Vt. officials present relief plans for small businesses

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) State and federal officials are stepping up efforts to provide relief for small business owners hit by the financial fallout from the coronavirus.

The first day of the month usually means rent and bills are due, but it'll be a challenge for many, including Arthur Therrien, the owner of Montpelier Auto Clinic. April is normally his busy season, working around the clock changing over snow tires.

"My lot right now should be full and my guys should be putting out cars one after another," Therrien said. Even though he operates what the state deems an essential business, he's still struggling. "There's people that work for me. We're trying to take care of them and make sure they get a paycheck, which puts you behind on other bills."

For Therrien and countless other small business owners, some relief may be on the way. The state is rolling out new programs to help small businesses and workers hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis.
They can apply for a $10,000 grant through the Small Business Administration to pay employee sick leave, rent, or other operating costs.

"We want to do everything we can so that that relationship people have -- employer-employee and others that have their own businesses -- that when this is done, they can turn that switch, go back to work and do what they love to do," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont.

The federal government is also rolling out what's called a Paycheck Protection Program, which helps businesses keep workers on the payroll with loans of up to $10 million.

"Loan payments will be deferred for six months, and if businesses are able to maintain their workforce, the SBA will forgive the first eight weeks of payroll," said Vermont Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle.

Relief is also on the way in the form of a $1,200 check for Americans making less than $75,000. The state is also expanding unemployment benefits by adding $600 on top of current disbursements for the next four months. Leaders admit it's not a perfect plan, but say it's a good start to keep Vermonters on their feet during the crisis.

And like thousands of other business owners, Therrien says the future of his business depends on whether he can get help. "Unless the floodgates open up and everybody needs their car repaired tomorrow, I don't feel like there's any other option to keep the business running without some type of financial help," he said.

The state of Vermont is also putting together a business task force which will create policy tools to aid in the long term recovery efforts.