Many Small Businesses Cry for Help—Some Get It

By: - April 9, 2020 12:00 am

A woman walks by shuttered stores in New York City. Policymakers at all levels of government have increased assistance for small businesses struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press

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Without an emergency loan from the city of Sacramento, Janie Ison’s cafe likely would have closed. 

“Our numbers were showing that we’d be closed by the end of April,” Ison said. “And that scares the life out of a small business owner.”

Ison’s cafe, Steamers, has served coffee and pancakes, burgers and salads to tourists visiting Old Sacramento for over two decades. But county and state public health orders have restricted her 19-employee business to takeout and drained foot traffic in a once bustling area.

Ison was one of the lucky few. Despite an immediate flood of thousands of applicants, Sacramento could provide loans to only about a hundred employers.

Cities and states nationwide have launched loan and grant programs to help small-business owners who like Ison are struggling to keep their doors open amid a global pandemic. In many cases, state and local policymakers are trying to help the most vulnerable businesses stay afloat until they can access federal assistance. 

But the money at their disposal is not enough to aid all the mom and pop shops, restaurants, salons and nonprofits that need help. And while Congress has approved billion in forgivable U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for companies that retain their employees, that lifeline may reach some small businesses too late — and some not at all. 

Small-business relief from cities, states, the private sector and the federal government has been met with a crush of applications, in a sign of small businesses in crisis.

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Sophie Quinton

Sophie Quinton writes about fiscal and economic policy for Stateline. Previously, she wrote for National Journal.