Opinions & observations: Our financial recovery must prioritize small businesses
It’s been a long five-and-a-half months since COVID-19 hit NYC. Every day, when I talk to friends and neighbors, I hear how hard it’s been. New Yorkers have suffered trauma, and we all want our city back.
During the recovery, our government must prioritize and focus on small businesses. Here’s why:
Small businesses are the mainstay of a healthy urban economy. They generate substantial economic benefits, employ our local residents, and are vital to our communities. They are also the most vulnerable businesses in times of crisis.
Our small businesses, especially restaurants, bars and nightlife venues, need help now from our elected officials. They need a moratorium on evictions for any business affected by COVID-19 that extends from this past March through several months past the eventual end of the pandemic. State Senators Zellnor Myrie and Julia Salazar, among others, have bills pending to protect residential and commercial tenants, S8667, and S8190 respectively.
Those bills are not enough alone. We also need funding to cover lost rents so businesses are not burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt when they are finally allowed to reopen, and small landlords don’t suffer from a loss of income. There are at least a dozen bills in the State Legislature that will raise this drastically needed revenue. From proposals to tax the ultra-wealthy, to a pied-a-terre tax, to eliminating unnecessary subsidies and closing the carried interest loophole, the ideas are out there and need to be acted on.
It has become clear that we won’t get the help we need from Washington, and if it were to come it wouldn’t be enough or in time. While we need to continue to pressure our federal representatives, we need to also call on our state representatives to move forward now on real rent relief for small businesses.
On the city level, our small businesses need clear, consistent regulatory guidance on reopening, including temporary relief from fines so that money can go directly to the businesses and their employees. They need fair and knowledgeable inspectors that give warnings, not issue immediate infractions, and that allow businesses ample time to correct any violation. Day-to-day harassment by our city agencies makes running a business difficult in the best of times, but it makes it impossible during unique times such as what we’re currently experiencing.
Local restaurants and bars need to know when they will be able to reopen for inside dining even at 50 percent capacity. Restaurants outside of NYC have been doing it for months with no upticks in cases. The outdoor (Open Streets) dining, which needs to be extended year-round, is not enough to keep businesses afloat. Many businesses cannot even take advantage of outdoor space. We need to know when indoor dining will return, with all appropriate safety protocols in place, for bars and restaurants to have any chance of survival. The governor and mayor need to act now and issue this guidance.
To make sure any of these actions are put into place effectively, the city needs to engage small businesses directly in immediate, meaningful, and transparent conversations about what they need to successfully reopen. And they need to engage them now.
When our small businesses are healthy, they create an economic foundation for the entire city to get back on its feet. We must continue to demand that our elected officials — local, state and federal — prioritize small businesses.
Ben Solotaire, a longtime community organizer, is running to be the next councilmember for District 33.
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