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Chamber Blog

Urgent Need to Support Worst Hurt Industries

Re: Urgent need to support worst hurt industries

Dear Governor Whitmer:

The recent three week pause enacted to slow the alarming increase in COVID-19 cases has had a disastrous impact on businesses that were already severely harmed by previous government-ordered restrictions.

Businesses such as theaters, restaurants, events and sports venues have an outsized impact on the fabric of our communities and have been the hardest hit by the response to the virus. The recent emergency orders shuttering or severely restricting these entities for at least three additional weeks highlights the need to do more to support them. 

The Grand Rapids Chamber has spent the majority of the last nine months pursuing every potential avenue to help West Michigan businesses survive the pandemic and the government ordered restrictions put in place to protect public health.

The need is urgent. 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.

As you evaluate additional relief efforts that are possible now, and those that could be possible given additional federal support, we want to highlight the feedback we have received and suggestions on where to provide the most benefit.

Forgive fines, fees & interest on unpaid summer 2020 Property Taxes for affected industries

One of our top priorities remains as extending a lifeline to those, who through no fault of their own, were unable to pay their Summer 2020 Property Tax bills. The Legislature stepped up, and we were thrilled legislation was approved with near-unanimous, bi-partisan support. Unfortunately, this was vetoed, and we have continued exploring alternate ways to support these employers.

Asking a business to pay significant government fees on taxes they cannot pay due to government ordered restrictions is wrong, and we need to act as soon as possible to fix this punitive, inexcusable burden.

Senator MacGregor’s Senate Bill 943, which has already passed the House and returned to the Senate provides us the opportunity to provide a short-term lifeline for these severely impacted businesses who were unable to pay. The legislation would relieve the burden of unpaid summer 2020 property tax fees/penalties/interest.

This is not tax forgiveness and the entire bill is still owed, but it allows employers a little more time to get their feet back under them and begin earning revenue. We have already seen so many businesses close forever and will continue losing more in the difficult stretch ahead of us.

We ask for your continued support of this critical aid, and that you consider making it a priority for Lame Duck.

Targeted support for theaters, events and sports venues

Large venues are the hardest position of any of our members. Many have not earned any revenue since March, and many have little hope for significant earnings in the months ahead.

Unfortunately, most grant programs targeting small businesses have been unavailable to these businesses and the amounts that are available have had little impact on keeping them in business.

The threat of these businesses going under does more than harm the owners and employees. These are the attractions that drive vibrant downtowns, our state’s economic engines. Their operation is vital to the continued viability of the restaurants, retailers and other businesses who locate near them. Their closure could take a significant period of time to repair and would have a lasting ripple effect of gutting our state’s cities and a major tax base.

Creating a grant program available to entertainment businesses should be a top priority to address these needs. Numerous states have already executed or are in the process of providing support to this industry.

We will never have enough resources to address the entire need, but a program strategically targeted to support entertainment businesses as defined by the Governor’s Executive Orders and MDHHS’s Emergency Orders could make a significant difference. Ideal guidelines for this program could include:

  • Entertainment venues including auditoriums; arenas; banquet halls; cinemas; conference centers; concert halls; performance venues; sporting venues; stadiums; and theaters.
  • Organizations/venues must be based in Michigan and attract attendees/participants and thus contribute substantially to the health of the local and state economy
  • Organizations/venues would demonstrate the negative financial impact of COVID-19
  • Grants would be awarded based on the total set aside/number of applicants and based on determined need or venue capacity.

We urge you to consider implementing a program similar to this and explore the efforts of other states in addressing this need.

Be prepared for federal funds and consider using the “Rainy Day” fund in advance

We appreciate the tough decisions that allowed Michigan to invest in the Rainy Day fund. We believe that in the midst of a global pandemic and economic collapse, we should responsibly use a portion of these funds to address the most immediate needs.

While it’s not wise to rely on federal action to solve Michigan’s needs, it is likely that our federal government will take action to contribute resources to this fight. As this takes shape, we should investigate using the fund to “advance” the necessary relief if allowable. We should also have consensus plans developed on how to distribute resources as appropriately and quickly as possible if they become available or to invest in the Unemployment Trust Fund which will be another significant burden on employers.

Thank you for your consideration. Please contact Josh Lunger at josh@grandrapids.org or 616.901.5168 with any questions.

Sincerely,

Rick Baker                                                                    Andy Johnston
President & CEO                                                            Vice President of Government Affairs

Joshua Lunger                                                            Alexa Kramer
Senior Director of Government Affairs                     Director of Government Affairs

 

CC:
Majority Leader Mike Shirkey
Senator Jim Stamas
Senator Peter MacGregor
Speaker Lee Chatfield
Representative Shane Hernandez

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