Small businesses fear funding for pandemic relief will be insufficient without greater investment from Youngkin and lawmakers

RICHMOND, Virginia (WRIC) – As daily coronavirus cases reach new highs in Virginia, some small businesses are concerned that relief from the pandemic may be insufficient and not properly targeting funding to the hardest hit industries.

It is not clear whether the grant proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam will be sufficient to meet the needs of existing candidates, as lawmakers previously predicted and Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin has not committed to a larger investment. during a recent personal interview.

Speaking outside the Quirk Hotel in Richmond to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19, Retro Hospitality CEO Paul Cooper said inflation and salary increases to attract staff are putting straining companies still recovering from pandemic restrictions.

Meanwhile, Cooper is still waiting for a check more than a year after asking for the Rebuilding the VA Small Business Grants Program.

“This money has been promised to us and there is a need to keep these small businesses afloat before the slowest time of year,” Cooper said. “We’re not counting on it at the moment.”

Last month, Amy Brannan, grant applications manager at Rebuild Virginia, estimated that it would take six to ten months for staff to clear a backlog of around 8,000 companies.

Brannan could not be reached for an update on Thursday, but she previously said existing funding “is unlikely to cover all of the remaining applicants.” She said an additional investment of $ 200 million had been suggested to clean up the current pipeline and reopen the bid portal for new submissions, as lawmakers pledged during the special session last summer.

Despite the demand, Governor Northam’s two-year budget proposal unveiled earlier this month includes $ 100 million in additional funding.

“It’s not enough and the losses continue to increase,” Cooper said. “We just hope the governor hears us, that there is a response, and that these funds will flow to so many businesses that need it now.”

When asked in a recent interview why targeted relief for the businesses most affected by the shutdowns he ordered was not a higher priority in his budget, Northam said: “Well, that has. been a priority and Rebuild Virginia has been a great success, especially for small businesses. ”

As of Dec. 1, 2021, the program had awarded more than 4,000 small businesses a total of $ 167 million in grants to cover expenses such as payroll, utilities and rent, according to the Rebuild the VA website.

In a statement, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said the budget includes several additional provisions that will help small businesses, including end expedited sales tax payments and “a significant investment in tourism”.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done… if you compare what Virginia has done to other states,” Northam said.

However, the director of government affairs for the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, Robert Melvin, said neighboring states like North Carolina had done more. He pointed to a recent press release detailing the state’s commitment of $ 500 million in direct grants to businesses that suffered losses of 20% or more during the pandemic, including $ 300 million specifically earmarked for the hospitality industry.

“I know Maryland and DC have also earmarked funds specifically for hotels and restaurants from the CARES Act funds, but I’m not sure how much,” Melvin added. “As it is, our industry will have no specific funding for relief compared to many states around us. “

In an interview last week, Governor-elect Youngkin would not specifically commit to a larger investment in Rebuild VA. Instead, he detailed his other plans for economic growth, including creating a tax holiday for small businesses, improving workforce development programs, reducing trade regulations and l ‘widening of innovation opportunities.

“It’s more than just a line item in a budget,” Youngkin said. “Governor Northam takes a different approach than mine on how to invigorate small business. I believe in providing tax relief for small businesses. I believe in the material reduction of regulations and I believe in the need to move this economy. ”

The General Assembly will also have the opportunity to review and revise the biennial budget. Lawmakers meet in Richmond on January 12, 2022.

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