As Loudoun prepares for a second $36 million infusion of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act money, the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce is calling on supervisors to get more help to local businesses.
Loudoun’s first CARES Act infusion went in part into the county government’s Loudoun’s Business Interruption Fund to make grants to small businesses affected by the pandemic, and in two rounds of grants distributed $3.4 million in aid to those businesses.
“Your leadership, along with the Department of Economic Development’s execution of the Business Interruption Fund, provided a much-needed lifeline for so many businesses,” wrote Loudoun Chamber Vice President Grafton DeButts in a letter to supervisors Aug. 4. “Unfortunately, we’re now approaching three months since the allocation of those funds and our businesses of all types and nonprofits continue to suffer and are burning through their cash reserves. Now that we look towards the fall and winter, our employees and businesses face even greater challenge, both external and internal.”
DeButts wrote that with the health crisis continuing, the customers who sustain the business community have yet to return in a way that is viable in the long term. And while businesses struggle to keep workers on payroll, those workers with kids face the prospect of school requiring at-home education in the fall.
“Those employees that are fortunate enough to remain employed during this time, now face the impossible task of providing full-time childcare to school-aged children who cannot be left alone, while also attending a job where working virtually is not an option,” DeButts wrote.
He pushed supervisors to put $10 million of the new CARES Act allocation—almost a third of it—into the Business Interruption Fund. This, he wrote, would bring it into proportional alignment with Fairfax County’s investment in a similar fund.
He also asked supervisors to provide more support for those working families.
“In addition to investment in the Business Interruption Fund, we ask that the Board would consider expanding and increasing the affordability of full-time and part-time childcare programs, such as the Parks and Recreation CASA program,” DeButts wrote. “These programs provide children with well-trained staff that support the educational growth of our children.”
Any action with the money will have to wait until September; the Board of Supervisors will have to vote on what to do with that money, and does not usually meet in August. County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) has already said she would like to put more of that money into helping out local businesses.
More money could be coming from the federal government soon.
The House of Representatives passed their version of a follow-up COVID-19 relief bill, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions or HEROES Act, on May 15. The $3 trillion package includes more emergency funding for federal, state and local government, an expansion of unemployment and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, more utility payment help and job training for low-income people, and another $1,200 stimulus check per individual, along with other efforts at reimbursing healthcare providers, funding testing and contact tracing, small business support and Paycheck Protection Program extension. Since then it has languished in the Senate.
Senate Republicans answered with the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools or HEALS Act, about a third the size of the HEROES Act, which was introduced on July 27 and has not yet been passed. It includes additional checks for families, a limited extension of unemployment benefits, an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, and protections for businesses against lawsuits if employees contract the virus. It proposes no additional aid for state and local governments, and unlike the HEROES Act allows evictions and foreclosures, paused under the CARES Act, to resume.
As of Tuesday evening, no agreement had yet been reached. Rep. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-VA-10) said the extension of increased unemployment benefits, additional aid to states and localities, another round of checks for families and the extension of the eviction moratorium are crucial.
“State governments are stretched thin,” Wexton said. “They’ve already had to lay off a lot of employees, and the same thing with localities. We’re talking about teachers, firefighters, health professionals, a lot of the people who are on the front lines of COVID-19.”
And, she added, “we cannot let people start getting evicted and then have a homelessness crisis, on top of a pandemic, on top of an economic crisis.”
She said Congress will not take its August recess until something is passed.
“It’s highly urgent,” Wexton said. “These enhanced unemployment benefits expired Friday, and again, I need to point out that we passed our bill more than 6 weeks ago, and Mitch McConnell wanted to hit pause and wait and see. And we knew the benefits would be expiring, we knew the eviction moratorium would be expiring, but they just wanted to sit on their hands and wait and see, and what we saw is that COVID has not subsided.”