Watching, Waiting for Action in Washington on Coronavirus Relief

Mar 25, 2020

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN

As Congress finalizes a stimulus package for American businesses and workers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local officials along with local business owners are anxiously awaiting the details, while beginning to plan for a recovery. 

Sara Worstell, Kim Howard and Matt Klees all want the same thing- to get Southwestern Indiana workers, sidelined by an invisible virus, back to work.

Klees has owned Kipplee’s  restaurant on Boeke Road near the Lloyd Expressway just since last July. Business was booming and dozens of workers filled orders for a lively clientele:

Klees said, “On March 1, we had forty employees on our schedule.”

Less than a month later, virtually all are gone.

“There’s nothing worse in the world than making that call to tell somebody they don’t have a job. I’ve never had to do something so hard that I wasn’t really prepared for.”

Kim Howard is the regional director for the Southwest Indiana Small Business Development Center. Howard and her staff of three part-time business advisors were the ones who helped Matt Klees buy his restaurant last summer. They’ve been talking with area small business owners non-stop since the fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak started earlier this month.

Despite the lengthy discussions with business owners, Howard had no prediction about the future for Southwestern Indiana businesses.

“It’s just so early that it’s hard to tell how this is all gonna’ play out. We have some people that are not only resilient, but they’re flexible and they’re nimble and they’re trying new things. They’re doing whatever they can to keep their employees intact.”

Until the final package of federal aid is determined, one of the main tools available for small business owners hit hard by the shutdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus are Small Business Administration low interest loans. Kipplee’s owner Matt Klees says that’s aid he doesn’t want to accept.

He said, “See we’re worried that even if I went and got an emergency loan right now, I won’t be able to pay it back.”

Klees said one particular item in the proposed federal stimulus package however, could make a difference. If Congress passes a provision that forgives the emergency loans as long as employers use the money to pay workers.

“If those go through and I can get a loan and I can put that into payroll,  and I can pay everybody and especially if I can put it into some food costs as well.  And then if those are used correctly and they turn into grants, that’s really the key to me to small businesses surviving at this point.”

What everyone I talked with for this story agrees on is that the small business picture in Southwest Indiana is probably going to change because of the pandemic. It will change because some small businesses will not survive. That’s where Sara Worstell comes in. She’s the executive director of the Grow Southwest Indiana Workforce, a non-profit that trains workers for skills that employers need most.

Worstell said, “Those would be individuals that we would want to connect with to help them find their next opportunity. Whether it’s a business owner or it’s an employee of a business that will not operate after things reopen.”

Along with the rest of the nation, small business owners and those who help them stay in business and find good workers are watching, and waiting, to see what happens in Washington this week .