Our communities and small businesses are being left behind

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Growing up, my family owned a small business — John’s Fresh Produce. When I was in seventh grade and my father became ill, I dropped out of school to help my mom open the store. When he got better, I returned to school, and our family worked hard to keep the store running. That produce stand was our livelihood and our connection to the community. It’s where I learned the value of hard work and the joys and difficulties of operating a small business.

If we were open today, during this health crisis, we wouldn’t merely have been trying to keep our small business afloat, we would’ve lost our only source of income. Small businesses in Southwest Washington and across America are suffering — yet too few of them are getting the help they need.

When I’m speaking with small business owners throughout (Washington’s 3rd Congressional District), I keep hearing the same question: Why is so much of the Paycheck Protection Program money going to large companies rather than the small businesses it’s meant for? We’ve read the headlines and heard D.C. politicians talking a good game — but our communities are still waiting. Congress isn’t getting the job done and small businesses are being left behind.

It’s not just small businesses that are being hurt — it’s the health of the people in Southwest Washington. We’ve heard plenty of promises that Personal Protective Equipment and tests are on their way, but we’re still waiting. And cities and counties throughout our district are preparing for massive blows to their budgets. We know what that means: unsafe staffing for first responders, decreased funding for teachers and schools, and fewer resources for the health care workers on the front lines of this crisis. The very people who keep our communities running are being hung out to dry.

Let’s be clear: the problem is not a lack of spending from D.C. politicians. Over the last several weeks, Congress has added trillions to the national debt without oversight on where the money is going — but it’s clear it isn’t reaching our communities. Every day, while small businesses in our neighborhoods are forced to lay people off and shut their doors, billions of dollars in PPP and emergency aid are going to huge corporations and political insiders. D.C. has definitely opened the checkbook, just not for us.

Meanwhile, our communities have had to adapt, be resilient, and fend for ourselves in so many ways. A few weeks ago, we saw a story about a group of Camas High School students stepping up to help in the fight against the coronavirus by 3D printing and laser cutting personal protective equipment for health care workers. When I last signed up to volunteer at our local food bank, there was a two-week waiting period because so many people had signed up to help. Neighbors are checking in on each other; people are sewing face masks for essential workers; distilleries are transitioning their facilities to make hand sanitizer for those who need it. These stories are incredible and they show the strength and spirit of our communities — but this shouldn’t be our only option. Our leaders in D.C. need to step up just as much as the rest of us.

In this moment of crisis, we need our leaders to represent and fight for all of us, not just the well-connected. From fully funding our small businesses and making sure the money makes it to our communities, to expanding testing and PPE for our frontline health care workers, D.C. needs to get the job done.

I’ve been talking to folks all across the district and I’ve heard first-hand how this pandemic is affecting them. From teachers and students forced to adapt to online education, to working families and small business owners struggling to get by, we’re seeing exactly how hard the coronavirus crisis is hitting Southwest Washington. I know what this crisis would have meant for my family and our produce stand — especially if we were left behind by D.C. the way so many in our communities have been. This moment has put into perspective what many of us have known for a long time: we need leadership that works for us.

Carolyn Long, Ph.D., is an associate professor of the school of politics, philosophy and public affairs at Washington State University, Vancouver. She is running as a Democratic candidate to represent Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.