Last Thursday, I had the honor to testify in front of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. My message to the committee was simple: time is running out for small businesses like mine. Unless Congress acts immediately to provide emergency relief, Main Streets across America — including in my county of Prince George’s — might as well hang up a giant “Out of Business” signs come January.
This is not where my fellow small business owners and I expected to be when this year started. My business partners, who happen to be my parents, and I began 2020 with plans to expand 21st Century Expo Group, the business they founded nearly 30 years ago in the basement of my childhood home.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt. We knew the initial shutdowns and ongoing restrictions were important to the health and safety of all Americans. But for hard-hit businesses like ours, these ongoing restrictions have forced us to make difficult, often heartbreaking decisions just to survive.
Since March, we have had to lay off staff employees, cut wages and benefits, forgo paying ourselves, and dip into personal savings to pay for business expenses just to stay afloat. 2020 was the first year in our history that we had to close our doors completely.
CARES Act was vital bridge
Many of us small business owners were fortunate to keep our heads above water and employees on our payroll thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) passed by Congress in March as part of the CARES Act. At the time, it was a vital bridge through the initial months of the pandemic, but I never imagined that the pandemic would continue its path of devastation through this year and beyond.
It has, and we need help.
I’ll let the numbers tell the story. I’m a proud member of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses Voices program, and a survey last month found that 42% of program members have been forced to lay off employees or cut compensation. More than half had to stop paying themselves and a third dipped into personal savings to keep their business operational. It’s even more bleak for Black small business owners — 61% have forgone paying themselves and 58% report using personal savings to stay open.
Many of our small business competitors are large national and multi-national companies. While they, too, have been adversely affected by the lockdown, their size and greater access to capital put many in a position to weather this terrible storm in a way not possible for small businesses like mine.
I’m so grateful to legislators for the bipartisan approach they took in March to pass the PPP loan program. It helped me fund payroll, pay rent on our warehouse, and provide health benefits for employees. I urge them to do the same now by joining together before year’s end to pass the emergency COVID relief package, which includes funds that will help keep my business – and thousands like mine – afloat.
It’s not just the future of my small business that’s at stake. It’s the future of our nation’s cities and towns – our Main Streets — where small business owners are at the core of what ensures that communities can thrive. I’m so proud to be part of what makes Prince George’s County a great place to live and work, and to have built a small business that invests in our community – from providing jobs to supporting kids in our area who have also experienced great hardships in 2020.
Please join me and other small business owners in urging members of Congress to help us stay “open for business.”