ROCHESTER, Minn. - A Minnesota congressman is working to secure aid for small businesses still struggling amid the pandemic.
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips is spearheading a push on Capitol Hill to craft a new targeted relief package aimed at industries most impacted by coronavirus. Phillips says despite the funds that have so-far flowed from congress to American entrepreneurs, many hard-hit businesses feel they've fallen through the cracks, and lawmakers must do more to help.
"Democrats and Republicans alike understand the importance of small businesses to our country. They're the backbone of our economy. We can't allow our nation's Main Street businesses and community gathering places to suffer when we have both the tools and the resources necessary to keep them afloat. Too many lives and livelihoods, not to mention the American economy, depend on the strength of our small businesses, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to craft a relief package that meets the challenges of this moment," Phillips said.
During his announcement, Rep. Phillips shared small business committees in the House and Senate had already started working on a possible package, though the scope and status of their discussions are unclear at this time. One thing that is clear, however, is a recent meeting with members of the live event industry made a lasting impact on Phillips, which he carried back with him to Washington.
"Two weeks ago, Representative Angie Craig and I met with small business owners in the Twin Cities, who are part of the live events industry, which has also been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic," Rep. Phillips told his colleagues on the House Small Business Committee. "Many wept, literally wept, as they shared their heartbreaking stories of their lifelong dreams and hard-earned savings slowly slipping away as the weeks and months have dragged on."
One of those who took part in the emotional meeting was Rochester's Brandon Helgeson, owner of Big Bang Company.
"I'm still getting a little choked up about it," Helgeson said, recalling listening to the remarks his colleagues planned to make as they prepared for their session with lawmakers.
While an unplanned trip to the emergency room prevented Helgeson from speaking at the meeting in-person, others passed along his message, which recounted how pandemic impacts led him to one of the most difficult moments of his life.
"A lot of the money I planned on taking in, with a lot of that money, I planned on paying my son's college tuition off," Helgeson said, holding back tears. "He'd just graduated. That was kind of always the deal I'd made with him - when he graduated, as long as he didn't screw around too much, pardon the term, but there'd be a chunk of change there, you know, for him when he graduated."
He continued, "one of the toughest conversations I ever had to have was, you know, calling my son and saying, 'hey, we had $150,000 in deposits that were supposed to be here by April, we got 10 [thousand]. You know, so that money that dad had set aside, it's not there.'"
Helgeson adds it was "extremely tough hearing very similar stories," which have become more common in his field over the past 18 months. As far as what a potential relief package should look like, the Med City event entrepreneur says in addition tweaking existing small business programs, "I'd really like to see it make sense, where it goes to those sole proprietors, it goes to the individual gig workers, but that it does make sense. I mean, to just give away money just doesn't make sense, but to make sure that we can see that we're not asking necessarily for handout, we're asking for hand up."
"I'm not thinking that I need to get more money than I would have made, I'm not thinking that I need to have a lot of money, I'm just thinking that we need to have some things in place that keep a business like mine, that's been around for 30 plus years, afloat."