The smallest businesses are facing the biggest challenges in receiving pandemic recovery resources, chambers of commerce representatives in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District told U.S. Rep. Angie Craig.

The member of the House Committee on Small Business held a virtual meeting Monday, July 6, to hear feedback from the southeastern Minnesota business community about small businesses relief, including legislation by Craig signed into law over the weekend extending the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) through Aug. 8.

Though businesses are benefiting from federal Small Business Administration programs, the process of applying for relief can be difficult, Burnsville Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Harmening said.

President Krista Jech of neighboring Lakeville Area Chamber of Commerce shared similar remarks, adding chambers of commerce have been helping businesses owners get in contact with government agencies to have their questions answered.

“It’s very hard right now to get through to people, and we’re having to make several calls,” Jech said.

Craig said she relayed those concerns to the head of SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program when he spoke before the House Small Business Committee earlier this month.

Lake City Federal Bank is among the dozens of approved SBA lenders in Minnesota. President Jim Mack said the bank has processed 39 PPP loans averaging a little more than $16,000 each.

“So they’re fairly small, but people are glad to get them,” he said of the loans.

PPP is designed to help businesses keep employees on the payroll, with the loans eligible for forgiveness if retention criteria are met. Craig also introduced legislation to allow businesses with up to 100 employees that have had revenues decrease by 50% to apply for another round of PPP loans from the $130 billion remaining in the program.

The proposal is aimed at industries hardest hit by COVID-19 impacts, such as retailers, conventions and restaurants, Craig said.

“Having worked with about 400 businesses throughout the public health crisis, my team and I, what I understand is that not every business has been hit the same,” she said.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate grew to 9.9% in May before the phased reopening of noncritical sector businesses, according to the most recent numbers from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The leisure and hospitality sector shed 141,731 jobs compared to May 2019.

School anxiety

A common concern business leaders shared Monday was uncertainty about schools reopening in the fall, and whether businesses need to prepare for staff staying home with their children.

Businesses in the Red Wing area share the concern about schools, Chamber of Commerce President Patty Brown said, adding it was stressful this spring for workers operating businesses from home while also helping children with distance learning.

“I know people are very nervous about that decision this fall, about what that’s going to look like,” Brown said.

The Minnesota Department of Education is working with the Department of Health to monitor the pandemic and plan for the fall semester. There are three scenarios under consideration:

  • In-person learning for all students;
  • hybrid learning with strict social distancing and capacity limits; and
  • distance learning only.

A decision for the 2020-\21 school year is expected to be made the week of July 27, according to MDE.