Editorials

Photo by Kyle Barr

America is a country that lives in the shallow ditch between fiction and reality. We live in a society that demands civility of all people, from those protesting injustice — even when that protest boils over into violence — to those screaming “white power” from the top of their lungs.

It was something well noted by Martin Luther King Jr., who famously said in one of his letters from Birmingham jail that he found the white moderate was “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom,” and that “the white moderate is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

In that small gutter we dug ourselves and have lain in, we constantly refuse to acknowledge extremism even when it’s present in our own backyards, even amongst the people we greatly respect and admire for the work they have done to benefit local residents.

This past weekend, folks held a car show in Port Jefferson benefiting one of the local VFW posts, one whose funds, like many, were hit hard due to the pandemic. It was also held to promote services supporting veterans post traumatic stress disorder.

This is as bipartisan as one can get. Most were maintaining some measure of social distancing. Most were wearing face coverings.

Though on one car, bedecked with banners supporting President Donald Trump (R) as well as some emblazoned with the Marines’ emblem, was a sign that read “Antifa Hunting Permit: Open Season All 58 Gender Identities.”

It’s not a new sign, indeed it’s available freely on the internet. It’s such a small example, but it represents an underbelly of violent intent that permeates our suburban community.

“Antifa,” as it’s known, is short for “anti-fascists.” They are an ill-defined, loosely organized set of groups that usually confront right-wing or conservative groups in public, often with violence. The president has called for them to be labeled a terrorist group. Though their actions have sometimes warranted condemnation, organizations like the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism say the number of anti-fascists can hardly compare to the number of similarly or even more extremely violent racist or white nationalist groups.

Beyond that is this mention of “All 58 Gender Identities.” For one, there are not 58 gender identities, there is no set number of defined identities among groups that use an identity beyond male or female.

Worse, it is an active call for violence against a group, namely people who are transgender, who suffer an extreme amount of violence for their population size. It’s an attempt to conflate a fractured collective spread across the United States with a vulnerable group of people. According to the Human Rights Campaign, advocates tracked at least 27 deaths of transgender or otherwise non-gender conforming people in the U.S. just in 2019. They were targeted and murdered for no other reason than that they were transgendered. Among those deaths, the majority were of black transgender women.

It’s such a small thing, just a single sign on a car in the center of more than a dozen. Though one only has to step foot on social media to witness the animosity shown toward people protesting on Long Island, despite how in over 100 protests, with more occurring every day of the week, only a handful were arrested, mostly for nonviolent offenses.

One can denounce the violence on the side of Antifa and denounce the violence of white nationalist groups and the wanton harm caused to vulnerable people. One can be both for police and for police reform. One can love one’s country and still think change is needed.

There’s no reason to have voices and mentalities strangled by the “either/or” divide that seems mandated in these times.

Photo by David Ackerman

When The New York Times recently published an editorial titled “Don’t Cancel That Newspaper Subscription,” it caught our attention. Not just because of the subject matter — anything about the general decline of local newspapers is, of course, something we’re very concerned about — but because of the struggles each reporter and editor faces while trying to do their jobs.

The beginning of the editorial tells the story of John Seigenthaler, initially a young reporter with The Tennessean who saved the life of a man he was interviewing back in the 1950s. Seigenthaler went on to become editor and then publisher for the local paper and was at the forefront of civil rights coverage in the heart of the segregated South. However, the piece is not a love letter to the local papers of the 20th century; it’s a cry for help for the publications of today.

The editorial touches on how newspapers and their newsrooms have become smaller over time, even before the coronavirus pandemic diminished the amount of advertising, the main source of revenue papers rely on. Over the years, local publications have been suffering as more and more readers take to the internet to get their daily or weekly dose of news. It also doesn’t help that the false moniker of “fake news” is thrown around by too many without a care for the consequences such an impetuous statement can create.

According to the editorial, newsrooms across the country lost half their journalists between 2008-19. Citing a recent Business Insider article, the writer Margaret Renkl, said “a staggering” 7,800 journalists lost their jobs in 2019.

The writer goes on to tell the story of how The Tennessean recently ran an ad that many found appalling and racist, but she urged people not to cancel their subscriptions. She not only cited how the publisher quickly tried to rectify the situation by pulling it from future editions and firing the sales manager that approved it, but she pointed out many other things, too. Despite the extreme lack of judgment in placing the ad, even with a shortage of journalists due to cutbacks over the years, the paper still covers and publishes a variety of topics that show it is still doing everything in its power to maintain a balanced and reputable publication.

