As omicron surges, local small businesses need federal funding to survive

Local leaders around the country are in the grips of COVID-19 hysteria. And, sadly, many small businesses are suffering because of it.

The hysteria is being caused by the latest variant – omicron – which has quickly become dominant. No matter that, for the 200 million people who chose to get vaccinated, the effects are reportedly much milder than the previous delta variant; or that so far only a very few people have required hospitalization, with many being asymptomatic; or that in South Africa, where the variant started less than two months ago, cases are already dropping at a significant rate.

No matter that the federal government, which according to President Biden is well supplied with masks and protective equipment, will be shipping half-a-billion COVID tests, opening 10,000 more testing centers and transferring patients from hospitals to other care facilities when beds are needed.

No matter that there are hundreds of millions of anti-viral pills already manufactured by Pfizer and Merck that will, within days, receive FDA approval and reduce hospitalizations by 90 percent even among the unvaccinated.

No. Instead, local leaders in our biggest cities are imposing COVID mandates that may kill their own small businesses.

Starting in January, restaurants in Philadelphia will be allowed to serve only vaccinated customers. The same goes for Chicago. New York businesses must employ only vaccinated workers by the end of this month. In Boston, patrons and staff at certain indoor spaces – restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gyms and fitness centers and entertainment venues such as theaters and sports arenas – will have to show proof of at least one vaccine dose by Jan. 15 and two by Feb. 15. 

Los Angeles already has a vaccine mandate for all customers served in the indoor part of a food or beverage establishment, and other types of indoor venues must show proof of full vaccination before entry. San Francisco requires proof of full vaccination to visit bars, restaurants, gyms and other indoor entertainment establishments. Seattle requires that patrons 12 and older be able to show proof of full vaccination or be able to present a negative COVID-19 test result to enter indoor restaurants and bars, indoor sports events and outdoor sports events with more than 500 people.

These businesses are not even being given a choice. They must comply, face penalties or shut down.

Yes, you can blame the roughly 40 percent of people in this country who aren’t vaccinated for causing these mandates. But agree with them or not, they’re exercising their choice.

Meanwhile, it’s the hundreds of thousands of small businesses in those cities that are really suffering. Imagine not being allowed to serve or sell your products to 40 percent of your prospective customers. Imagine facing these mandates right after the worst year in your business’s history, when you’re struggling to recover.

I feel very bad for them. Bad enough that I support a new call from the more than 60 lawmakers who this week are urging Congress to provide funding for those businesses.

“These small businesses are critical to the cultural and economic vitality of our communities, and they need our help,” the lawmakers said in a public letter. “Especially as we head into the winter months, tens of thousands of small businesses across the country are faced with the possibility of layoffs, reduced service or hours, or outright closure, barring additional federal relief.”

The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, which still had around $100 billion left in its fund recently, should be extended past its Dec. 31 end date. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which fell $44 billion short of its requests before closing its doors, should be re-funded. Other grants targeted at businesses in these urban areas and in certain industries should be made available. Even a slimmed down resurrection of the Paycheck Protection Program should be considered. These programs can be short term, at least to help get these businesses through the coming months.

The structure is already there. All that’s needed is the funding. And c’mon, people — since trillions were previously earmarked for the now doomed Build Back Better legislation, there’s clearly a way to make this happen.

If you’re a Republican, you’re going to be quick to point out that each and every city that implemented these new mandates is run by Democrats. If you’re a Democrat, you’re going to say you’re doing your best to protect the public’s health. If you’re a small business owner in those cities, you don’t care who’s right and who’s wrong. You’re just caught in the middle of this round of COVID hysteria.

We can argue about the logic behind these mandates later. But small business is a bipartisan issue. No one on either side of the aisle is going to argue against helping these business owners survive yet another COVID winter. Action should be taken, and quickly.

Gene Marks is founder of The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm. He frequently appears on CNBC, Fox Business and MSNBC.

Tags Biden COVID-19 vaccination in the United States COVID-19 vaccination mandates in the United States Joe Biden Merck Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant Small Business Administration United States responses to the COVID-19 pandemic Vaccine passports during the COVID-19 pandemic

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