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Published in Small Business

West Michigan businesses seek support from state leaders amid COVID-19 ‘pause’

BY Friday, December 04, 2020 01:33pm

GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is urging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative leaders to enact assistance for businesses affected by the most recent state restrictions.

Forgiveness of fines and fees and interest on unpaid taxes, as well as support for theaters and event and entertainment venues, are among the actions the Grand Rapids Chamber suggests in a letter to Whitmer and Republican and Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate.

Rick Baker COURTESY PHOTO

“The latest orders shutter or severely restrict businesses such as theaters, restaurants, events and sports venues. These businesses have an outsized impact on the fabric of our communities and have been hardest hit by the response to the virus,” Grand Rapids Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker said in a statement. “With a vaccine on the horizon, we need immediate action to see these businesses through the winter.”

Executives at the Grand Rapids Chamber suggested using the state’s “rainy day” fund to “to address the most immediate needs” and not rely on Congress to enact a new federal aid package.

Michigan has restrictions in effect that prohibit in-person dining at restaurants and limiting capacity at retail stores. The restrictions — in place for three weeks as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge across the state — expire Dec. 8.

Whitmer said on Thursday an extension of the restrictions was “sadly possible.”

“At this juncture everyone has to know that, of course, we are looking at the data every single day. We’re trying to make decisions with the best information that we have,” Whitmer said. “As we get, I think, a few more days of information under our belts we’ll be in a much stronger position to really assess if there are some things that are maybe safer to do, but if we have to make some extensions of the current ‘pause’ in some realms, that is sadly possible because of just the sheer volume of COVID.”

The administration’s decision will hinge on data on the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests and hospitalizations.

Early data indicate a recent “little bit of a leveling” after a “very dramatic upward trajectory” that pushed some hospitals to near or at capacity, Whitmer said.

“Ultimately we need to bring it down,” she said.

Whitmer hopes Congress can pass new federal aid and noted ongoing efforts in Lansing for a $100 million package to help businesses and unemployed workers. She also noted the need to “also build up our apparatus to distribute vaccines” that are pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration emergency approval this month and could come out within two weeks.

The Grand Rapids Chamber’s letter said the need for assistance is urgent and that “we are hearing from businesses every day that feel they have nowhere else to turn.”

“Despite the optimism of possible vaccines, our members’ needs aren’t diminishing, they are growing,” chamber executives wrote.

State assistance would give businesses affected by the latest restrictions “a fighting chance to operate safely,” said Andy Johnston, the Chamber’s vice president of government affairs.

As of Thursday, COVID-19 case rates in Michigan remained “alarmingly high,” and the state was “still identifying many outbreaks across the state,” said Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. 

More than eight out of 10 intensive care unit beds at hospitals were full, Khaldun said.

“At the current rates, our state and local public health workers are just not able to keep up, and that means that our outbreak data is limited,” she said, adding that “we are seeing signs that the case rate is slowing over the past couple of weeks and that vaccines are coming very soon.”

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