The small business community was increasingly optimistic this summer. The pandemic was waning, restrictions disappeared and customers were coming back in droves.
Vaccinated individuals gathered without masks. While many businesses struggled to find qualified employees, their prospects for recovery looked good.
Then the Delta variant came and COVID cases started to significantly increase. That optimism that defined the small business community has been replaced with concern and uncertainty.
How significant will the spike in Illinois be? What, if any, mitigation measures will be put into place? How will the resurgence of the pandemic impact consumer behavior?
The trajectory of the pandemic may shift again before this article is published. It seems the only thing that remains certain during this pandemic is uncertainty.
Policymakers must be ready to support the small business community should the new surge threaten the viability of small businesses. This includes promptly getting Back to Business grants to as many struggling small businesses as possible. Policymakers have allocated about $300 million for these grants. The onset of the Delta variant makes it crucial to swiftly provide this funding to as many small businesses as possible.
There are also billions in additional funds available through the American Rescue Plan Act. Policymakers should proactively prepare for another major economic disruption by developing an emergency plan to provide short-term funding to struggling businesses. Perhaps the Delta variant will not threaten the viability of small and local businesses. However, a program should be ready in the event conditions deteriorate and more businesses face the prospect of permanently closing.
Grant programs should also be developed to support local chambers of commerce should the Delta variant cause them to again cancel events and in-person meetings.
Chambers support small businesses. They foster commerce and connectivity in local communities. Chambers have been devastated by the pandemic and many will need monetary assistance should another surge cause shutdowns, restrictions and the understandable reluctance of members to attend larger gatherings. We cannot leave our chambers behind because they are the glue that helps bind local businesses together.
Politicians should also look for ways to help small businesses through the unexpected onset of the Delta variant. What fees can be eliminated, reduced or deferred?
These are questions policymakers should be asking right now. The resurgence of the pandemic also underscores the need for politicians to immediately cut unnecessary red tape that makes it difficult for individuals to find employment or grow their businesses.
Simply put, should the Delta variant do more damage to small businesses and local economies, our politicians cannot be reactive. Rather, they must proactively implement programs and policies that support the small business community.
• Elliot Richardson is president and co-founder of the Small Business Advisory Council.