Small business pleads for a coronavirus lifeline: next 45 days ‘gonna be ugly’

Main Street businesses brace for mass layoffs, cash flow crisis without congressional help, trade group CEO warns.

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U.S. Capitol building reflected in an ambulance on March 24, 2020
U.S. Capitol building reflected in an ambulance on March 24, 2020
(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Last Updated:
March 25, 2020 - 9:39am

The 30 million small businesses that have been a key engine of America's recent economic growth are in dire need of a taxpayer lifeline to weather the pandemic and return to vibrancy, a key trade group warns. 

"The next 45 days, it's gonna be ugly," said Alfredo Ortiz, the CEO of the Job Creators Network that represents small business interests in Washington.

Ortiz told Just the News that the recent downsizing of franchise owners of one major restaurant chain in New York from more than 3,000 employees to about 30 illustrates the cash flow challenges the industry and its 60 million employees face by the sudden shutdown of American life caused by the coronavirus. 

Ortiz has been involved in extensive negotiations with congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin to ensure the next congressional aid package will have what small business needs. He said aid he remains confident that a Senate bill to provide more than $1.8 trillion in economic relief will pass Congress and include the sort of loans, debt forgiveness and cash flow aid to help keep small businesses from folding.

"It's the loans of small business owners that are forgivable to cover payroll, utilities, rent, but in particular payroll," he said. "We got to keep our, you know, the employees of small business owners, we got to keep them alive, going. They are freaking out, and we got to get that cash to these folks," he said during a wide-ranging interview with the John Solomon Reports podcast.

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He said the goal of the Senate package -- estimated by many to be more than $300 billion for small businesses -- is to keep employers from permanently shedding their employees so they can revive quickly when the coronavirus crisis recedes. He compared it to the difference between shutting down a computer and putting it in sleep mode.

"It's always better to put it on standby because you can pull it back up and it's ready to go  right? When you shut it down and take so much longer," he said. "It's the same thing with the American economy. For our small business owners, and employees, let's keep them at least on that on that standby basis."

Ortiz said the economy is poised to explode once the virus crisis ends but only if businesses are kept in ready mode.

"There's so much pent up demand. I mean, there are cash reserves. People want to spend money, they just can't spend it right now," he said. "People are going to want to go back out and live the lives of Americans that we've been enjoying and that we were enjoying just a few weeks ago. And so we're going to need these workers ready to go."

While he has confidence the Senate package will ultimately prevail, Ortiz had harsh words for an alternative plan offered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that included many provisions for non-pandemic liberal interests, such as clean energy, performing arts, public television and voting registration.

"What the hell does that have anything to do -- excuse my language -- with the coronavirus?" he asked, suggesting Pelosi was "tone deaf" to the imminent needs of everyday Americans in the crisis.

"I've had small business owners who are, you know, been professionals in their careers forever, literally breaking down on phone with me," he said. "I mean, this is destroying people's lives and livelihoods and households and you know, the employees. And this is when I just sit there and I go, how can Pelosi do this? I mean, she should be just be stepping aside at this point."

Pelosi announced Tuesday she was setting aside her legislation and would work to immediately pass the Senate version.