We get this. There have been times when some may not have been pleased with an article, letter or editorial in our newspapers. That is perfectly fine, and we invite reasoned criticism from all in our letters to the editor. But as Renkl wrote in her editorial, “As the ‘first rough draft of history’ journalism will always be prone to mistakes.” We, perhaps beyond any other industry, not only invite justified review of our papers, but we also actively try to improve, working many, many hours to try to get the story of local happenings. We cannot be everywhere and cover everything, but we do our best.

Canceling your subscription to a newspaper only hastens the death of journalism. We’ve written it before on this page, and we’ll put it out there again: If newspapers and journalists didn’t exist, who would tell you what leaders are up to? Who would be there to challenge their responses when something doesn’t sound quite right? And this is even more important with our local leaders, especially as more news networks focus on the national side of our society.

Without local papers, where would readers go to find out what fun activities are going on right in their own town? Who would celebrate the academic and athletic achievements of our local students?

Unfortunately, the days of local newsrooms brimming over with editors and reporters, who could run out and cover every incident in town, may be over, but pulling out a newspaper from the mailbox or picking one up on the newsstand doesn’t need to end.

Let’s work together to keep local journalism alive. With each subscription, just like with each ad, we are empowered to continue and enabled to cover more of our communities’ activities for the benefit of all.

METRO photo

It was the winter of 2007 to 2008 when the financial crisis hit. Years of excessive risky loans by banks (and others) and a downturn in the subprime lending market resulted in several years of economic hurt. Many lost their jobs and homes. Some say we truly have never recovered.

For the young people graduating high school or college just over a decade ago, it was walking blind toward a cliff’s edge. They went through school with certain expectations, but the jobs once promised to be there upon graduation were gone. In the following years, young people took what was available, much of the time it was low-paying service industry jobs without a real hope of promotion. A new kind of employment, something people started to call the “gig economy,” was born. People worked freelance without a chance for receiving health insurance through an employer or have any kind of job security.

Now we face a new impending time of economic peril, and there are many thousands of young people graduating this year from high school or college on Long Island.

We as parents and residents need to ask ourselves, “What will we do for them to make sure they can make it out there in a time of wild unpredictability and economic inhospitability?”

Research indicates that people who graduate in a time of economic tension can remain in worse straits than their peers for over a decade. A 2019 study in the Journal of Labor Economics showed the pay and employment rate for people who graduated during the Great Recession have remained relatively low, even after several years. Millennials, the youngest of whom are 24 while the oldest are nearing 40, hold just 3 percent of America’s wealth compared to 21 percent that the baby boomer generation held at around the same age, according to a 2019 U.S. Federal Reserve report. 

This is a pivotal time for young people entering the job market, as not only is this when they can start to accrue wealth and build up savings, but it’s a means to start grinding away at what can be tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. 

Without early starts to their careers, young people will end up running in place, making enough to live but not enough to build their credit or finances (though on Long Island it’s rare they will be able to afford the rent to even the smallest apartment). 

It’s time as a nation we seriously have to consider governmental action to save the future for our graduates. Yes, that includes student loan forgiveness programs, as there is potentially no worse idea than saddling a young person — who likely never even signed a check before — with thousands upon thousands in debt to either private firms or the U.S. government. Even more people will be looking to college as a way to build their job prospects, so it’s time we look at additional subsidies for college. We should also start thinking of handing out incentives to companies willing to hire people fresh out of school.

An unregulated financial sector helped cause the 2008 economic collapse. Now with the pandemic, more research has shown if the government, both state and federal, had responded to the crisis with lockdowns sooner, we could have saved more lives and potentially restarted our economy faster and smoother. 

What’s done is done, but the fact is young people had no part in causing this economic downturn. Let’s have us as parents and neighbors think about how we can still help young people get ahead in life, for the sake of their entire generation.

METRO photo

With Long Island now entering Phase 3 of reopening, masks are as important as ever. More people out and about necessarily means an increase in exposure to others and potentially COVID-19. Though what has confounded us is the seeming semipolitical divide regarding masks made to protect each other from the coronavirus. Somehow whether to wear one has become a political issue instead of a health matter.

We get it. Facial coverings can be uncomfortable at times, but the discomfort is worth it for the greater good. Think about it. Women through the centuries have worn many uncomfortable undergarments for the sake of looking good, and men’s ties can be a nuisance but many wear them because of dress codes at work or to impress at special events. Just think, once upon a time, women risked fainting when their corsets were too tight simply because they wanted their waists to look smaller. A mask is much less of a fashion statement, but it has proven to significantly reduce the chances of catching the virus by over 90 percent if two individuals in close proximity are wearing face coverings. 

