Local business advocates say the stimulus bill that passed Congress on Tuesday – which contains a second round of paycheck protection program loans worth hundreds of billions – is exactly what small businesses in Maryland need to stay afloat right now. But despite the enthusiasm for this second round of PPP, advocates lament the bill’s lack of accountability protection and the failure to distribute funds to local and state governments.
Without liability protections, small businesses could find themselves weakened by frivolous lawsuits they cannot afford to defend, said Mike O’Halloran, director of the Maryland chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
O’Halloran said advocates will push for state-level accountability protections once the General Assembly meets next month. A bill, sponsored by Senator Christopher West, that will provide these protections to businesses was pre-tabled before the 2021 session.
“We’re not looking for anything like blanket immunity,” O’Halloran said, stressing that the bill would serve to protect companies doing their best to protect their employees from COVID-19, not the “few bad actors” who throw caution to the wind.
Advocates are also concerned about the lack of funding for state and local governments; the most notable use of those funds, according to Ashley Duckman, vice president of government affairs for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, would be to supplement the state’s declining UI trust fund.
“We know we continue to have a record number of applicants withdrawing from the fund,” Duckman said. “Employers are responsible for filling this fund in the form of UI taxes, so we know we’re going to see a very big increase in those for employers from 2021, and public and local funding would have really helped. to compensate for that. ”
Despite these notable absences, advocates are excited about the second wave of PPP loans. O’Halloran hailed the PPP as a “vital and (a) proven financial aid tool,” citing Maryland NFIB members’ appreciation for the program when it made its debut under the CARES Act.
The program comes with some welcome changes, such as the new authorization for organizations holding 501 (c) 6 status, which includes state and local chambers of commerce, to receive loans.
There are also restrictions on which businesses can receive a second loan; To be eligible, the business must have fewer than 300 employees and must demonstrate that its sales have decreased by 25% compared to the previous year for at least one quarter.
These changes will ultimately benefit the companies that need the help the most, Duckman said.
“I think what this is meant to do, these restrictions, in terms of the fact that this is a second draw, is to eliminate those who are really bleeding and really need help, versus those who are just covering up and maybe doing well, “she said.
Industries that have continued to thrive amid the pandemic, such as home repairs, will likely be left out due to the warning of declining revenues.
“Companies like that, they’ve been able to weather this storm a little better,” O’Halloran said. Meanwhile, other industries – personal services and hospitality in particular – have been struggling since March. “So the fact that Congress has put in place certain parameters that make it a little easier for them to get to the front of the line? It is certainly a good thing.
Duckman also praised the bill for responding to complaints from business owners about the initial PPP, such as simplifying the loan cancellation process and indicating that expenses paid with canceled PPP loans are tax deductible. ‘tax. But she also recognized the potential for new challenges.
“Like this whole pandemic, I think we’re building the plane while we fly it,” Duckman said. “Certainly this new package addresses a handful of things that were of concern … but with any significant stimulus package, I’m sure new challenges will emerge and we look forward to addressing them as we unpack this.”
Other parts of the bill will indirectly affect business owners, she added. First, the bill allocates billions to child care centers, a boon for employees who have to work but cannot send their children to school in person. The bill also includes roughly $ 8 billion for vaccine distribution, which many employers see as critical to getting workers back to the office.
“All the elements of the bill really go back to support for individuals, which goes back to support for small businesses,” she said. “It’s really just a wide range of aids… I think all the components of it lead to the creation of a solid foundation for the recovery.