The future is scary even for the most fortunate of small businesses, like the one I own. Our busiest season is coming to a close and many of us are already hurting. After two generations, my generation could be the last running our country store.

That’s in large part because leaders in the Senate, including our Sen. Susan Collins, are refusing to extend real relief for small businesses during a once-in-a-century pandemic. They’ve let the clock run out on unemployment benefits and aid to small businesses that’s been keeping our economy afloat.

Our shop is a gathering spot for people of all ages in our community, so we closed up in March before the governor’s stay-at-home order. It just wasn’t safe to keep our doors open.

It was so surreal to close our business, to see the store empty, watch our revenue hit the floor, and to have to send our employees home. But there wasn’t even a real choice. People’s health had to come first.

We donated our perishables to a local grocery store, which had begun feeding our neighbors who don’t have the means to feed themselves, and worked with other local businesses and nonprofits to pool resources to launch the Lincoln County Food Initiative.

Doing that has meant a lot to us, but the stress over our business has been horrible. We closed entirely for almost three months, staying afloat with money we’d saved to hold us over during winter, our-off season. On top of that, we had to plan particularly carefully to reopen safely for our employees and our customers.

We reopened on June 2, yet our future is far from certain. We’re operating with a limited lunch menu and window service only for 15 hours per week—a big drop from 60 hours a week before the pandemic. It’s been our best effort to hone in on those busiest hours to reduce overhead while keeping our employees and customers safe. However, now we’re bringing in a quarter to a third as much revenue as in previous years.

At the same time, we’ve been luckier than most small businesses. While Sen. Collins ignored small business demands for an ambitious grants-based program that truly meets the existential threat we are facing, her Paycheck Protection Program has been a useful stopgap measure. It helped us to keep paying our 10 employees and pay fix costs, helping us get through June and July.

However, the money has dried up. Instead of proposing plans that meet the moment, Sen. Collins introduced a bill that is so modest that it is hard to take it seriously. It’s funny how Senate Republicans used small businesses to advocate for massive tax cuts that actually helped big corporations, but when real small businesses ask for help, there’s just never enough money.

That’s why I’m so outraged at the Senate. People at home are doing everything they can to save our businesses, our communities, and to save lives. The Republican-led Senate has refused to pass anything in months.

The Senate left office for their August break and aren’t expected back on Capitol Hill until Sep. 6. We are fighting to survive and they are taking a vacation and campaigning for re-election.

Under Mitch McConnell’s leadership, the Senate let the pandemic unemployment insurance lapse. They let aid for small businesses lapse. They refuse to provide grants to minority owned, and very small businesses that were never given any aid to begin with. More than two months ago, the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act. The Senate has refused to even take a vote. I can’t help but take that as a measure of how little concern they have for Main Street businesses and communities.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been continually putting his energy into a corporate immunity proposal that rewards big businesses for cutting corners on health and safety, and undercuts businesses like mine. Instead of helping businesses that are doing everything they can to keep people safe, he wants to give a free pass to corporate bad actors. And instead of standing up to him, Sen. Collins is backing his corporate immunity proposal, which puts at risk all the sacrifices that real small business owners have already made.

It’s long past time for leaders in the Senate to put its people first. If our senators don’t support us now, we shouldn’t support them in November.

 


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