Harckham’s Small Business Grant Proposal Aims to Help Those Impacted by COVID-19

State Sen. Peter Harckham
State Sen. Peter Harckham with Nick Crecco, who owns Villa Barone Hilltop Manor in Mahopac with his brother John, in the catering hall’s empty ballroom.

State Sen. Peter Harckham (D-Lewisboro) introduced legislation Monday to create an emergency small business grant program that would set aside up to $100 million in federal disaster relief funds to help business owners imperiled by the pandemic.

The new bill would use a fraction of the next coronavirus pandemic disaster relief funds that Congress and the Biden administration are expected to disburse to the states. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has requested New York receive $15 billion. 

Once New York receives the federal funds, Harckham’s proposal would authorize the state to establish the parameters for the grant program. The legislation would focus on businesses that had been asked by the state to remain closed during the pandemic, according to the proposed measure.

“The financial situation for small businesses across the state right now is dire, and we cannot wait any longer to give them the help they need to survive,” Harckham said. “Giving businesses access to emergency grants so they can pay bills and remain open is a must.”

Harckham said that not only would the legislation, which was introduced in the Assembly by Assemblyman Steven Otis (D-Rye), save thousands of businesses but it would protect the jobs for thousands more New Yorkers.

It is unknown at this time the maximum size a business can be to be eligible for participation in the program or what would happen if New York State receives less than the requested $15 billion.

The legislation is part of a package that includes two previously introduced bills that will offer small businesses and nonprofit organizations additional financial resources to help keep them going while grappling with the financial devastation caused by the pandemic.

The first bill would establish a state of emergency loan program and will also guarantee loan repayment to the financial institutions that eligible small businesses statewide have been using for help.

A second bill would allow small businesses and small landlords to defer certain taxes during the COVID-19 state of emergency and repay those expenses through an installment plan later on.

For small businesses that have been decimated by the mandated shutdown through policies designed to protect public health, the need for help is dire. John Crecco, who co-owns Villa Barone Hilltop Manor, a Mahopac catering hall, with his brother Nick, said that without help from the state and federal government very soon there may not be a way for them to survive much longer.

Crecco said there has been no chance for him to operate for nearly an entire year because New York State prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people. Virtually all of Village Barone’s business, much like any caterer, is derived from parties of more than 50 guests.

During the past year, he has taken out loans totaling about $750,000 to try and stay afloat, but until now few have seemed to care, Crecco said. He’s hoping that with the proposal from the state and last week’s introduction of the federal RESTAURANTS Act in Congress, that perhaps they can survive.

Property taxes, mortgage and electric costs about $50,000 a month. Villa Barone laid off all of its 75 employees at the outset of the pandemic.

“I’m doing everything in my power, from selling my house to selling everything I own because I believe my business is a much-needed business in Mahopac,” Crecco said. “I’ve been there 20 years growing and growing and growing, so I’m betting everything I own and there’s not much left on staying in business, but at this point there’s no hope.”

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