As a local business owner who has lived and worked in the D.C. area for 35 years, I’ve seen the incredible growth of this city. Local businesses are the heart of our communities, especially those that bring people together. Restaurants, retailers, day cares, hotels, and sports and entertainment venues make up this now-endangered social economy that has been shattered by the pandemic and restrictions necessary to protect us.
I’ve witnessed family-owned businesses such as the SW Soda Pop Shop at the Wharf struggle as they work nonstop — despite greatly reduced income — to survive another day. I’ve also seen homegrown music venues such as the Anthem furlough hundreds of loyal employees and sit empty, with no reopening date in sight.
The District relies more on this social economy than do Virginia and Maryland — or any state, for that matter. We’re not only the nation’s capital, but we’re also the region’s social hub. Residents of Maryland and Virginia take millions of trips into D.C. to dine, watch a game, see a concert or go to a show. D.C.’s social economy generates annual revenue of $20 billion, providing 170,000 jobs and $2.7 billion in annual taxes that pay for D.C. services. Allowing our social economy to collapse is not an option we can afford. Not only would it inflict long-term damage to our communities, but also it would disproportionately hurt our most vulnerable families — many of whom live in Wards 5, 7 and 8, and rely on these jobs and services these taxes provide. We can do better.
Our leaders know that local businesses are in crisis. That’s why Business and Economic Development Chairman Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) created, the D.C. Council unanimously passed and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) signed the Business Support Grants Emergency Amendment Act of 2020. This legislation allocates up to $100 million from the federal Cares Act for immediate relief to eligible businesses in the form of grants enabling them to hold on until a vaccine arrives. Rightfully, it gives preference to minority businesses hit the hardest. Without relief, life after the pandemic may be filled with rows of boarded-up storefronts, unprecedented unemployment and enormous budget deficits — starting in fiscal 2021. Anyone who was here in the early 1990s will remember when our city lost its vibrancy and fiscal independence. We don’t want to return there — and we don’t have to.
The mayor and council have shown tremendous leadership and support for our local business community. Now it’s time to act. We need to process grants and balance priorities among other demands during this pandemic. This will not be easy, but D.C. must do it. Our local businesses, many of which are minority-owned, are depending on these grants. The reality is that D.C. was shorted by $755 million in the original Cares Act, which means there isn’t enough money to remedy all our troubles and uncertainty. The immediate next step to addressing these shortcomings is to fund the Business Support Grants providing a lifeline and hope to these businesses. Meanwhile, our city’s leaders are pressing for more funds in the next congressional bill. With these additional funds, the District will have enough to recover.
Over the past five months, this pandemic has demanded so much from our leaders, and they have risen to the occasion. We’ll conquer the coronavirus by prioritizing safety. When we do, we’ll want restored employment, city services that only a strong tax base provides and a quality of life that includes unique hospitality offerings that local businesses provide.
We can’t do this with local businesses succumbing to extinction, leaving only large, capitalized chains surviving the pandemic’s evolution. Let’s come together to rally around our local businesses by supporting a fully funded grant program and help our city’s leaders press Congress for desperately needed funds D.C. never fully received. Let’s work together in urgency to restore this incredible city that we’ve built together and call our home.