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Chamber of Commerce Hawaii asks state to suspend taxes via online petition

The Chamber of Commerce Hawaii has launched an online petition asking the state to help businesses that are struggling financially due to COVID-19 disruptions.

In particular, the group, which has more than 2,000 members statewide, is asking Gov. David Ige to suspend or defer general excise taxes and other tax collections during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hawaii businesses are on the brink of shutting down or taking other drastic measures due to the COVID-19 economic downturn,” said Sherry Menor-McNamara, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii President and CEO, in a statement. “They can’t wait weeks or months for relief measures — they need help now.”

The petition, which was launched last Friday, said the stay-at-home orders and shutdown of in-dining restaurants and other entertainment services has come at a large price to Hawaii’s local businesses, which still have April bills to pay, among other obligations.

“Many of us fear that we won’t be able to make good on these debts and will close permanently,” the petition said.

Among other actions the group wants state government to take are to provide rental relief or mortgage assistance, along with low or zero-interest loans as well as a match for economic injury disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Menor-McNamara said these were the top concerns cited among businesses during recent surveys.

As of this week, 50% of Chamber members have reported having to scale down or completely shut down operations, she said, and the situation is only expected to become more dire. More than 85% of members are small businesses, she said, many of them with 50 employees or less.

At the same time, Menor-McNamara said the group is grateful for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Hawaii’s congressional delegation fought for, which will provide newly created loans to help small businesses meet payroll needs for up to eight weeks.

Small businesses can apply for the Paycheck Protection Loan Program, created through the act, starting Friday, to cover payroll and other expenses through existing SBA lenders.

But Hawaii businesses need state support in addition to federal support, she said, and they need it immediately.

“Time is of the essence,” she said. “Many businesses are in the red zone.”

Businesses are doing their best to retain employees, she said, but cash flows are being depleted and many may never recover from the pandemic. Many will need to rethink their business models.

“We’re all in this together,” she said. “We’re going to get through this. We just don’t know how long the tunnel is…The more we work together, collectively, the faster hopefully we’ll get through this and see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

So far, more than 600 have signed the petition, Menor-McNamara said. The Chamber also launched a dedicated website — covid19.cochawaii.org — to provide COVID-19 updates for the business community.

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