In Pennsylvania, Biden showcases aid to small businesses

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President Joe Biden speaks with owners Kristin Smith and James Smith as he visits Smith Flooring in Chester, Pa., Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

CHESTER, Pa. – President Joe Biden turned up at a minority-owned flooring business in suburban Philadelphia to highlight how his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package can help small businesses and to put a face on those who have struggled throughout the pandemic.

The visit Tuesday to Smith Flooring Inc. was Biden’s first stop in a cross-country administration roadshow — also involving his vice president and his wife — designed to publicize, and take credit for, the virus relief package.

It “took some loud, strong voices to get this done,” Biden said, making a subtle dig at Republicans during his visit to the small union shop that will benefit from the relief. “And it’s not like it passed with 100 votes. It was close.”

While Biden was in Pennsylvania for his first stop on the “Help is Here” tour, Vice President Kamala Harris and husband Doug Emhoff were reinforcing the small business theme Tuesday with stops in Colorado.

With Harris and Emhoff taking notes during a business roundtable in Denver, Lorena Cantarovici, who began making empanadas in her garage after emigrating from Argentina, told of how her small shop grew over the years into three Maria Empanada locations but then was forced to lay off workers when the coronavirus struck.

She said 80% of her team came back through previous relief programs but it could take two years to get back to full capacity and “recover all this loss.” Harris and Emhoff did their part by departing with empanadas in tow.

Gabriela Salazar, whose Colorado Artisans represents more than 100 artisans in Denver, estimated more than 90% of those artisans are unemployed or collecting unemployment. Salazar, a small business owner for 30 years, told Harris that help from the Small Business Administration has "kept me afloat but more is needed.”

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Smith Flooring had 23 employees during peak times but currently is employing 12 workers. It is using the loan to help retain workers and upgrade technology. Borrowers are eligible for forgiveness if they meet certain requirements, including devoting at least 60% of the proceeds to payroll expenses.