Are Illinois politicians supporting small businesses? The Verdict is out

Illinois politicians have completed their spring legislative session. The Democrats, who hold a supermajority in both legislative chambers, proclaim their budget supports the small business community.

That budget allocates $300 million for the Back to Business grant program, presumably to be awarded to small businesses struggling to recover from the pandemic. The budget also includes millions in additional relief for small businesses through various programs. The impact these funds will have however, will be determined by how they are spent and the speed by which they are disbursed to small businesses struggling to keep their doors open.

This is not the first time Illinois policymakers have sought to provide relief to small businesses struggling because of the pandemic.

Last year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration rolled out the Business Interruption Grant program. Was that program a success? The business owners who received funding through the program - about 20% - would likely say yes. The approximately 80% of business owners that waited for crucial funding, only to learn they would not receive a grant, likely disagree.

We applaud the administration for quickly putting together a robust grant program during a pandemic. However, there is no question the BIG grant program was flawed and underfunded.

The question is whether lessons learned from the BIG program can increase the impact the Back to Business grant program will have on struggling businesses.

Will the money be distributed in an expedited manner? Will the funds be better allocated to include more small businesses? Will more federal relief money be made available for small businesses when the $300 million is exhausted? Will policymakers listen to small business owners from across the state when creating this program?

The answers to these questions will determine whether Illinois politicians are truly supporting the small business community or only offering lip service, which, of course, will not help small businesses recover from the pandemic.

Illinois policymakers also must explain the reason they reversed course on phasing out the franchise tax. Democrats agreed to phase out this tax but abruptly changed direction. Democrats also seek to eliminate the ability of businesses to take advantage of accelerated depreciation, which will impact the cash flow of businesses that purchase equipment and other items.

Democrats must explain the reason they deemed it prudent to take these actions in the wake of a pandemic and what they will do to ensure the unintended consequences of these policies do not cause further harm to cash-strapped small businesses.

Small business advocates put forth the framework for an improved grant program in legislation that procured the support of Senate leaders. While the legislation did not pass, the Governor's team should strongly consider these recommendations and engage small business advocates when creating the grant program. Indeed, Springfield politicians must engage the small business community in a much more significant manner to help small businesses and local communities recover from the pandemic.

This small business community does not feel heard in Springfield. However, there is still time for that to change. Are Springfield politicians supporting small businesses? While the verdict is still out, they will need to move fast or risk failing the small business community.

• Elliot Richardson is co-founder and president of the Small Business Advocacy Council.

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