New small-business coalition, McKee pressure state for portion of CARES Act funds

PROVIDENCE – Small-business owners, Rhode Island Lt. Governor Dan McKee and other elected officials announced Tuesday the formation of the R.I. Small Business Coalition and a grassroots campaign to encourage the state to allocate at least 10% of its $1.25 billion in CARES Act funds to help small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic by issuing grants.

The coalition, which is led by Chris Parisi, the founder of Trailblaze Marketing in Providence, stemmed in response to McKee’s proposal early last month for the state to issue grants to small businesses using the federal COVID-19 relief funds it received through the CARES Act.

Just last week, an online petition to build community support for this effort garnered more than 2,100 signatures.

According to CARES Act guidelines, distributing grants to small businesses is an allowable use of the funds and a number of states have dedicated a portion of their COVID-19 to support small businesses in similar proposals, such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Alaska, Arizona, among others.

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“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the heart of our communities,” said McKee in a statement. “We know that not all small businesses qualified for the federal Paycheck Protection Program. We know that for many, the Economic Injury Disaster Loans were not enough. other states have recognized these shortfalls and used federal COVID-19 relief funds to issue grants to keep struggling small businesses afloat. Rhode Island must take action to support its small businesses swiftly and equitably.”

Parisi said a portion of the grassroots strategy is reaching out to all Rhode Island elected officials to sign the petition. Small-business owners that are part of this coalition will be reaching out to their customer bases and professional networks to bolster support for the movement.

“As small-business owners, we are uniting during this pandemic to ensure our voice is heard and our struggle is understood,” said Parisi. “Financial assistance often comes too slow or too late for small businesses. Many of us operate on thin margins and cannot cover expenses for more than a couple of months. During a pandemic, rent doesn’t go away, utility bills keep coming and debt piles up.”

So far, the state has used nearly $44 million of its CARES Act funds, according to the R.I. COVID-19 Transparency Portal, with more than 70% of the payments going toward supplies. However, the last payment date listed was May 26 and Gov. Gina M. Raimondo already committed another $25 million toward the transformation of long-term care and a proposal for $50 million toward school districts.

Raimondo has previously said that she wants to help small businesses with these CARES-Act funds, but is cautiously holding off due to the uncertainty of another round of federal relief.

“Other states are taking action. Everyday that our state waits, more small businesses move closer to closing their doors,” said Parisi.

During the press conference, other members of the newly formed coalition shared stores of how the pandemic has devastated their business.

Judah Boulet, the owner of No Risk CrossFit in Smithfield said they had 12 employees and were looking to expand before the pandemic. In just a few short months, Boulet said their gym has cut programs, downsized on staff and have a projected $100,000 gross revenue loss for the year.

“We closed our doors and continue to do what is right for the collective good. Now, we need the state to do right by us and use federal COVID-19 relief funds to help us keep the doors open so we can make a living, pay our bills, support our families and continue being the foundation of the communities that our businesses call home,” said Boulet.

Jennifer Ortiz, the owner of Executive Cuts Barbershop in Providence said she has invested thousands of dollars to meet social distancing requirements and upgrade cleaning measures, which created significant debt that she said she did not have before the pandemic and will be difficult to manage.

“As small-business owners, we put everything into running our businesses and for many of us, COVID-19 has taken everything we have. Sometimes it feels like there’s just no hope,” said Ortiz. “Whenever I see another small business announce they’re closing their doors, my heart breaks because I know that’s one of the hardest decisions a small business owner will ever have to make.”

Small businesses interested in joining or supporting the coalition can register their business at RISmallBusiness.org, a site managed by McKee’s office.

Alexa Gagosz is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Gagosz@PBN.com.

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