The last year or so has been some big trouble for small businesses.

It wasn’t unexpected. When stay-at-home orders were issued and capacity restrictions put in place because of the pandemic, everyone knew businesses would be hit hard. That’s why $10 billion was included for them in the federal CARES Act, on top of the Paycheck Protection Program money.

The problem is there are — or were — more than 30 million small businesses in the United States. One million of them are in Pennsylvania. Every year, even without a pandemic, about 600,000 of them close.

The Federal Reserve reported that number rose by a third in 2020, with an extra 200,000 businesses closing their doors permanently. That’s on top of the number that were temporarily closed or had their business radically scaled back for large chunks of the past 17 months.

Those restrictions were lifted in Pennsylvania in June, but that doesn’t mean the problems have abated. Drive through Greensburg or Tarentum or Pittsburgh. The story is the same everywhere. Businesses are having trouble finding staff to keep the doors open. If they can, they are likely paying a starting salary even higher than the proposed minimum wage increases that had most companies howling in outrage just two years ago.

And with the delta variant of the coronavirus on the rise and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversing itself on mask recommendations this week, there’s no guarantee those fluctuating restrictions are gone for good.

So there is a certain amount of sense to Pittsburgh City Council’s extension of covid sick leave requirements for at least the next year. But look closer — it might not be the help for employees that it seems. The legislation sets a 50-employee threshold for the requirement to kick in, which just begs a business to keep the payroll at 49 people.

Council first passed the ordinance last year, but tied it to the state’s emergency declaration. With that lifted, the extension was passed by a 7-1 vote, with Councilman Anthony Coghill thinking it goes too long. That’s only part of the issue.

Small businesses are hanging on by their fingernails. Those that have survived the past year have done so by a combination of creativity, sacrifice and sheer will. The fact that the number closed was smaller than expected isn’t an indication that they are hard to kill. It’s more like a miracle.

It doesn’t help employees to put bigger burdens on their employers, especially small businesses that already are carrying most of the load when it comes to keeping the economy moving and the taxes flowing.

— The Tribune-Review, Greensburg/ TNS

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