By CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News
(AUSTIN, Texas) — Texas announced a new program to give COVID-19 rapid tests to small businesses as part of an effort to keep them open as the virus rages through the state.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced the initiative Monday in partnership with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, saying it will help small businesses throughout the state conduct rapid tests on front-line employees to help mitigate COVID-19’s spread.
“This rapid testing pilot program will protect the safety of small business owners, their employees, and Texas consumers as we continue to combat COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement. “This effective strategy will help us detect and mitigate this virus while ensuring that Texas remains safely open for business.”
Initially, the program will launch with six local Chamber of Commerce Organizations across Texas, but the state said it has plans to ramp it up significantly in the future. Small businesses interested in participating should contact their local Chamber of Commerce for more information, according to the governor’s office.
Texas small businesses employed 4.8 million people, or more than 45% of the private workforce, in 2017, according to a 2020 report from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Meanwhile on Monday, health officials in Texas reported 8,712 confirmed new cases and 33 deaths. All told, the state has suffered some 22,627 virus fatalities.
Annie Spilman, the Texas state director for National Federation of Independent Business, the largest small business association in the U.S., told ABC News that they “applaud the governor for taking steps in the right direction.”
“Congress isn’t really doing anything right now in the way of providing relief for small businesses,” she said. “Anything that our state can do is very helpful.”
Spilman noted that small businesses operate on “very thin margins, and everything costs a small businesses twice as much as a corporation.”
At a time when most businesses aren’t bringing in the revenue they used to, Spilman said anything to keep costs low and businesses safely open is a welcome move.
She added that the pilot program for the rapid tests is being launched in areas of Texas where they have seen spikes and expressed hope the program will help mitigate some business closures in those areas and make customers feel safer.
“Hopefully, the step that the governor has taken with the rapid test pilot program will help these businesses reopen and stay open, but it’s really critical that Congress acts,” Spilman said.
Spilman said nationally, one in five of their small business members surveyed has said they would likely have to permanently shutter without further relief if economic conditions don’t improve.
Small businesses, often with less capital and resources than their bigger counterparts, have been struggling since March under local governments’ uneven shutdown and reopening policies. Many have pointed to their plight as evidence of diverging economic recoveries amid the crisis as large corporations have been able to thrive while many smaller firms have gone belly-up.
While aggregate data for total small businesses losses is not available, an April report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that 17% of small businesses would have to permanently close if faced with a two-month revenue loss.
Many of these smaller firms have been reliant on government programs to bridge the gap until they could safely reopen, but most of those federal programs have since expired or will expire shortly, and lawmakers have been unable to agree on a second round of stimulus.
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