Poli-ticks

Arlene Violet: Small businesses need help and they need it now!

By Arlene Violet
Posted 4/9/20

I came across an article in Bloomberg Businessweek (March 30, 2020) which made some great points   which I want to share.  Author, Peter Coy noted that in economics there is no …

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Poli-ticks

Arlene Violet: Small businesses need help and they need it now!

Posted

I came across an article in Bloomberg Businessweek (March 30, 2020) which made some great points   which I want to share.  Author, Peter Coy noted that in economics there is no Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.  Because there has not been a pandemic of this scale there are no white-haired elders to guide us. Just as overwhelmed doctors eventually will have to choose which patients to save and which to let go, leaders will have to decide  which workers are most in need of and deserving of a rescue.

Eventually, the author notes, we’ll need to make agonizing trade-offs between saving lives and saving livings. Accordingly, one principle to policymakers to consider is that if they must do harm to the economy, make it reversible. Hurt but don’t kill. Bend it but don’t break it.
Query whether that is being done right now. If the decisions re closings are not calibrated, hundreds of small enterprises will go out of business. Will the loss be permanent? Will high-functioning teams that take years to build be fractured?  Now unemployed workers who thrived in a particular niche will flounder seeking jobs which require a different set of skills. Only keeping companies intact as much as possible can lead to a faster recovery.

To date, while President Donald Trump squandered time to prepare, he is back on track. Congress has passed a viable economic package to underpin the economy. Governor Gina Raimondo continues to show a deft hand at implementing strategies. Yet, the potential problem to address is still the plight of small businesses. Yes, Congress did set aside $250 million for lending to businesses through banks involved with the Small Business Administration yet   there may be a fatal flaw or two with the program.

For years, my brother, Bud Violet, has been involved in helping some 2000 Rhode Island small businesses get SBA loans. He is my “go-to –guy” for analysis on small business preservation and the particular provisions of the recent Congressional action. He sees two problems:

    •    The application for these loans involve much paperwork, taking hours to complete. Usually, professional advice is necessary because of the complexity of the questions and information needed.  Only a simplified form and closing will advert the costs to small businesses who want to file for loans/grants.

    •    Banks will be reluctant to write smaller loans which start at $10,000 because they make no money. It actually costs them money because of the need to monitor the loan with bank personnel. Because of FDIC rules and fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders banks have little motivation to write loans which are 5 figures.  Giving new money to debtors so they can pay interest on their old loans would ordinarily be considered malpractice but for this environment. Banks need a new attitude and culture   that these companies are not zombies being propped up but rather a new investment. Will banks step up to the challenge particularly where small bridge loans are sought by companies?

The more damage businesses suffer, the harder it will be for them to bounce back. Big businesses have lobbyists who will have the ear of Congress   and President Trump to protect them.  The “little guy/gal businesses” need to be vigilant and active to save themselves.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.