Gjonaj requests more money for small businesses struggling during COVID-19

Bronx Councilmen Ritchie Torres, Mark Gjonaj and Andrew Cohen all had COVID legislation passed today.
File photo

In just two weeks, the $350 billion Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan for small businesses ran out of money.

As Chair of the Small Business Committee for the City Council, Mark Gjonaj has heard the cries from his constituents and demands the federal government do more to help them.

“While I appreciate that there are valid concerns on both sides of the aisle, now is the time for Washington leaders to step up and deliver for small businesses,” Gjonaj said. “Every day that these programs go without funding means the loss of jobs and the likelihood that even more businesses will never open their doors again.”

According to data, 19 percent of the jobs in the borough are in the retail and restaurant industries. With many of them shuttering, many people in the Bronx are struggling.

While the government is in the process of securing an additional $250 billion for small businesses, the councilman said that more needs to be done.

According to Gjonaj, the government must mandate that participating banks not require an existing relationship to accept applications; include more credit unions and regional or community banks to help reach a broader range of small and micro businesses; develop a substantial outreach program to include more minority and women-owned businesses; increase the percentage of borrowed money that can be applied to rent, mortgage interest payments and allow payment of property taxes as acceptable expenditure of loan money.

“Politicians often use platitudes such as ‘economic engine’ and ‘economic backbone of our nation’ to describe the importance of small businesses to our country,” Gjonaj said. “Now is the time to put action behind those words. Small businesses and their employees demand that you take immediate action before it’s too late.”

Gjonaj’s Chief of Staff Reggie Johnson spoke with the Bronx Times about what it has been like for small business owners during the COVID crisis. With the stimulus money gone, Johnson questioned how these people will stay afloat.

Johnson noted that pizzerias and florists should be getting money, not small hedge fund companies that make millions or large steakhouses like Ruth Chris, which just received $20 million.

“Right now the small businesses are struggling and there’s nothing there to help them,” he said.

Johnson said he has been getting calls every day from business owners. One that stood out was a dentist in the Bronx who was crying and brought him to tears as well. He told him he was going to have lay people off who have been with him for years.

“There are some people who aren’t going to be okay,” Johnson remarked. “It’s hard to have those conversations.”

According to Johnson, Gjonaj and the staff envisioned the coronavirus would hurt retail but never this bad.

“We anticipated it, but you can never truly appreciate what it’s like until you have to make those calls,” he said.

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