When COVID-19 first hit our shores, information was confusing. All medical researchers could go on were similar viruses and what was going on in other countries. As they watched people snatch up N95 masks that were vital for health care and other frontline workers, it’s understandable that some scientists suggested members of the general population refrain from buying or wearing them.

Then it was discovered that if one wears a facial covering of any type, when sneezing or coughing, the distance droplets travel was reduced drastically. While the mask itself may not protect the wearer itself, it does protect others. Meaning if the majority of people wear them, community protection is increased.

We say majority because even Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order says children under 2 and those with certain medical problems are exempt from wearing them.

When mandatory shutdowns first began, there were concerns that the U.S. economy would be destroyed, and small businesses would take the biggest hit. As we go back to dining and shopping, wearing a mask to protect business owners and their employees, as well as fellow customers, is vital in keeping the number of COVID-19 cases down and keeping local commerce running smoothly.

Let’s also remember to be mindful in restaurants as they begin to reopen, especially since diners can’t wear masks while eating and drinking. We can take extra care including washing our hands to help protect workers, not lingering at tables and perhaps even tipping extra since employees might be working outside in the heat with masks on, not to mention many have been out of work for months.

We are heading into summer, and it seems like all of New York wants to pretend the pandemic was nothing more than a bad dream. We have to remember that cases have increased drastically in just the past few days. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows there were more than 30,000 new cases in the South, West and Midwest just this past weekend. Health officials now seriously have to consider for and prepare for a potential second wave in the fall.

Let’s take the politics out of wearing a face covering. If people can wear something uncomfortable because they feel they look better or to comply with a dress code, then why not a mask. It may not make us look more attractive, but it helps us to keep our neighbors healthy. To us, that takes priority.

METRO photo

TBR News Media editorial staff share memories of their dads and other special people for Father’s Day.

Rita Egan — Editor

As someone whose parents separated when she was 9 years old and moved in with her grandparents, I’m an example of a village raising a child. From an early age, I realized that relatives and even friends’ parents can play a role in a young person’s life.

I was fortunate that my new friends and their parents made my transition to life in Smithtown an easier one. There were the Irvolinos, the D’Agostinos, Mrs. Naseem, and later in high school, the Juans, the DeNobregas and the Castros who always made me feel welcome in their homes, even at family gatherings. I frequently was in the Irvolinos’ pool and on their boat. The D’Agostinos introduced me to the beauty of Head of the River and would take me with the family to the Jersey Shore. And of course, there were the rides many parents gave me when it was too dark for my grandfather to drive.

One day on Fire Island, my friend Nancy and I were knocked down by a huge wave. One second I’m hitting my head against something hard, and the next I was grabbed out of the water by Mr. Irvolino. He had me in his right hand and Nancy in his left. I will be forever grateful for my village. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and a belated Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, too.

Kyle Barr — Editor

When my parents call me on the weekend, we can go through the platitudes of normal life: How is your job, how’s Long Island, how’s your brother?

Dad, you can make comments about how I continue to leave my room a FEMA-designated disaster area. You can talk about my habits of leaving my clothing in the laundry bin after washing them instead of putting it in drawers.

Then we can get into the heavier stuff of national politics and local happenings. We can talk about the issues, and I can get angry and you can deflect. And I can’t seem to stop and ask you how you’re really doing.

You moved away, and I hope you’re doing OK. I hope the pandemic and quarantine has not made you so reclusive you can’t talk to anybody except mom’s parents. I hope the days you spend in retirement allow you to explore things you haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to.

I can ask only so much of you. I can ask you to be patient until I find time to see you. Until then, I can enjoy those platitudes and our conversations.

 David Luces — Reporter

When it comes to Father’s Day, I immediately think of my uncle and my late grandpa, two men I’ve been lucky to have in my life. As a young kid, they were a constant fixture, always there to lend me encouragement and support. Whether it was a Little League baseball game or a band recital, they were there. Sometimes, it would just be us slouched on the couch spending hours watching a Knicks game or WWE professional wrestling. My younger self didn’t know any better, but now looking back I think the one thing I take away from those experiences is to be present and to enjoy those moments with the people you love.

