There is just something about Jimmy Stewart in the timeless classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Set in fictional small-town Bedford Falls, Stewart plays George Bailey, the stalwart elder son of a local small business owner, who tussles and then triumphs over the greedy Mr. Potter, the man who controls nearly every business in town—that is, except the Building and Loan owned by the Bailey family, where townspeople can get a fair deal to buy a home of their own.
While most Americans believe that the little guys with the big hearts should win, our economy has veered off in a completely different direction: since the 1980s, the Potters have been crushing the Baileys of the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on the nation’s small businesses. What happens when “little guys,” like the Baileys, see no end in sight to an unrelenting viral assault?
All hope is never lost.
In 2020, hope comes wrapped in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which authorized billions of dollars in forgivable loans to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees. In this country, only 18,000 businesses have more than 500 employees, while 99.9% of businesses are considered small: 30% have one employee; 40% have between 2 and 5 employees; and 10% have between 6 and 10. Politicians claim to care about small businesses, however studies reveal government tax incentives tend to shortchange small business owners. The Paycheck Protection Program is an opportunity to level the playing field and gives the Baileys—or moreover, small business owners and their employees—a genuine fighting chance.
America’s 30 million small businesses generate nearly 50% of our GDP. A 2016 SBA report showed small businesses employ 47.5% of the nation’s workforce. Small businesses create jobs and drive local economies; their employees pay local sales and property taxes. According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR), $10 million in sales at Amazon supports 19 jobs, whereas the same volume at small retail stores supports 47 jobs. In addition, small businesses order supplies from local vendors and offer more locally-produced products. Small businesses and their employees spend their money locally, are heavily involved in civic activities, and boost key community organizations through service and charity.
I started working at the family business when I was 10 years old; first, as a weekend receptionist and then performing many jobs along the way, including biller, janitor, and medical assistant by the time I was out of high school. Some say an entrepreneur graduates to a bonified small business owner the first time they make payroll from their own pocket. That happened to me in October 2017, the month my father died. And of course, I am not alone. Every small business owner in this country knows all too well the blood, sweat and tears required to survive in the long-run.
After patient volume dropped by more than 70%, I applied for a PPP loan. Despite having long-standing relationships with multiple different banks, very few returned my calls. (It appears lenders were chasing corporations like Shake Shack, Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse, or the NBA Lakers, who secured tens of millions from the PPP, despite the fact each garners $300-$500 million in profits annually.) Kitsap Credit Union, a community-centric and community-supportive bank, helped me when no one else would, to put money directly into the hands of my employees. My practice secured a loan by the close of business on April 15, the afternoon before the program funding was exhausted.
Anticipating the need for more funding, Representatives Derek Kilmer (WA-6) and Jaime Herrera-Beutler (WA-3) introduced bipartisan legislation to expand the SBA Paycheck Protection program and ensure that every qualified small business could access critical financial assistance. This past week, Congress approved an additional $370 billion to support small businesses, and set aside a proportion for smaller lenders and credit unions, like Kitsap Credit Union, who strive to support local small businesses, like mine. To better protect the second round of funding, the Treasury Department issued new guidelines on Thursday April 23 directing publicly traded companies and those with access to other sources of capital to return Paycheck Protection Program loans by May 7 if borrowers cannot certify “in good faith” that they need the loans to keep operating.
In one unforgettable scene from the film, Mr. Potter argues shutting down the Baileys Building and Loan is best for the townspeople, who are nothing more than “starry-eyed dreamers” chock-full of impossible ideas. George Bailey counters, “Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”
Bailey is unequivocally right. The very foundation of small communities across America are the everyday men and women doing the working, paying, living and dying, many whom are employed by small businesses. By extending the Paycheck Protection Program, the nation is not only helping hardworking men and women to keep their jobs and support their families, but at the same time, it is throwing small businesses a life-preserver when they need it most.