‘We pay our taxes, why shouldn’t we qualify?’: Home-based business owners are asking for aid

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Many businesses continue to struggle financially due to COVID-19. While aid was designated to help brick and mortar shops, those who run businesses out of their homes are asking for aid.

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Alex Reinprecht owns Zone Media, a production company that produces local shows focusing on water sports. He works out of his home. He said his business needs financial assistance in order to stay afloat.

“We’re just a regular business that employs people that plays a real important part in the community. There’s people that depend on us and we pay our taxes. So why shouldn’t we qualify?” asked Reinprecht.

Kolby Moser owns Aria Studios. About three-quarters of his business came from weddings, an industry that’s been virtually wiped-out since the pandemic started.

“It’s just like it disappeared into thin air,” said Moser.

She said that she managed to keep her five employees on the payroll and her business running, thanks to a couple of commercial clients and by dipping into her savings.

Moser and Reinprecht do not qualify for the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund because they do not rent commercial space. They both received the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in May.

“It held us over for two months, but that went super fast. By the end of July, it was all used up,” Moser explained.

Now that that money is gone, and things still have not gone back to normal, they are afraid that their businesses will not survive.

“I really hope that the state recognizes that there are so many small businesses that are hurting, that just don’t qualify don’t have a physical space,” said Moser. “I just feel like they’re not thinking about us. I feel like we’re not even on their radar.”

Ed Hawkins, who is the director of the Office of Economic Development for the City and County of Honolulu said that there are close to 70,000 non-employee establishments, which are mostly home-based businesses on Oahu.

He said the city is doing what it can to help as many small businesses as possible.

“Initially, the goal of the administration, the mayor, was to help the brick and mortar, the mom and pop shops, people with storefronts that were struggling with rent, utilities,” Hawkins explained.

He said no one initially thought the pandemic would last this long and be this bad. They want to do more, but it’s not as easy as it seems.

“The challenge has always been, how do we identify which (businesses) to help? We certainly want to help everybody. But if you did the math, and if you say 40 percent of the 70,000 (home-based businesses), would get a grant–which has been our experience–we’d have to prepare $280 million of money to support that–just for $10,000.”

Hawkins said they are working with the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, trying to identify who needs help most.

The city expanded it’s relief packages to offer assistance to farmers and long-shore fishermen. He said that they are currently looking at developing aid for small businesses in the culture and arts, but nothing has been finalized.

Hawkins said business owners that operate out of their home may qualify for aid under a different fund.

“Although it’s not part of the Small Business Relief and Recovery fund, there is the individual hardship relief, which individuals and families can qualify for,” said Hawkins.

The program is called the Household Hardship Relief Fund (HHRF). It launched in partnership with Aloha United Way and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. There is $25 million targeted to help those hardest hit, cover rent or mortgage and utilities. However, it is need-based and applicants qualify based on income, which may disqualify some home-based business owners.

The city still has millions of dollars available for business owners in the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund.

“The Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund is vital to helping the business community and our recovery,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “We are working hard to create a COVID-safe economy, we are helping struggling people and businesses get back on their feet, and we are working with partners to create new economic opportunities for the people and businesses of our island.”

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