My grandpa passed away before he could see me graduate high school and college, though I know he would be proud of my accomplishments and the person I’ve become. My uncle and family have played a big part in that.

So when I think of this Father’s Day, I think of spending time with my uncle, maybe having a couple of beers and reminiscing of past times with my grandpa. But most importantly, we’ll be with family to make new memories together.

Long Islanders marched down Smithtown’s Main Street June 7. Photo by Rita J. Egan

One thing we should all find comfort in is that people are not willing to let injustice go unanswered.

Anyone who has a shred of decency and an ounce of moral concern knows that what happened to Minneapolis man George Floyd was brutal, cruel and a significant abuse of power. Police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of a man for just under nine minutes, despite video evidence showing he did not present any danger to officers at the scene. Three other police officers looked on while Floyd called out for his mother, dying, without them raising a finger to help or make any point of protest. 

To some, this seems just a singular instance of cruelty, but for the massive numbers of protesters rallying and marching around the country, and now the world, it was just another instance of continued injustice on our minority communities. That is why the protests have been nearly unrelenting. That’s why the movement has spread to all parts of the country, including our backyard.

So far on Long Island, all protests have remained peaceful and have taken place at sites meant to facilitate large gatherings, all with a police presence. There have been some tense moments, and so far two people in Suffolk have been arrested relating to a protest in Shirley, but nowhere on Long Island have we seen the violence taking place in major cities. It’s important we recognize that while those protests have seen injury to both protesters and cops as well as property — though let’s remember that the life of any one individual vastly outweighs any and all damage to structures — there are many instances of police using extreme force on protesters, medics and journalists, as if proving the very point of the need to end such injustice.

But though those kinds of protests are not happening on Long Island, by reading some residents’ opinions on social media, you would think protesters are all walking down suburban streets ready to attack anyone who crosses their paths.

Activists across Long Island have been working very hard to maintain civility with these protests against injustice. That’s not to say events haven’t gotten heated, as in the case with protests in Merrick which faced plenty of racist sentiment and in Smithtown where one young man claims he and his friends were attacked. In Huntington, one restaurant owner came under fire for being caught making racist comments about “throwing watermelons at protesters” as they marched through downtown. He has since made a video apologizing for his remarks.

We all have to understand why these people rally and march. Long Island remains a very segregated place, as evidenced by a three-year Newsday report displaying racial bias on the part of many real estate agents and agencies. The COVID-19 pandemic has only laid bare the inadequacies, as minority communities have been disproportionately infected while their schools have struggled harder than most to teach their children when many don’t have access to online technology.

We commend the conscientious work of protest leaders, activists, local officials and police to facilitate these rallies and make sure they remain on point and peaceful, and also protect those who rally from being the target of violence as well.

To those residents who look on protesters with concern, often the best way to understand them is to simply speak with them. Start a dialogue. Understand where they’re coming from. Protests such as these aren’t designed to give certain populations benefit over others, but to reach an equality mandated under the words of the Constitution.

Just remember, if you yourself say you can separate good cops from bad cops, then you can separate peaceful protesters from rioters.

METRO photo

Every day, as we watch the upheaval across the nation with protesters battling systemic injustice, it can all feel like society itself is embroiled in violence from Times Square in New York City all the way to the front lawn of the White House.

But here on Long Island, we have seen relative civility. We were happy to see the peaceful relationship between the Suffolk County cops on hand and the protesters in Port Jefferson Station June 1. We hope that peace continues into the future, but it also reminds us not to lose focus at the local level, as events could soon have massive impacts on local schools and could drastically impact the ability of residents to afford Long Island.

School districts will be tallying up budget and board of election votes June 9. This year, all residents will be required to send in absentee ballots, and their votes will likely count more than ever before.

This year’s school budget votes will set a precedent. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, voters will be required to complete a mail-in ballot and return to their school district’s official address by 5 p.m. June 9. Board of education and budget votes usually result in low voter turnout, but this year with everyone receiving a ballot in the mail and being able to cast their vote whenever they find the time, there could potentially be a landmark change in how many people vote.

The number of voters this year is something we’ll be interested in seeing. We and letter writers have expressed before on this page that voting for board of education members and on school district budgets are important in and of themselves as the cost of running schools accounts for a significant amount on local tax bills.

Our board of ed members are the people who make the decisions that not only affect students’ learning but also how they are protected as the pandemic leaves deep scars in the fabric of society. It seems like schools are constantly dealing with more and more issues. And now our BOE members will need to figure out how to best protect children and those who work with them from an invisible enemy, a virus that anyone can have and spread without even showing symptoms.

