Small businesses are the lifeblood of the local economy in many of our communities in northeast Oklahoma. But right now, many of our Cherokee-owned businesses are struggling to stay afloat amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. From restaurants to small retail venues to service-driven businesses, we know the coronavirus is affecting every aspect of the local economy.
Cherokee Nation’s Commerce Department can offer a broad range of help, especially in this confusing and difficult time. Our Commerce team is a clearinghouse for information on how small businesses can receive assistance through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) stimulus bill. We work with more than 1,200 businesses in northeast Oklahoma.
Under the CARES program, small businesses that maintain their payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic can be eligible for 100% federally guaranteed emergency loans. Additionally, the loans may be forgiven if businesses maintain their payrolls during the crisis or restore their payrolls afterward. Businesses are eligible for loans up to 2.5 times their average monthly payroll costs, not to exceed $10 million.
The CARES Act also extends unemployment assistance to self-employed individuals who have lost work, and our team at Cherokee Nation Commerce can help Cherokees apply for that aid.
The federal stimulus effort is intended to help small businesses stay afloat during this crisis, and Congress will need to do even more in the coming weeks and months. Cherokee Nation will do all we can to help our Cherokee small business owners navigate the steps to obtain help and sustain themselves and their employees through the pandemic. Protecting Cherokee businesses will help the whole economy of northeast Oklahoma, and it will make it easier for all of us to bounce back once the pandemic ends.
Our Commerce Department has also helped Habitat for Humanity in Tahlequah access funds through the CARES Act, which include nonprofits in the small business assistance. Because of that effort, our local HFH can pay their employees for the next two months and will be able to finish homes for local families.
Besides connecting small businesses and nonprofits with federal help, we hope to expedite small commercial loans. We have already offered loan payment deferrals for Cherokee Nation’s small business loan clients for April, May and June, which affects about 80 small businesses in the region. We are striving to save businesses because we know our people have their whole livelihoods on the line.
I look forward to the day when we can ease back into our normal routines. In the meantime, I urge everyone to please continue responsible physical distancing and other precautions such as hand washing and staying home as much as possible. I also encourage you to support our small businesses in any way you can, through take-out orders from restaurants, making online purchases, and buying gift certificates for use at a future time.
It will take time and sacrifices to get there, but we will reach the day when small businesses can re-open their doors and Cherokees can safely get back to work.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.