RI small businesses frustrated, say more relief money needs to be distributed quickly

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A coalition of small business owners continues to put pressure on Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to quickly distribute a portion of the state’s COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government.

In her briefing on Wednesday, Raimondo said the state would give “small grants” to small businesses that qualify, but her office was still putting the “final touches” on how the federal aid would be used. She said she plans to offer more specific details in her briefing scheduled for next Wednesday.

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On Tuesday, the Rhode Island Small Business Coalition urged the governor to allocate 10% of the $1.25 billion the state received through the CARES Act to help keep their businesses afloat.

Justin Gontarek, a small business owner and member of the coalition, told Eyewitness News he and his fellow owners understand the state needs to hold on to some of the relief funds.

“There’s $1.25 billion. You cannot possibly look a small business owner in the eye and tell them that there is not enough money out there to help them,” Gontarek said Thursday morning.

Raimondo said while Congress has not given many details, she’s confident a second stimulus package could come by the end of the month, though lawmakers still have to complete the state budget for the coming year.

“But the reality is, they’re not going to have to balance a budget because there’s going to be no businesses left in the state if we don’t start getting some money,” Gontarek added.

Gontarek owns a graphics company in Warwick. His business wasn’t eligible for loans through the Payroll Protection Program, though he found a way to stay open and help other businesses.

Related: These 2,453 RI employers got a federal PPP loan worth at least $150,000 »

His banner and sign company reinvented itself and started printing stickers to help first responders who could potentially become exposed to the coronavirus, in addition to making face shields.

“So companies like myself are now sitting here saying, ‘OK, now I finally need some help. I didn’t have to, you know, figure anything else out,'” Gontarek said. “‘I got through this. Now how do I get going?'”

The coalition created a petition to put pressure on Raimondo, which garnered more than 3,200 signatures in the week since it was posted.

Members of the coalition are delivering the petition to the governor Friday morning.

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