Failing Main Street NY
During the election, we heard candidates on both sides to toss around the phrase “small businesses are the backbone of the American economy.” A staple of exhausted political rhetoric, made trite despite its truth because for many politicians it’s a talking point, not a platform. We must move from rhetoric to action. To do so, America’s political leaders need a real understanding of what small businesses need—and what they don’t.
The struggle between understanding and posturing is on display right now in Albany. While small business owners struggle to open their doors, the legislature passed a so-called “truth in lending for small business” bill that claims to provide more disclosure to business owners seeking financing. Led by Senator Kevin Thomas and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski the bill is currently pending before Governor Cuomo. The legislators recently authored an op-ed that further demonstrates their failure to recognize that the innocuously named bill is rife with faults and lacks a competent grasp of small business issues. The critical blind spots in the bill’s design threatens billions of dollars in capital leaving New York—a failing small businesses owners can scarcely afford at such a difficult time.
Yet, rather than incentivizing finance providers to stay in New York, the legislature is focused on complex disclosures that lack real meaning or understanding to small business owners. Senator Thomas opined on the Senate floor “… the reason I introduced this bill is because people don’t use standard terminology.” Interestingly, this bill creates several new terms and metrics that would be required to be disclosed that have never been used before in finance. Terms like “double-dipping” and new confusing metrics that even the CFPB under President Obama labeled as “confusing and misleading” to consumers. This bill’s fatal flaw is that it has confused information volume with transparency, somethings a recent study proved would harm small business owners.
Even Senator Thomas acknowledged the legislation’s myriad of problems while still encouraging its passage. In his colloquy with Senator George Borrello on the Senate floor, right before he called New York small business owners “unsophisticated,” he mentioned how his bill had “many issues” that he “hoped” would be worked out before implementation. Hope is not a strategy and it won’t help small business owners obtain the financing they need to stay in businesses. Advancing legislation that would limit options for entrepreneurs working to stay in businesses during a pandemic that has crippled the New York economy represents a reprehensible failure of leadership.
Minority-owned businesses have faced a disproportionate economic impact from the pandemic. According to the Fed, Black-owned businesses have declined by 41% since February, compared to only 17% of white owned businesses. Further, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the federal government’s signature relief program for small businesses, has left significant coverage gaps: these loans reached only 20% of eligible firms in states with the highest densities of minority-owned firms, and in counties with the densest minority-owned business activity, coverage rates were typically lower than 20%. Specific to New York, only 7% of firms in the Bronx and 11% in Queens received PPP loans. Moreover, less than 10% of minority-owned businesses have a traditional banking relationship—something that was initially required to have access to the PPP.
The lack of cogency and lazy approach to this legislation is a disservice to the hard-working entrepreneurs who continue to open their businesses while facing daily economic uncertainty. Governor Cuomo has worked tirelessly to continue to provide economic relief to both businesses and consumers—removing billions in financing for small businesses will only hinder this effort. New York can do better.
Small Business Finance Association
Steve Denis is the Executive Director of the Small Business Finance Association.