By DANIEL KITTREDGE After hearing from business owners, small business advocates and workers in some of Rhode Island's hardest hit industries, the City Council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution calling on Gov. Gina Raimondo to release an
After hearing from business owners, small business advocates and workers in some of Rhode Island’s hardest hit industries, the City Council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution calling on Gov. Gina Raimondo to release an additional $150 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding to support the state’s business community.
“I can’t say how many sleepless nights I’ve had as a small business owner, as a public official … All we’re simple asking, and begging and pleading for, is survival,” said Ward 4 Councilman Ed Brady, one of the initial sponsors of the resolution and a member of a restaurant ownership group whose establishments include the Thirsty Beaver.
The resolution – with was also initially cosponsored by Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas and Ward 5 Councilman Chris Paplauskas before being cosponsored by the entire body – seeks another $75 million of the state’s CARES Act funding to support the Restore RI small business grant program, which received initial funding of $50 million when it was announced earlier this year.
The resolution also calls for an additional $75 million of the federal funding to support businesses that will be directly affected by the governor’s coming two-week “pause” aimed at stemming the new surge of coronavirus cases.
Backers of the resolution said it is the first of its kind to be approved by a Rhode Island city or town council. It will be forwarded to the governor, the members of the city’s General Assembly delegation and the state’s other municipal councils.
Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee was among those who took part in the council’s Zoom meeting on Monday to speak in support of the resolution. He said he has been touring all 39 of Rhode Island’s cities in towns – including a stop in Cranston two weeks ago – to raise awareness of the Restore RI program and advocate for additional business aid.
“I know the small businesses need cash, and they need it now. And we’re trying to make sure that the governor hears that message loud and clear … I think the message that comes from the second largest community in the state of Rhode Island is going to resonate through the governor’s office,” he said.
Ara Janigian and his mother, Sonia, from Sonia’s Near East Market & Deli also spoke in favor of the resolution. Ara said providing additional financial support for small businesses is “imperative,” and he was critical of previous application paperwork from the state being “so difficult to accomplish or even understand.”
“We’re not trying to make money from the grants. We need to pay our bills. We keep hearing that people want to help, and they’re going to help. We’re just waiting to hear when … It just seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Tyler Fontaine, a former Thirsty Beaver employee who now works for PVD Pizza, said while he understands the severity of the pandemic and the need for restrictions, the toll on the state’s small business community will be immense if action is not taken quickly to provide support.
“This is happening right now, and there are businesses closing. If there’s funding available that can allow people to maintain their livelihoods, put food on the table for their families, allow business owners to be able to close and still be able to come back and do business in a month, two months … that has to be an option,” he said.
Crystal Nicoll, a four-year employee of the Thirsty Beaver and single mother of three children, said she sought to provide council members with a “server’s point of view.” She said she and her colleagues have adapted to the situation and practice all required safety protocols, but that the drop in business due to restrictions on seating and capacity has been devastating – particularly for workers, like her, who depend on tips.
“At this point, I feel like we’re being targeted … it’s impossible for businesses to manage,” she said.
She added: “We’re going to shut down right before Christmas … Now I’m worrying about if I can even afford to buy my kids presents or put food on the table.”
Chris Parisi from the Rhode Island Small Business Coalition said the state’s reluctance to more actively distributed CARES Act relief has made members of the business community “very upset.”
“We’re not asking for a bailout … We’re asking to just stay alive,” he said, adding: “Our stance is straightforward – if the government is mandating a business to shut down or be restricted, they must immediately be ready to support that business financially.”
Calling the stories he has heard from others in the business community “heartbreaking and motivating,” he continued: “If we continue to just let the small businesses fail, it will forever change our economy … and we cannot let that happen.”
During the council’s discussion, Paplauskas noted that Monday brought news that Spirito’s Restaurant near the Johnston line had permanently closed its doors.
“This funding needs to be released. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a need to have … Maybe if this funding came a little sooner, we’d keep them in the city and keep them open,” he said.
He added: “To Lt. Gov. McKee, don’t stop. Keep up the fight.”
Vargas said many businesses in the community are “drowning” due to pandemic and related restrictions, and “we should all be throwing lifesavers at them.” She also noted that she and Brady had planned a Facebook Live informational session on the Restore RI grant program for Tuesday night.
The council on Monday also unanimously approved a resolution introduced by Vargas calling on the governor to place a new moratorium on evictions and provide emergency rental and mortgage assistance through the CARES Act funding.
“Everybody deserves a safe and warm home, and it’s not their fault that we’re in this COVID-19 pandemic,” she said