Legislators, advocacy groups and small businesses from across Massachusetts came together for a Virtual Rally + Digital Day of Action Monday morning to raise awareness on four measures introduced on Beacon Hill that would provide additional and long-term support to thousands of businesses across the state.
These measures included compelling insurance companies to pay out on legitimate business interruption insurance claims, extending the ability for restaurants to sell cocktails to-go, extending third party delivery fee caps, and providing grants to small businesses started in early 2020 and have been ineligible for any government funding at all.
Amanda Converse, CEO of Cape Cod-based small business advocacy organization Love Live Local, and co-organizer of the event, emphasized the need for additional support.
“We can’t ignore the challenges local businesses were facing before the pandemic, the enormous losses they have incurred during the pandemic, or the forecasts that for some industries it will take years to recover post-pandemic,” she said.
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth) provided a briefing on legislation regarding business interruption insurance he introduced in the House earlier this year, and Sen. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) filled the online crowd in on the measures she introduced on the Senate side addressing cocktails to-go, third party delivery fees, and grants for nascent businesses.
Perhaps the most poignant moments of the event came from small business owners from across the state sharing how these measures would impact them if passed.
Jeffrey Mitchell from The Talkative Pig in Chatham shared they were coming off their best year in 2019 when the pandemic hit, costing them 33 percent of their sales. He said that 10 percent of their sales last August were from the cocktails to-go program that was temporarily instituted last summer.
“That saved us,” he said, “that money [helped us] keep our doors open as we went into the winter.”
He maintained that extending the cocktails to-go program for two additional years would allow their business to grow and recover.
Addressing the predatory practices of third-party delivery companies was Steve Kurland from EVOO and Za restaurants in Cambridge, where he spoke of the importance of the temporary cap on fees that was instituted at the beginning of this year, saying, “It was a relief and is a lifeline for our businesses.”
Both cocktails to-go and third-party delivery fee caps are now set to expire when the state of emergency expires on June 15.
Jitka Borowick, owner of Nove Yoga in Dennis, told of how she planned to open her new yoga and wellness studio in April 2020, securing financing from the SBA in February of the same year. Because all government forms of financial assistance were contingent on being open in 2019, she has been unable to access any grants offered. She was able to defer her SBA loans for a few months, after which time her monthly payments increased. The only assistance she has received is $1,000 grant from the Cape Cod Resilience Fund. A proposed state funded $5 million grant program would provide her and many businesses with similar circumstances much need financial assistance.
Richard Heller, longtime vice president of Legal Sea Foods, which is currently in a legal battle with their insurance company over their refusal to honor the claim filed by the local restaurant chain, stated that the legislation addressing business interruption insurance would provide much needed clarity to the courts on what constitutes a business interruption, property damage and a virus exclusion.
Co-organizer Chris Almeida, from Cocktails for Commonwealth and beverage director at The Tasty in Plymouth, closed out the event.
“Small businesses need to know that they have tools and protections in place that they can at least rely on in the short term future and for the beginning of their recovery,” he said, and prompted attendees to contact their state representatives and urged state legislators to take these issues seriously.
The event was co-hosted by Love Live Local, Cocktails for Commonwealth, THIRST, Cambridge Local First, Sustainable Business Network of MA, and Mass Restaurants United
You can view the event in its entirety here.