COLONIE — Capital Region business owners watching their bottom lines hemorrhage red ink got a message of support and optimism from the state’s senior U.S. senator Tuesday.
Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said during a video conference held by the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce that he knows they’re hurting, but more help is coming for small to mid-sized businesses.
More than 400 chamber members signed up to participate in the mid-morning conference, Chamber President and CEO Mark Eagan said.
It was set up more than a week ago, he added, which turned out to be good and bad timing — Schumer had to cut the call short, so he couldn’t take questions from the audience. But he was cutting it short to go to Washington, where he would complete negotiations on a COVID-19 relief package worth hundreds of billions of dollars, some of it coming to businesses and other economic drivers within the community.
Shortcomings businesses found in the previous relief packages will be addressed in this one, said Schumer, who as Senate minority leader is a key figure in negotiations.
Provisions he wants to write into this next relief package include loan forgiveness for mid-sized businesses, direct aid for municipalities hit by COVID costs and more Payroll Protection Plan money, which ran out quickly — only 30 percent of New York businesses that sought PPP got it, he said.
Eagan asked Schumer about the performing arts sector, which is important to even critical for the vitality of the Capital Region’s largest downtowns.
If they have fewer than 500 employees, the senator said, they’re covered.
Eagan asked about the situation some small businesses are encountering, where their employees make more through combined state and federal unemployment checks than they did by working and may be reluctant to come back to work.
That results from the improperly coordinated timing windows of separate forms of assistance to employer and employee, Schumer said, and fixing discontinuity is on the to-do list. He added that he didn’t think a laid off employee could refuse to go back to work and still collect unemployment.
“The other thing I will say is, we will prevail,” Schumer said. “We are New Yorkers. If we stick together, if we persist, we will prevail.”
Afterward, Eagan told The Daily Gazette that he’s optimistic about the next move in Washington.
“It seems that they have been hearing the message of what businesses and hospitals need,” he said.
“That PPP program is very important,” Eagan said, though adding: “Is that going to be enough to feed that pipeline? My guess is not.”
The government aid is a just lifeline through the worst of the crisis, and it can go on for just so long — “How big can they allow the deficit to become?” Eagan asked.
He predicted that businesses just barely getting by before the pandemic would be in serious trouble soon.
“There’ll be some businesses that might not be able to weather this,” he said. “I think that most of our businesses in the last six weeks have been challenged like they never have before.”
The chamber is supplementing state and federal assistance to businesses with efforts of its own, whether answers to specific questions, use of resources or guidance through the confusing process of applying for assistance. It has multiple online resources and has had a series of free webinars on such topics as managing staff remotely.
As much as everyone wants to get back to work, it’s important to wait until COVID-19 is fully beaten, Eagan said, rather than risk going back early and having the virus return in new outbreaks.
“The recovery process is going to be long. Until the country is able to be vaccinated, this is not going to be in the rear view mirror,” he said.