A panel of city and federal officials assured Cambridge business owners that economic relief from the federal government and local programs is on the way at a virtual town hall hosted by city leaders Thursday.
United States Representative Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), who represents Cambridge in Massachusetts’s fifth congressional district, said she is “very optimistic” that a mammoth $2 trillion stimulus package will be able to pass the House of Representatives by voice vote on Friday, after it was unanimously approved by the Senate late Wednesday night.
“We want to make sure that the federal government is coming in and supporting small businesses, our municipalities, and our states who are really on the front lines of this crisis,” Clark said.
If even one House member objects to the bill on the voice vote, a quorum must be present in order to pass the package, which includes upwards of $370 billion for small businesses. Clark said she plans to travel to Washington, D.C. in order to be on standby in case a quorum is needed to pass the bill.
Clark, along with U.S. Small Business Administration officials Wendell G. Davis and Peter Kontakos, answered questions Cambridge Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon asked on behalf of local small businesses at the teleconference.
Clark stressed that the stimulus package includes a “Paycheck Protection Program” that would provide loans to small businesses at a low interest rate. The government may forgive loans for businesses that use them to cover payroll.
She added that “gig economy” workers — independent contractors such as Uber drivers who are not normally eligible for unemployment — will be able to collect benefits under the proposed bill.
“We are very aware that many people who normally wouldn’t be able to have unemployment insurance are going to be in a position where they will need it,” Clark said.
City officials on the panel also discussed local relief projects. Pardis Saffari, a City of Cambridge economic development manager, discussed a citywide database of all businesses remaining open or transitioning to e-commerce models. Saffari also informed town hall attendees of relief grants to small businesses the city introduced Thursday.
Michael Monestime, executive director of the Central Square Business Improvement District, also introduced a new economic impact report at the town hall. The report, “Grassroots Relief for Main Streets,” highlighted small business owners’ struggles across the Greater Boston area and provided economic relief recommendations.
The Central Square BID, East Cambridge Business Association, and Union Square Main Streets co-published the report on Thursday. Five Cambridge City Councilors, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, and Mallon signed on to the recommendation in the report.
The report urges the Massachusetts state legislature to adopt relief measures, including an emergency relief fund for small businesses, expanded unemployment benefits, and anti-eviction protections.
Union Square Main Streets president Zachary C. Baum stressed the widespread economic losses surrounding the coronavirus outbreak in a Thursday interview.
“Zero percent of businesses from the Union Square community — zero percent reported that COVID-19 has not had an impact on their business,” Baum said.
Mallon likened current events to the 2008 financial crisis, when Wall Street firms were bailed out by the federal government, but remained steadfast in her commitment to local businesses.
“Main Street got left out, and we can’t have that again,” Mallon said in the town hall.
In spite of a dire economic situation, Nina Berg, communications director for the Central Square BID, said local business associations plan to support proprietors in Cambridge.
“Especially in Cambridge and Central Square, this is our extended family. We’re talking about our friends, restaurants, parents, the places you go to growing up,” Berg said in an interview. “It’s really an effort to support those people who we care about deeply.”
—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.
—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.
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