Supply chain, inflationary and labor concerns are crippling small businesses already on the brink. Why are Senate Republicans refusing to help?

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Photo by devn on Unsplash.

For all the worldwide terrors of COVID-19, it has hardly been an equal opportunity destroyer.

Like most other major catastrophes, natural disasters, wars, and economic recessions, a global pandemic was bound to fall harder on some demographic groups than others. The medically vulnerable, the economically disadvantaged, and other already marginalized communities are always hardest hit by negative market indicators. They are also usually the last to feel economic trends moving in the opposite, positive direction.

Wealth may trickle down, or sometimes not; hardship nearly always starts at the bottom at works it way up.

The world’s working class has already borne the brunt of the widening wealth gap over the last two decades. Some of the benefits of globalism, it would seem, have been offset by a great loss to the American manufacturing industry and a 10,000 mile supply chain dependent on petroleum.

When COVID-19 first hit, the working-class “essential workers” of the world watched with amusement as their white-collar counterparts en masse first took to their homes and apartments out of an abundance of caution then seemed reluctant to leave.

For working-class small business owners, collectively responsible for employing millions of Americans, there has been little amusement over the past 18-months, whether they were deemed “essential” or not.

Stay-at-home orders, quarantines, mitigation measures, and a whole host of new sanitation and disinfection responsibilities became, overnight, every entrepreneurs worst nightmare. Questions about COVID-19 and legal liability have kept business owners up at night.

Can an employee, or indeed a customer, sue a business if they catch COVID-19 from, let’s say, the corner deli or local convenience store?

No one, from the NCAA to the U.S. government seemed eager to find out the hard way.

Larger corporations, big box stores and online retailers were better positioned to weather the storm, even one of legal liability if needed. Indeed, some companies, like Amazon, seemed tailor-made for COVID-19.

Small businesses weren’t so lucky.

Now, another bout of bad COVID-19 luck has hit small business owners hardest: A supply-line crisis, a labor shortage and sharply rising inflation are proving the perfect storm for smaller operations.

“It’s kind of the haves and the have nots,” one CEO recently told Financial Times. “The bigger retailers are the ones who have. They had the ability to reach deep into their coffers and start airfreighting produce forward. The have-nots are the small shops, the SMEs that are beholden to their local markets.”

From most quarters comes the same dire warning about millions of small businesses on the brink of closing forever: Unless Washington acts soon, a tidal wave of disaster is almost certain to wipe many more small businesses from the already blighted landscape.

There is help available, a ray of hope for struggling entrepreneurs. Lawmakers in Washington have been busy over the past year in particular. Plenty of funds have been earmarked to help small businesses. COVID-19 relief programs through the SBA are one of the reasons so many small business owners have managed to hold on through 2020 and 2021.

It’s one of the reasons we are finding some of our old favorite haunts, bookstores, restaurants and live music venues upon venturing out instead of none at all.

But much more could and still needs to be done for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

One of the reasons more isn’t being done is a serious labor shortage- at the Small Business Administration.

For the past 8-months, the post of deputy administrator at the SBA has sat needlessly empty. A qualified nominee has been put forth by the Biden Administration. Successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur and experienced public servant Dilawar Syed is an ideal fit.

Unfortunately for him, and for the small business owners sagging under these new challenges- while they are still grappling with all of the old COVID-19 challenges, including how to keep themselves, their employees and customers safe- Senate Republicans haven’t even allowed a vote.

On five separate occasions now they have refused to even vote against Mr. Syed, choosing instead to absent themselves entirely from the process. Without a quorum, there hasn’t been a vote.

No vote, no SBA deputy administrator, be it Dilawar Syed or someone else.

Stopping the process in its tracks in this unprecedented way is leaving small businesses out in the cold, without the support they so desperately need this holiday season.

If there is no action by Washington soon, valiant small business owners who have managed to stay alive through all of 2020 and 2021, won’t survive to see 2022.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)