HICKENLOOPER: America can’t turn its back on small businesses

Colorado is facing a challenge unlike anything we have ever seen before. As we confront this public health crisis, our leaders are asking us to do our part to flatten the curve. That means shutting down ski resorts and bars, teaching our children at home, and staying away from high-density areas like restaurants.

Without a doubt, this necessary and rapid change of how we live our lives has fundamentally upended our state and impacted our economy — especially small businesses and their employees.

As a former brewer and restaurant owner myself, I know the anguish that the service industry and other small businesses are going through now.

While none of us has been through a crisis like the one we are facing today, I am all too familiar with the sleepless nights of a small business owner, wondering how you’re going to make payroll, running different projections over and over again in your head, and trying to find a way to make it work. In the early years of the Wynkoop, I often paid myself little so the brewery could keep running and our employees could get the money they earned and deserved.

Ninety-nine and one-half percent of businesses in Colorado are small businesses, and they employ more than one million Coloradans. Colorado’s small business economy has been the backbone of our state and fueled our recovery after the 2009 recession. Unfortunately, due to the necessary social changes we have all had to make in our lives, thousands of Colorado business owners and their employees are now financially vulnerable. We have seen tens of thousands of layoffs as business owners confront the difficulty of making payroll or paying rent with a shuttered business.

It is incumbent on our leaders to step up, strengthen America’s economy, and prevent an economic disaster that would leave millions of Americans without work. Here’s what I propose:

First and foremost, we must help those who need it most. Congress must expand unemployment insurance to independent contractors and tipped workers. They are among the hardest hit and are often ineligible for unemployment insurance.

Second, we can’t simply look out for the big guys and declare victory. If we force small businesses such as restaurants, barber shops, tattoo parlors, and gyms to close to help flatten the curve of COVID-19, the government should do its part to keep their workers on payroll. I support a program of federal small business loans that turn into grants in exchange for keeping workers on payroll.

Third, Congress should pass key legislation, such as Senator Michael Bennet’s proposal to provide every American with $2,000 immediately, phased out for higher-income Americans. We should further expand access to paid family and medical leave, defer student loan payments, and activate all the available resources of the federal government, including the Army Corps of Engineers, to build field hospitals and the necessary facilities to meet the demands of this crisis.

I find great solace and encouragement in how Coloradans have selflessly risen to the occasion and are looking out for each other. Whether it’s a family ordering takeout from a locally-owned restaurant or young people delivering groceries for their elderly neighbors, it’s clear Coloradans are doing their part in this time of uncertainty. Our leaders in Washington can, and must, do their part as well to lift up and support our small business economy.

John Hickenlooper is a geologist, brewer, small business owner, former mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado. He is a Democrat running for U.S. Senate.