On the one-year anniversary of the start of the coronavirus shut downs, Assemblyman Colin J. Schmitt joined with local business owners and elected officials at the Castle Fun Center in Chester to highlight the damage both the state and federal governments have done to the local economy during the COVID-19 pandemic..
The Castle Fun Center owner Brian Leentjes reached out to Assemblyman Colin Schmitt after being forced to be closed for more than a year by the state, keeping his nearly 120 employees out of work and taking on massive amounts of debt.
The federal government also specifically left the Castle and other family entertainment center business owners out of Shuttered Venue Operators’ (SVO) grant program that was included in the COVID Relief Bill signed into law at the end of December causing even greater financial strain.
Frank Frasca, owner of the newly opened Twins Eating House in Cornwall, and Jamie Quinn of Quinnz Pinz in Middletown, also discussed their circumstances.
Schmitt said he wants the state to safely roll back all remaining business operating restrictions, especially in the restaurant and out-of-home leisure and entertainment sectors. These limitations are killing our small businesses in New York, eliminating jobs and causing significant economic harm, he said.
The assemblyman also called for the state budget to include $1.5 billion in state settlement funds to establish a Small Business Emergency Assistance Fund that will provide grants and emergency assistance to businesses suffering due to state-imposed restrictions.
He also announced three pieces of legislation he will introduce in the Assembly and another three bills he will co-sponsor to take action to assist our small businesses. These bills include an Assembly introduction of Senator George M. Borrello’s Senate Bill S4163 that would:
· Exempt small businesses from being penalized with higher unemployment insurance rates due to layoffs resulting from COVID-related, government-mandated closures. The exemption would extend for a period of one year from when they are permitted to return to full capacity;
· Prohibit internet-based food delivery services from charging higher fees than they charged on or before March 1, 2020;
· Provide small businesses additional time to pay monthly sales and payroll taxes, as well as, business and property taxes;
· Offer interest-free loans or lines of credit to small businesses;
· Provide a one-year extension for renewal of liquor licenses; and
· Provide businesses a 90-day grace period to pay any fees or penalties due to state and local agencies.
Both Schmitt and Borrello are Republicans; Democrats control both the Assembly and the Senate in Albany.
“Our small businesses have suffered over the last year due to COVID-19 closures, shut-downs, and restrictions,” Schmitt said. “Both the state and federal governments are to blame and have not done enough to help. We need to start with the state allowing all of our businesses to fully function safely. Then we need to look at the federal government whose much-touted assistance has left many businesses behind, folks unemployed and not much better off than they were before.
“The federal government also has not done nearly enough, excluding businesses like the Castle for aid programs and shortchanging restaurants in new aid proposals,” he added. “It is time to get our economy fully open and working again!”
Federal help short-lived
Brian Leentjes, owner of Castle Fun Center, said: “There is an imbalance in the way some companies and businesses are allowed to be open without restrictions - while we are prevented in our ability to operate at a capacity that would enable us to keep our full staff. On top of the arbitrary restrictions, the assistance provided is inadequate and continues to set our businesses back.
“We were granted a PPP loan which was helpful for a short period of time but is not sustainable for what has now been a year of forced closure.,” he added. “As for the Shuttered Venue Operators’ grant program, we are excluded from applying due to our status as a fun center, while other attraction-based businesses are permitted to be open and even if we were qualified, after receiving the PPP loan, we are now disqualified.”
The skyrocketing cost for material
Kathy Stegenga, the Orange County legislator who represents the Towns of Blooming Grove, Hamptonburgh and New Windsor, added:
“On top of being a county legislator, I am a small business owner in the construction industry. Set aside the restrictions and money lost due to the pandemic, now that we are able to operate at a smaller capacity, the cost of materials has skyrocketed. What once used to be manageable has now become one of the biggest challenges, providing quality materials for our customers. At times, we are seeing in excess of 300 percent of the normal cost.”