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Natural disasters are the new normal. Are small businesses ready?

August 31, 2020

Can Mother Nature cut us some slack? Small businesses must be thinking this question as they face a raging global pandemic, scarring wildfires in California, and devastating hurricanes in the Gulf.

It is only getting worse. According to FEMA, the number of declared disasters per year has nearly tripled over the past three decades. Yet, small businesses remain under-insured. Almost half of the losses from these disasters were not covered by insurance.

While bigger firms can often rely on diversified operations to ride out the disruptive “storm,” sole proprietors and microbusinesses in the gig economy cannot. But, the impact is more than small business closures. These gig workers are often the ones at the tip of the spear for last-mile logistics in the aftermath of these disasters – delivering essential groceries, medicine, and supplies to affected areas.  

While relief from Congress, FEMA, and other programs are temporary, limited in scope, and challenging to apply for, the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program can be more effective. After all, it was purpose-built for helping small businesses, including gig workers, survive natural disasters. But, it lacks the distribution to be truly useful.  

Platform apps can overcome distribution challenges. They have a direct plugin to independent contractors and offer a clear picture of their commercial activity. SBA can use this data to designate specific platforms as trusted data providers — similar to the certified lender program used for banks originating PPP loans. These trusted data providers can then broker the application to the SBA on behalf of their clients, drastically accelerating speed, efficiency, and efficacy of disaster relief.

We have already proven this model works. In Georgia alone, we helped Buckle Members get an average of more than $2,700 of COVID-19 EIDL relief. To do this in scale and with speed will require a robust public-private partnership.

Disasters aren’t going away anytime soon. Don’t let our small businesses — the backbone of the U.S. economy — become the victims. Let’s use 21st century innovation to give them the resilience they need. We are already halfway there.  

Bob Dougherty is the Director of Buckle CARES, Buckle’s driver advocacy platform. Buckle CARES facilitates the socioeconomic success of Buckle Members, their families, and the greater gig community through advocacy, resources, education, and support services. In doing so, Buckle aims to be the preeminent leader of change on issues affecting the gig economy. Bob is a career Army officer, veteran, and a part-time gig worker.

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