COVID-19

Despite imminent federal aid, small businesses are desperate

Kimberly Adams Mar 27, 2020
Share Now on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Many small businesses are struggling during the COVID-19 slowdown. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Despite imminent federal aid, small businesses are desperate

Kimberly Adams Mar 27, 2020
Many small businesses are struggling during the COVID-19 slowdown. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images
Share Now on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Congress passed the $2 trillion COVID-19 aid bill Friday afternoon, which means that there is some help coming from the federal government for small businesses.

But for the last couple of weeks, those small businesses have been scrambling to make payroll, sort out which staff they can keep on — and which they can’t — and figure out some way to keep money coming in.

While Washington has been working out this deal, a lot of small businesses have been hanging on by a thread. Like Kate Fryer’s beads, wire and accessories shop A Bead Just So.

Fryer usually makes her money from classes or birthday parties. Those just aren’t happening now.

“I’m trying to get my inventory loaded up on my website, which I’ve never done before. It’s a brand new, really intense process,” she said.

Here in Washington D.C., some restaurants are frantically shifting from bar and dining room service to carry-out and deliveries. Mark Kirwan, who owns two restaurants in the area, has been doing deliveries, but not alone. His mascot, Jack — a playful, Italian mastiff puppy who’s bigger than most full-grown dogs — has been going along.

“At times like this, when you’re in the doldrums, I just look at him and his face and it just brings a bit of warmth into you,” Kirwan said. Warmth he’s needed after laying off his staff. He figures he can only hang on for another month or so. 

“There’s some days we’re doing $300 [or] $400 in sales compared to $15,000 to $20,000,” Kirwan said.

Other small businesses are pulling in even less. Shobha Tummala, who owns a chain of hair removal salons in Maryland, D.C., and New York, said she’s making a little off online sales and gift cards, but it doesn’t really make a dent with rent almost due.

“We would have to sell $100,000 worth of gift cards for it to make a real significant difference,” Tummala said. “That’s not going to happen.”

Tummala laid off her almost 100 employees last week in a series of video conference calls.

“I wanted to see everybody. I wanted everybody to see me,” she said. “They rely on me to take care of them and so it can get emotional.”

The new aid package could help people like Tummala cover rent and expenses. But without customers, even that will only go so far to keep companies in business. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Which businesses are allowed to reopen right now? And which businesses are actually doing so?

As a patchwork of states start to reopen, businesses that fall into a gray area are wondering when they can reopen. In many places, salons are still shuttered. Bars are mostly closed, too, although restaurants may be allowed to ramp up, depending on the state. “It’s kind of all over the place,” said Elizabeth Milito of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Will you be able to go on vacation this summer?

There’s no chance that this summer will be a normal season for vacations either in the U.S. or internationally. But that doesn’t mean a trip will be impossible. People will just have to be smart about it. That could mean vacations closer to home, especially with gas prices so low. Air travel will be possible this summer, even if it is a very different experience than usual.

When does the expanded COVID-19 unemployment insurance run out?

The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, authorized extra unemployment payments, increasing the amount of money, and broadening who qualifies. The increased unemployment benefits have an expiration date — an extra $600 per week the act authorized ends on July 31.

You can find answers to more questions here.

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.