There will be tough decisions to be made this summer as to what our schools will look like this fall. Will there be a need for fewer children in each classroom leading to more teachers needing to be hired? Will there be more remote learning, and how can this virtual approach to teaching be refined?

Look at your school district to see how they are managing the economic impact. We have seen a myriad of interesting initiatives to lower the annual tax rate increase, but all residents have to understand that New York State may drastically impact district finances in the coming months with potentially drastic cuts to state aid.

What may seem like a small deed that can just be ignored is actually an important responsibility. Make sure you have received your absentee ballot for school elections — and stay home and vote.

The Rocky Point Drive-In sign in 1988, the year it closed. Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures

There were once things called cassettes. Those were discarded in favor of CDs, but now there’s nothing of music but bits of stored data on a computer. Actually, maybe not. Maybe your music is stored in a cloud, a server bank thousands of miles away from where you even live.

But still, people are buying vinyl records again. There’s a certain quality to them you won’t get with digitized music, people say. Not only that, it simply feels different, like one is feeling the rough memories of the music artist. 

It goes to say that there is a certain quality to things gone past that goes beyond nostalgia. In today’s crisis, it may be best to look for the things we once thought defunct to perhaps help us and our local businesses combat the economic impacts of COVID-19 in unique ways. While Suffolk County begins the reopening process this week, businesses must think about the greater good, and look for unique ways to service customers without potentially causing an uptick in cases.

We’re not the only folks to recognize the possibilities presented by drive-in movies. We have heard leaders in multiple North Shore communities mention the possibility of setting up some kind of in-car theater experience. What it takes is space, and that’s the main issue. Places like Stony Brook University may be tricky because of all the coronavirus-related activity going on there. Landlords with strip malls or other large parking lots should start considering the possibility to help out their tenants. Imagine people being able to order food that then gets delivered to cars while they’re watching a movie right there in the parking lot.

Above, an ad placed in the Port Jefferson Record in 1961 announcing the drive-in’s grand opening

There’s one noticeable location right on the North Shore that is almost too perfect a spot. The former Rocky Point Drive-In on Route 25A may be too apt a name for what’s now an overgrown property. It’s owned by Heidenberg Properties Group, a national company that wanted to put a big box store there before local communities and governments came out against it. Maybe it’s time for the property owner to think of something else for that location, and we feel the community would embrace the return of a local landmark.

Summer on Long Island might be drier than any in living memory. Beaches might very well be restricted. Parks and sports fields and courts may be similarly closed. The annual summer concert series, hosted by Suffolk County legislators along with civic leaders in various locations across the North Shore, may very well not happen this year. 

It’s going to take ingenuity to fill the summer with something other than backyard escapades and hours spent couch surfing. 

Some places, such as Port Jefferson Village and the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, are opening up some space for farmers markets, though the one at the mall has found unique success by having people stay in their cars and roll up to each individual stall along a line. 

We encourage more of our shopping centers to embrace outdoor dining experiences. Even as Long Island inches closer to starting the reopening process, many will find people may still be anxious of eating inside enclosed dining areas. 

But with that there has to be restriction and conscientiousness. On Memorial Day, downtown Port Jefferson was packed with a slew of people, many not wearing face coverings or practicing much social distancing. 

While we begin the reopening process this week, we should remember the worst-case scenario is a second wave of the virus that could force businesses to shut down all over again. Our local business owners are smart, and we’re sure they will think of unique ways to facilitate customers while keeping the virus from spreading once again.

News12 reporter Kevin Vesey is confronted by protesters at a rally in Commack on May 14. Photo by Rita J. Egan

At a recent rally, protesters of the lockdown asked why a reporter’s job was deemed essential when theirs weren’t. The question is a fair one, even though the way it was posed at a May 14 rally in Commack had reporters fearing for their safety.

Dissatisfied with the way News 12 Long Island’s Kevin Vesey reported a previous rally that took place May 1, protesters began to approach him aggressively as he took video footage with his smartphone for Facebook Live, which quickly went viral over the internet. First, there were two women with megaphones and then a few others joined in the shouting match. Vesey’s response was to keep backing up as he answered them calmly and continued recording.

One of our editors was also reporting on the scene and was on hand for the confrontation, moving in closer to hear the protesters’ concerns. It was concerning the way the small crowd questioned “who was essential” with such anger. With distrust in the media growing for years, exacerbated by constant “fake news” remarks, there seems to be less and less places safe enough for local reporters to simply report the news. 

