WI Small Business Owners Share Growing Sense of Abandonment, Confusion and Uncertainty as Administration Fails to Help Main Street 

WI Small Business Owners Share Growing Sense of Abandonment, Confusion and Uncertainty as Administration Fails to Help Main Street 


Today, Opportunity Wisconsin and Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform (BRTR) held a virtual roundtable with small business owners from across Wisconsin to hear about the challenges they face in weathering the COVID-19 crisis and considerations they are making in reopening.  SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Frank Knapp co-chairs BRTR.

May 29, 2020--During a virtual roundtable held today by Opportunity Wisconsin and Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform (BRTR), Wisconsin small business owners said there has been little meaningful federal leadership since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to help them navigate the crisis, which continues into the current push to reopen. As a result, they feel they are left alone to navigate financial issues and how and when to reopen safely.

Wisconsin business owners from across the state said there has been no clarity on how the Paycheck Protection Program and other emergency aid meant to help them survive the crisis is supposed to be accessed, when they can expect to receive money, how to spend it so it can be forgiven and, now, how to reopen safely.

“The Trump Administration botched the Paycheck Protection Program and now it is mishandling reopening. These business owners made it clear there has been no clear or consistent information about emergency aid or how to reopen safely,” said Anne Zimmerman, a small business CPA and co-chair of BRTR, who moderated the discussion. “It’s impossible for them to plan and they are getting scared they may not recover. It’s a terrible time to have weak leadership because small businesses are going to need long-term help to rebuild from this crisis. We need competence from the Administration to make sure our Main Streets survive, and we are not getting it.”

During the call, Becky Cooper, who owns family entertainment center Bounce Milwaukee with her husband, said the ongoing lack of leadership at the federal level has hurt small business. The rule that PPP loans must be spent in eight weeks in order to be forgiven is unrealistic. She is only doing 2% of its normal business by offering takeout and at that level she can’t spend all her PPP loan in two months. Cooper also feels uncomfortable with the push to reopen with no guidance on how to do so safely.

“I can’t bring in families and in good conscience have kids playing closeby,” Cooper said. “Just this really shortsighted planning and the lack of an overall plan from the federal government is really, really damaging to small businesses.”

Natalie Spehert, owner of Strand on Second, a co-op saloon in Milwaukee, also feels frustrated with the lack of PPP guidance, as well as the pressure to reopen her business. Her industry has become a reopening battleground but nobody thinks about the safety of the practitioners or the expense incurred to reopen responsibly, Spehert said.

“I’m mad and I’m poor and I’m going to continue to be poor,” she said. “And now … for the time being everything is open and nobody has gotten any more money and the bills may have been paid up to this point but the chickens are coming to roost so to speak and we can’t sustain it.”

Judy Baxter, a CPA in the Milwaukee area, said her clients are desperate for advice on how to use PPP loans, but the guidance from the government is constantly changing so the best she can do is share the experiences of other clients.

“We’re just trying to give our people hope. It’s very difficult,” she said.

Many small business owners discussed the need to extend the PPP loans’ eight-week forgiveness period so they don’t get stuck with a loan balance they must pay, a second round of emergency funds and no-strings-attached grants for truly small businesses to help them hang on and rebuild.

“Our biggest fear in what we are seeing and reading about the PPP is, will it be forgiven?,” said Kayla Midthun, owner of Ramone’s Ice Cream Parlor in Eau Claire, Wisc.

View the full roundtable discussion here.


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About Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform
Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform is a coalition of business leaders calling for tax reform that truly benefits America’s small business owners. We are dedicated to ensuring tax reform is fiscally responsible, creates a level playing field for all businesses, grows the economy and works for our nation’s 30 million small business owners. Learn more about us on our website and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.