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State Chamber Chair urges expansion of financial aid to businesses

Katie Tabeling

Katie Wilkinson

WILMINGTON – Faced with stark data on how hard small businesses were hit amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the leader of the state’s business group on the Pandemic Resurgence Advisory Committee believes the next step should  be expanding financial aid options.

“When you actually look at the raw data on the shutdown impact, it’s really unbelievable,” said Katie Wilkinson, who serves  as chair of the Pandemic Resurgence Advisory Committee business subcommittee. “I don’t think I went into the project with a real appreciation or understanding about how badly some of the industry segments and small businesses actually got harmed in terms of revenue.”

Wilkinson, who also chairs the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce board of directors, presided over weeks of meetings where lawmakers, business owners and industry advocates to discuss tactics for Delaware’s economic recovery. The report was issued last Friday and is in the public comment stage.

The Pandemic Resurgence Advisory Committee’s recommendations in the interim report included:

  • Provide financial relief, via loans, grants and short-term aid programs.
  • Greater focus by the state on allocating funds specifically for minority-owned businesses and reducing requirements for state programs on credit access, size of business and industry type.
  • Create a training and redeployment training initiative.
  • Provide access to personal protective equipment.
  • Offer training and educational material at state-level for public health inspectors and businesses.

Small to medium businesses, which employ nearly half of all Delaware workers, were hit hardest by the pandemic. Retail, accommodations and food and healthcare and childcare became the most fragile, as the committee’s report notes that that at the height of the pandemic in April, those sectors accounted for about 75% of Delaware’s unemployment claims, or 14,151 claims of the state’s total that month.

Businesses that rely on face-to-face sales – retail, beauty shops, entertainment, and hotels – saw a 60% drop in year-over-year sales in April. That number slowly ticked back up once the state reopened, but the last reported data has that those businesses faced a 38% decrease in year-over-year sales by June 11.

“We need to get the CARES Act funding to businesses,” Wilkinson said. “The Division of Small Business is working hard to develop programs, but today, really what has supported Delaware businesses is federal programs at this point. We need to get them back on their feet.”

Through the federal CARES Act, Delaware received $927 million and New Castle County received more than $320 million in March. Earlier this week, Gov. John Carney signed an executive order that would use $10 million of that funding to create the Rapid Workforce Training and Redeployment Training Initiative that the Pandemic Resurgence Advisory Committee recommended.

New Castle County created a CARES grant fund which is now closed. The New Castle County Council also voted to spend $6 million to aid municipal emergency services and fire departments. Meanwhile, the state launched Hospitality Emergency Loan Program (H.E.L.P) to offer no-interest loans up to $10,000 for the hospitality sector in May. But Wilkinson noted that the bulk of the aid so far has come from the federal level, like Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

In Delaware, 2,074 businesses received millions in PPP funding to protect hundreds of jobs, according to redacted data released by the SBA in July.

“We will announce a significant expansion of the Small Business Division’s recovery loan programs in the next two weeks,” Gov. John Carney’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Starkey said. “Delaware small businesses have made significant sacrifices throughout this crisis and we owe them our support.”

New Castle County Director of Strategic Communications Brian Cunningham said that the county still had the lion’s share of the CARES Act monies, and hoped to have more announcements in the coming weeks.

In other immediate actions, Wilkinson encouraged the businesses that remained open throughout the pandemic to share resources, information, and technology with those who were not so lucky.

“I call it the buddy system. It’s a way that Delaware business can turn to their neighbors and ask what can they do to help,” she said. “It’s one of the beauties of living in a small state like we do.”

-Katie Tabeling


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