Daines proposes fund for ‘very small’ businesses

A bipartisan bill introduced this week by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., aims to ease some of the economic pains facing mom-and-pop sized businesses across America.

The legislation is intended to assist “very small” businesses with fewer than 20 workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The RELIEF for Main Street Act would create a $50 billion fund, operated by the Treasury Department, to seed and scale small business relief funds at the city or county level, according to information from Daines’ office. The assistance would be directed toward businesses with fewer than 20 employees, minority-owned businesses, small businesses in low-income and rural communities, businesses outside the mainstream banking system, and tribal businesses. The funding may take the form of grants, loans, or professional support to respond to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Congress in March passed the CARES Act, which provided hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency assistance to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program. That program, however, is available to businesses with up to 500 workers.

According to Daines’ office, 90% of small businesses in Montana have fewer than 20 employees and make up about 50% of employment in the state.

“This bipartisan legislation is about taking the decision making powers out of the hands of Washington D.C. and putting it in the hands of our local communities who know their own needs best,” Daines stated. “We need more targeted action that strengthens local response and empowers our local economic development leaders to provide relief for our most vulnerable small and rural businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Local government officials and business leaders are praising the concept, including officials at the city of Kalispell, Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, Montana West Economic Development and Flathead County Economic Development Authority.

“This bill will provide much needed emergency funding and technical assistance to American companies and $187 million to Montana’s small businesses,” Joe Unterreiner, president of the Kalispell Chamber, said in a media release. “It is especially timely for the businesses of Northwest Montana due to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on commerce and employment over the past 60 days.”

“I am a firm believer that funds provided to local jurisdictions are more effectively deployed than those of large scale nationally administered programs,” added Kalispell Mayor Mark Johnson.

Bozeman Mayor Chris Mehl also signed on to a letter of support for the legislation that was sent to Senate leaders.