WORKERS’ RIGHTS, SMALL BUSINESS ADVOCATES DEMAND STRONGER PROTECTIONS FROM CONGRESS IN NEW COVID-19 RELIEF BILL

Workers, Small Business Owners Declare #WeAreTheEconomy, Call on U.S. Legislators to Extend Life-Saving Benefits Ahead of Looming Deadline

Today, The Center for Popular Democracy and the Main Street Alliance held a virtual press conference to demand that Congress provide greater protection for workers, families, and small business owners in the new COVID-19 relief bill. Life-saving unemployment benefits, which have kept families afloat in the face of economic downturn, are set to expire this Friday, July 31. And in the latest COVID-19 relief proposal, Senate Republicans indicated that they would significantly reduce unemployment benefits, which have been a lifeline for working families, and double down on small business loans like the Payroll Protection Program that has largely excluded Black and Brown business owners. 

Today’s speakers called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst in Iowa, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Susan Collins in Maine, and other Republican lawmakers to extend unemployment insurance, address racial disparities in access to business relief, strengthen small business infrastructure, and support other solutions to uplift working families. A recording of the press conference can be viewed here

“Tomorrow, millions of families and workers across the country will see the expiration of Pandemic Unemployment Insurance that has been a lifeline for families and communities across the country,” said Ana Maria Archila, Co-Executive Director at the Center for Popular Democracy. “Millions of workers are struggling with how they will pay rent, fill prescriptions, and take care of their families. Yet the Republicans’ plan proposes to cut unemployment insurance from $600 to $200, promises cash assistance to a smaller group of people, and continues to rely on loans to small businesses, even though evidence shows that this is not the help businesses need.”

“The next relief package must put cash in people’s hands. We are demanding that cash assistance includes everyone and benefits everyone, and we’re also demanding grants, not loans, for small businesses.” 

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, our organization has requested solutions to meet the scale of this crisis,” said Amanda Ballantyne, Executive Director of the Main Street Alliance.  “But GOP leadership is stalling relief, squandering opportunities, and playing games with small business owners and the families who support small businesses by shopping. The expiration of these benefits harms individuals and their families, as well as the businesses that rely on consumer support. We need to see leadership from our government with solutions like flexible payroll systems, grants for small businesses, and an end to abusive and predatory debt collection.”

“This does not just impact workers or small business owners; this impacts the whole community,” said Manolo Betancur, owner of Manolo’s Bakery in North Carolina. “If I close my business, I won’t just lose my employees. My employees also lose their ability to take care of their families. Everyone pays taxes and pays into unemployment and Medicaid, but never receives those benefits. We need our leaders to start believing in us and to fight this hypocrisy.”

“Pandemic Unemployment Assistance has been a life-saver for me and my family,” said Latrice Wilson, a worker and Kentucky resident. “Everyone loves a stimulated economy, but the unemployed will not be able to stimulate the economy if these funds are cut. If I lose the $600 PUA, how will I get food? Where will I go?” 

As the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact workers and small business owners, families face a great deal of financial uncertainty. But despite the plight of working families, Senate Republicans are refusing to increase federal assistance in the newest COVID-19 relief bill. The current proposal reduces unemployment benefits by $400 a month and continues centering business support on piecemeal loan-based programs that will not address equity or the length of the crisis and continue to largely benefit big corporations. 

“After experiencing lending discrimination, I decided that the PPP loan was not worth my time,” said ReShonda Young, Founder of Popcorn Heaven in Iowa. “But in helping other small businesses get set up, I saw many small business owners were denied. It’s clear that not having strong banking relationships is a barrier to the PPP loan program. There is an urgent need for direct support to businesses that is not loan-based, and I am asking Iowa’s Republican Senators to support Iowa’s small business community — not just Iowa’s big corporations.”

“This pandemic has had an impact on my family’s business, which is based on gathering people,” said Tanya Martinez, a worker and Nevada resident. “Many workers in Nevada have struggled with the PUI system, but those additional funds go a long way, especially when our family business may not reopen but payments and bills are still due. As Latin business owners, our business didn’t stand a chance and now 50 families are relying on this support. We need Congress to act by restoring PUI and extending opportunities to small businesses.”

“There are more than 6,000 minority-owned businesses in Arizona. Imagine how many families depend on those small businesses,” said Eduardo Gonzalez, Owner of Señor Sushi in Arizona. “This pandemic is hitting small communities the hardest and my business is in one of those communities. Without support, businesses will suffer. Our leaders need to support the people working hard to stay afloat.”

Workers and small business owners from states around the country, including Iowa, Kentucky, and Maine, where Senate Republicans are blocking federal assistance, joined national advocates at the Center for Popular Democracy and the Main Street Alliance to demand stronger protections in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the solutions they’re proposing are expanded Pandemic Unemployment Insurance, cash assistance for all taxpayers, and comprehensive set of programs to support small businesses for the long term

“The $600 Pandemic Unemployment Insurance benefit is keeping my family well and alive,” said Tonya Hughes, a worker and Maryland resident. “Since March, COVID-19 has confined me to my home and dramatically cut the bus service I need to receive free meals for my children, groceries, and other essential items, meaning I must spend additional money on Uber. Members of my community are now so desperate for food that they’ve started growing and donating foods in their own backyards because the food pantries are quickly drying up. I have also seen people evicted from their homes and families living out of their cars, even in these hot summer days. I implore the Senate and policymakers to listen to the needs of this nation.”

“This is a tough situation for any employer, but it’s especially tough for employees,” said Andrew Volk, owner of the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club in Maine. “Margins are thin, no one has capital, and it’s affecting everyone -- from Mom & Pop businesses to those that have been featured in magazines across the country. Senator Collins is tone-deaf to the needs of small businesses. The federal government cannot be asking businesses to take on additional debt.”

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The Center for Popular Democracy is a national network of more than 50 community organizations dedicated to achieving racial and economic justice through local grassroots organizing. CPD trains and supports leadership, staff, and members to grow base-building organizations to scale and leverage that strength to win cutting-edge policy victories at the federal, state and local level.

The Main Street Alliance is the voice for small business values in the United States. Since 2008, The Main Street Alliance has engaged over 30,000 businesses in eleven states to build our network. Through grassroots organizing, including in-person surveys at business locations, one-on-one meetings and local events, we seek to understand the issues that matter most to small business. Our members include manufacturers, restaurateurs, artists, farmers, accountants, printers, software designers, retailers, mechanics and more.