frontline workers and non-profit agencies, and so much more. In the dark days, these rays of light shine through on the goodness and support we have for one another.

That spirit is reflected at the state and federal levels too as brand-new programs have been initiated to bring some financial stimulus and support to our citizens and businesses. In a chaotic time, these leaders have been the definition of the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention.” Whether it’s the Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loans, the federal stimulus checks, or the new state of Maine Four-Stage Reopening Plan, our leaders have been working hard on finding the best ways to support us.

More than that though, they are asking for our feedback, and trying to adjust these plans to serve us better. It’s not easy. Every suggestion has to be vetted against every other case in the same situation in order for a statute or rule to change. They also need to convince others the change is needed. This is why only overwhelming changes can be made because our leadership needs to hear the same universal message from many people to ensure it is needed.

To that end, with CARES Act 2 beginning to be negotiated on the federal level, and proposed changes being submitted to the state of Maine for the re-opening plan, here are several suggestions we have noticed that we would like to bring forward. These came from an evaluation of the PPP and EDIL programs we did with a few dozen business owners a couple of weeks ago. We are grateful for what has been done, but here are some suggestions to help even more people.

Tourism-based Businesses Will Need Some Stimulus Support

This is critical in Maine, but many other states also rely on tourism as an economic driver. Many have lost the early part of their seasons already and for those that don’t get going until later in the year, their outlooks are not much better. Lodging properties, already struggling with reservations, have had further limitations put on their reservation capabilities due to mandated quarantines, and in-state or out of state residency restrictions. Of course, tourism-related businesses also include restaurants, boating charters, cruises, seasonal entertainment venues, boutique retail and so many more. In Maine, it’s hard to think of an industry not affected by a 10, 20 or 50% reduction in summer tourists (not to mention the decrease in tax revenue). These businesses will need some sort of financial support if we want to have these same experiences available in 2021 and beyond.

Sole Proprietors and Microbusinesses Need a New PPP Formula

The Paycheck Protection Program is designed to support businesses in a way that makes eight weeks of payroll expenses a forgivable loan (meaning it doesn’t need to be paid back). The formula is based on their monthly payroll expenses with 75% of the loan going to payroll costs and the additional 25% can go to other business expenses. If the additional 25% goes to rent, mortgage interest or utilities it is also forgiven- all other expenses need to be paid back in a two-year loan. It’s a great concept for businesses whose payroll is their #1 expense. However, for a sole proprietor or a microbusiness with under 5 employees, payroll is likely not their highest expense. Think of large footprint businesses like consignment stores and fitness centers, or boutique shops in high-profile commercial districts like downtowns or gig economy workers like Uber drivers- the rent or vehicle expenses is typically much higher than the 1-4 people on payroll. There needs to be a new formula for these folks, perhaps based on rent, utility costs, vehicle costs or other business expenses as micro businesses and sole proprietors make up many of our favorite businesses.

501c6 Organizations Need PPP Inclusion of Stimulus Funding

Local chambers of commerce, and industry associations like the Retail Association of Maine, HopsitalityMaine, Maine Technology Users Group and dozens of others are doing some of their most important work right now, helping guide their business members to the financial resources they need (and many non-member too). The businesses need help and we’re helping them. But not being eligible for PPP funding (or in Maine, EIDL funding), makes keeping our staffs employed very difficult. Many organizations rely on business support, but with businesses struggling to stay open, that is a difficult ask. Many want to help and can’t afford it right now. Secondly, many fundraising events like major conferences, golf tournaments, networking programs, and other human contact events have been postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 guidelines, so secondary support income is gone too. Currently in Maine in local chambers of commerce statewide, 55.9% of chamber staff people have been laid off or are working reduced hours. This has an exponentially negative effect on how many businesses we can help. Bottom line: 501c6 organizations need to be included in future funding or have the ability to apply for funding.

On a related note, I’d personally like to thank the 10-12 businesses who have stepped up with advanced SMMC support in the past month, as you have kept me on staff- thank you. One business in particular, we will be highlighting later this year for their tremendous support of us and many others.

More suggestions next week.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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