The Covid-19 pandemic is a serious health problem and its related economic impacts have been severe. Our local economy has a mix of large corporate businesses (e.g. Chevron), independent small businesses (e.g. Mom-and-Pop stores) and government entities that are all suffering from the economic collapse, with the restaurant industry being particularly hard hit. Late last month the federal government enacted the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, with financial assistance for the airlines, national security industries and state governments as well as local governments of 500 thousand people or more*. The Act also has a loan program seeking to keep small businesses from going under. With so many small businesses in the country, that program’s funds ran into problems very quickly. Where did the money go? Apparently it did not go to the small employers. Here’s how one of our local restaurant owners explains it:
“The government has told us that if we stay open they will give us money to operate for 10 weeks. The problem is when you apply you are in competition with 30 million other businesses. Ok, say the government gives the Bank of So & So $10,000,000 dollars to dole out, and the bank has 1000 businesses apply. If you’re the bank, you think, hey, it is too much work to go through all of these. Let’s just lend it to our biggest customers. Consequently, most of us don’t get any money. I don’t know if this is how it works, but I don’t know of any small business like mine that has received any response let alone any money. But, a friend of mine who has a large business has already received the money. Very large restaurant chains have gotten $30,000,000 so far. For me, my landlords are still charging rent, so in my present state, I am losing about $12,000 a month for each restaurant.” - email to customers of Flapjacks and Country Waffles on 04/18/2020
Sacramento County’s unincorporated UnCity has a large population, about the size of Wyoming. If our residents had the same representation in Congress as the people of Wyoming do, we would have two Senators and a Member of the House of Representatives to contact about fixing the small business problems that confront our immediate area. But we don’t. Our Senators are shared with 40 million Californians and our Representatives (Matsui and Bera) split their service among several cities and unincorporated communities. Being invisible UnCity folk, we get listening behavior from Congress that’s about as helpful as the listening behavior we are used to from our municipal services provider (the county Board of Supervisors). In other words, we are on our own. It is up to us to save our local businesses ourselves. Some of our local businesses are shuttered now; we need to be there for them if and when they re-open. Other small businesses, particularly independent local restaurants, have found creative ways - such as meals for curbside take-out or delivery - to hang on until they are again allowed to serve sit-down customers. And the independence of our local restaurants is important because they give our community a distinctive feel. If we want those restaurants to still be there for us after the social distancing period is over, we should buy their take-out meals as much as possible. Please, please, please consider supporting your favorite local restaurants that way.
*Both Sacramento County and the City of Sacramento are listed in the act as eligible local governments. You can probably guess whether the County will spend its share on its regional costs (“the whole County”) or on local impacts in the other cities and/or the unincorporated area.