Credit: George Danby

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We are three Bangor small-business owners who have faced economic turmoil due to the pandemic and the resulting business shutdowns and restrictions. All of us were able to get Paycheck Protection Program loans to help bridge this financial hardship.

We want people to know that while we often complain about gridlock on Capitol Hill, when this forgivable loan program passed and recent changes were made to make the loans more flexible, Congress succeeded in helping small businesses like ours around the country. A recent National Federal of Independent Business survey shows over three-quarters of small businesses that responded applied for a PPP loan, and 93 percent of them received it. In Maine, 25,888 small businesses received more than $2.2 billion.

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In February and early March, the Chase Family Restaurant in Bangor had its best three weeks ever and then came the shutdown. The business missed its busiest holidays including Easter, Mother’s Day and graduation. Curbside pickup helped a bit, but revenue still dropped by 75 percent and money had just been laid out for a bar renovation. The PPP loan helped the business get over the hump, along with a very understanding local bank. The reopening took place June 1, and all employees were called back, making the future look more promising.

At the Bangor Letter Shop, a print and mail service, the PPP loan helped to pay employees and cover the rent while business income plunged by 65 percent. Gratefully, U.S. Postal Service work and regular newsletters helped keep the business afloat. Recently, it seems there is a slight uptick in orders in the last few weeks.

When Congress passed the PPP loans as part of the CARES Act, it was hard to predict how long the economic crisis caused by the forced business shutdowns would last. In many states, including here in Maine, it went on much longer than anticipated. So it was helpful in the last few weeks when the program was changed, extending to the period of loan forgiveness from eight to 24 weeks and altering other terms to make the loans more flexible.

At a recent Senate hearing, Sen. Susan Collins asked Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin to consider more PPP funding for industries particularly hard hit by the pandemic including the tourism businesses, which is a significant concern in Maine.

At Bangor Holden KOA campground, the PPP loan helped quite a bit but the 2020 season was essentially wiped out by state restrictions barring bookings until May, and requiring out-of-state guests to quarantine or get a virus test.

People who call the campground say they heard the news and are headed to other states. Traffic passing the new ice cream stand opened earlier this year is down to a trickle. It is good to know that Congress is talking about hard-hit industries like tourism and thinking of other ways to help small-business owners.

Every member of the Maine congressional delegation voted in favor of the bill that created the PPP loans, and the new legislation to improve them. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins also were very involved in working on the recent changes, and Collins played a key role in creating the Paycheck Protection Program in the CARES Act. These bipartisan efforts have so far helped more than 4.5 million small businesses nationally survive in their time of unprecedented financial need.

Thanks to our state’s elected representatives in Washington, D.C., for their continuing concern for small businesses, keeping the dreams of small-business owners alive, saving many family businesses in our community and preserving the jobs of employees.

Stephen Chase owns Chase Family Restaurant. Joel Marsters owns the Bangor Letter Shop. Chris Waterhouse owns Bangor Holden KOA.