The Times West Virginian

January 17, 2014

Small businesses deserve help they need when struck by emergencies

Times West Virginian

— You never know when an emergency will happen. You can’t always plan for that rainy day when you’ll have to shutter the doors of your business for an undetermined amount of time because of an issue outside of your control.

It could be a flood. It could be a major wind storm. It could be a chemical leak that contaminates the source of water, making it completely unusable for countless days.

The West Virginia State Legislature is on the verge of passing legislation to not only assist small business owners in the wake of the Freedom Industries leak that contaminated the Elk River and source water for nine counties, but help those affected in any emergency situation.

On Thursday, the House of Delegates unanimously passed House Bill 4175, the West Virginia Small Business Emergency Act. The bill now moves on to the Senate.

The new legislation, if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, allows the governor and the Division of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce and Department of Revenue to provide emergency financial assistance to small businesses when a state of emergency has been declared. This assistance could come in the form of grants or zero-interest loans.

“I have had people say to me quite specifically that without any assistance, they will not be able to reopen their business,” said Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, who represents many affected by last week’s spill. “That is a concern.”

Imagine a small restaurant, for example. The longer it stays closed, the more food must be discarded and repurchased, minus the income that should have been coming through sales.

Add on any expenses not covered by insurance, and a week could mean the difference between staying open for business or staying permanently closed.

If that restaurant closes, everyone from bus boys to head chefs must find new employment. And if the emergency affects a wide area, like the nine counties in the Elk River region, you could be looking at a major employment issue.

We think this bill is a good start. While it did not address the individual employees, lawmakers have vowed to take up that issue in the future.

We strongly encourage the Senate to pass it, too.

Today it is southern West Virginia. Tomorrow it could be North Central West Virginia. Small businesses, the ones who truly make up our state’s economy, deserve the help.