EAST GREENWICH – Gov. Daniel J. McKee says he will be meeting with House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio on Tuesday to outline plans for disbursing 10% of the $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds on immediate needs by year’s end.
Flanked by business community officials and leaders, McKee made the announcement on Monday under a tent at The Patio on Main, a restaurant located on Main Street.
McKee said that his administration will be submitting a supplemental budget amendment called Rhode Island Rebound to the General Assembly in the coming weeks for disbursing 10% of the ARPA funds. Neither Shekarchi nor Ruggerio have committed to reconvening the legislature to vote on McKee’s proposal.
“It will be a suite of recovery support for small businesses, and hard-hit industries to sustain our economic comeback,” said McKee. “In addition to that, in next year’s budget I will be putting forward a small-business friendly article for 10 or more very specific items that are directed to help our small businesses.”
R.I. Rebound will include a broad range of services for the state’s affected small businesses and industries, he said. Assistance will include public health adaptation support, similar to the “Take It Outside” program, which provided businesses with latitude in adapting their businesses to exterior operations.
The program will also offer financial assistance for the funding of ventilation systems for business facilities, and upgrades, such as e-commerce and other technology upgrades.
McKee said the state cannot wait until next year to spend the ARPA funds. “It’s time to spend some of these dollars,” he said, reading from a prepared speech. “As a small- business owner myself I know how challenging the last 18 months have been. I take this very personally.”
McKee said that small businesses need help, noting that not all businesses received federal funds. “It is our duty as their elected leaders to step up for them right now,” he said. “I believe our small businesses cannot wait for more assistance.”
McKee said he has been listening to calls from interest groups and others for spending the funds, and his plan will also be aimed at child care services and housing needs. A plan for spending the 90% balance of the ARPA funds on long-term needs will be addressed at a later date, he added.
McKee says Rhode Island is the only state in the Northeast that has not spent one dollar of ARPA fiscal recovery funds.
When asked why Rhode Island was the last state in the region to spend some ARPA funds, he said, “If I am being slow, then I think we are going to speed things up. I will be meeting with the [House] speaker and Senate president tomorrow to talk about the details of what I believe should go into a budget amendment, and encourage the General Assembly to act quickly.”
Rick Simone, president of EGN Consulting, a marketing, branding and public relations firm, echoed McKee’s sentiments, calling for the General Assembly to “step up,” and disburse the funds before year’s end.
Simone said some of the state’s small businesses that received funding are just breaking even, as they deal with supply chain issues and the rising costs of goods and services.
“The governor is a tremendous partner,” he said. “He really gets it. He understands small businesses and hears our concerns. The governor’s framework is vital to us.”
Dale J. Venturini, CEO and president of the R.I. Hospitality Association, painted a dire picture of the state’s businesses, especially the restaurant and hospitality industry.
“We all know that we need urgent relief,” she said, noting that her association works locally and federally. “Businesses that have not received [federal funding] are struggling to compete with those that did.”
Venturini said the outlook for the state’s hotels is dire. She says the state’s hotels are expected to lose over $100 million in business travel in 2021 – a drop of almost 63% compared to pre-COVID in 2019.
“One of my members called the other day to voice his frustration and said his days are moving around nickels,” she said. “He said I don’t have enough money to do it all, so I have to figure out each day where the money is going to go.”
Angel Winpenny, co-owner of The Patio on Main, said the state’s Take It Outside initiative allowed the owners to operate their restaurant under a tent in the parking lot.
“The program grants have saved our livelihood, as well as our restaurant,” she said. “We sincerely appreciate all of the support for small businesses like ours during the pandemic.”
Winpenny said the restaurant faces an “uncertain fall season” that could lead to difficult decisions. “That’s why we are extremely excited about Gov. McKee’s state ARPA fund initiative. Allocation of these funds to small businesses is critical for our continued survival.”
(ADDS last three paragraphs with comment from restaurant owner.)
Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @CassiusShuman.
Want to share this story? Click Here to purchase a link that allows anyone to read it on any device whether or not they are a subscriber.