If our reporter could have answered the question posed by the angry protesters and interrupted Vesey’s replies, she would have told them that if the media wasn’t deemed essential during this time, elected officials would only communicate with the public if they felt like it. They could put out whatever information they wanted to without being challenged.

President Donald Trump (R) did not calm the situation when he took the viral video of Vesey being confronted and lauded the small band of protesters, giving them and others the green light to their anti-free press rhetoric and intimidation. What should happen if Trump’s words result in violence toward journalists? 

What if that violence was directed at one of our members at our local newspaper? 

If we weren’t deemed essential, there would be no one there to ask the questions that are on people’s minds. You see, journalists are not creative writers. We don’t decide what we want to write every day and then make it up as we go along. We attend press conferences, we conduct interviews, we research — and we ask the questions that we believe are on our readers’ minds.

And when those in our coverage area have something to say, we print their letters to the editors, and we cover their events and rallies as best as we can. We do everything in our power to get the facts straight and to represent both sides of an issue if people on each side are willing to talk.

The Setauket Patriots, one of the organizers of the protests, apologized to Vesey for his treatment, saying they hope the reporter will offer fair coverage of the group’s events.

That is what reporters set out to do. Though we are forced to recognize we are human, and sometimes we make mistakes, a rally in Commack, New York, is not a place for such tense conflict. No reporters on such a scene should be fearful for their safety. We are there to relate what is on protesters’ minds in their own words.

While it’s understandable that people are in distress about their livelihoods, Vesey should have been approached in a less aggressive manner and with respect to personal space, especially when he obviously tried to respect the health of the people around him by wearing a mask and trying to keep 6 feet away.

Americans ask that the media be fair; we ask the same of Americans.

Photo by Kyle Barr

Small businesses are the Atlas of the economy. Too often attention is paid to the huge corporations, whose employment numbers are cited for why they need stimulus in times of crisis. However, when money circulates at the ground level, it tracks among the small businesses, our friends, our neighbors. 

That’s why it’s so disheartening to see a program meant to support those same small businesses first be shuttled through banks who simply weren’t prepared for it, then being abused by large companies it wasn’t made for, and now is seeing constant changes which may make using the loan a kind of poisoned chalice, one that looks appetizing but may just be a death blow to any who drinks from it.

The fact the Payment Protection Program was shunted through banks in the first place was a misstep. Many small business owners complained clients of the banks were given preference (and even among those, larger companies were prioritized). Smaller-sized banks themselves found they had to establish a whole new infrastructure for handling and dealing out these loans.

And then, companies with many more employees nationwide than the requisite 500 or under had received such loans because of loopholes in the lending requirements. Approximately 94 loans were made to publicly traded companies, totaling around $365 million. Reuters reported that well over 70 of these companies which received aid had months of emergency cash on hand to get them over the hump. The loans of up to $10 million were designed to tide over small businesses for eight weeks, rehiring staff in the process. 

A program that started with $349 billion has grown to $669 billion after thousands were left high and dry after the first round of loans. This program that was meant to support small businesses has contorted into a mess of paperwork that has many concerned it will saddle them with debt long term.

Some owners find they have no reason to take on their furloughed labor if none of them wish to return to work anyway. With many fearing the economic impact could last much longer than eight weeks, even more are concerned they may have to lay off employees once again just a short time after spending the funds.

Some businesses have reported anxiety at using the funds at all, fearing that they will somehow make themselves ineligible for the loan turning into a grant. Many businesses rely on independent contractors, but according to loan rules, none of the money received can be used for contract labor.

Politico wrote May 8 that the watchdog agency of the Small Business Administration (the SBA administers the PPP loans) reported the federal agency has strayed away from the original language of the law in creating new restrictions. PPP requires businesses to spend 75 percent of the loan on payroll to get forgiveness and that the balance must be paid back in two years. Both of these bylaws were absent from the original bill.

But questions still weigh heavily on the minds of business owners. Everything most people understand about the loans can still change. 

All this goes to show PPP was unleashed too hastily and clarifications have been much too slow to roll out. Small business owners need specifics and they need guarantees. Guidelines need to be strict enough to avoid scams while keeping in mind the reality of modern day small businesses. 

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) has already called for easing restrictions. Our other local federal representatives must hear owners’ concerns, and then relay those fears to the U.S. Treasury Department and SBA.

These small businesses need that help, because if we lose them, some of the best parts of our communities go with them.