Your NPR news source
President Joe Biden speaks with owners Kristin Smith and James Smith as he visits Smith Flooring in Chester, Pa.

President Joe Biden speaks with owners Kristin Smith and James Smith as he visits Smith Flooring in Chester, Pa., Tuesday, March 16, 2021.

Carolyn Kaster

President Biden Showcases Aid To Small Businesses

President Joe Biden turned up at a minority-owned flooring business in suburban Philadelphia on Tuesday to highlight how his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package can help small businesses and to put a face on those who have struggled throughout the pandemic.

The visit to Smith Flooring, Inc. was Biden’s first stop in a cross-country administration roadshow — also involving his vice president and his wife — designed to publicize, and take credit for, the virus relief package.

It “took some loud, strong voices to get this done,” Biden said, making a subtle dig at Republicans during his visit to the small union shop that will benefit from the relief. “And it’s not like it passed with 100 votes. It was close.”

While Biden was in Pennsylvania for his first stop on the “Help is Here” tour, Vice President Kamala Harris and husband Doug Emhoff were reinforcing the small business theme Tuesday with stops in Colorado.

With Harris and Emhoff taking notes during a business roundtable in Denver, Lorena Cantarovici, who began making empanadas in her garage after emigrating from Argentina, told of how her small shop grew over the years into three Maria Empanada locations but then was forced to lay off workers when the coronavirus struck.

She said 80% of her team came back through previous relief programs but it could take two years to get back to full capacity and “recover all this loss.” Harris and Emhoff did their part by departing with empanadas in tow.

Gabriela Salazar, whose Colorado Artisans represents more than 100 artisans in Denver, estimated more than 90% of those artisans are unemployed or collecting unemployment. Salazar, a small business owner for 30 years, told Harris that help from the Small Business Administration has “kept me afloat but more is needed.”

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Smith Flooring had 23 employees during peak times but currently is employing 12 workers. It is using the loan to help retain workers and upgrade technology. Borrowers are eligible for forgiveness if they meet certain requirements, including devoting at least 60% of the proceeds to payroll expenses.

In his chat with the owners of Smith Floors, Biden repeatedly asked “what else” they thought his administration should be doing to help businesses like theirs.

In Washington, the Senate confirmed Isabel Guzman, Biden’s pick to lead the Small Business Administration on Tuesday. She is expected to play a key role in implementing the relief bill.

Biden is trying to showcase how the aid package will bring transformational change to the nation by halving child poverty, fueling record levels of hiring and pumping money to parents, schools and state and local governments. It’s a sharp turn from the start of the Biden administration, when vaccination goals were relatively modest and Americans were warned the country might not return to normal until Christmas.

The Biden administration estimates that 400,000 small businesses have closed because of the pandemic and millions more are barely surviving. His aid package includes a $28 billion grant program to support restaurants and drinking establishments. It also includes $15 billion in flexible grants.

The visit to Smith Flooring was meant to drive home that point. The business saw revenue fall about 20% during the pandemic. It recently qualified for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan during a two-week window in which the Biden administration focused the program exclusively on helping businesses with 20 or fewer employees.

Harris also held a virtual chat with the operators of a Fort Lupton, Colorado, vaccine clinic.

The second day of the vice president’s tour to publicize the virus relief was disrupted because of a mechanical issue with the government plane that flew the vice president to Las Vegas and Los Angeles on Monday. A smaller backup plane was sent to fly her to Denver, relegating most of her staff, Secret Service and a small group of reporters to fly on a cavernous cargo plane.

Because of the plane issue, Harris scratched her plan for her visit to the vaccine clinic, Plan De Salud Del Valle Inc., and instead spoke with the clinic’s staff over Zoom. She praised their work, making particular note of the clinic’s focus on helping minority communities get vaccinated.

“The President and I from the beginning of this have made it one of our highest priorities to make sure that we are taking into account racial disparities, and that we supply folks on the ground with the resources you need so that we have equitable outcomes,” she said.

The Latest
A greater share of Chicago area Republicans cast their ballots by mail in March compared to the 2022 primary, but they were still vastly outpaced by Democrats in using a voting system that has become increasingly popular.
As the 2024 presidential election approaches, officials, advocates and experts have expressed concern over misinformation and disinformation about candidates and elections in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois.
In interviews with WBEZ, several decried the length of sentence the 80-year-old could face, while a handful of others said he deserves significant time in prison.

From 1968 to today, volunteers in Chicago aim to connect visitors to their city, and to see some of the convention action themselves
Chicago’s longest-serving alderman Ed Burke will face up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced later this month. WBEZ’s Mariah Woelfel shares what prosecutors and Burke’s defense team are requesting from the judge overseeing the case.