Majority of small U.S. businesses see worst coronavirus impact still ahead -poll

FILE PHOTO: Makenna Hillyard, 13, checks a to-go order at Farley's East in Oakland, California, U.S. April 16, 2020. The cafe temporarily closed during the shelter-in-place but returned first to sell meals-to-go and later reopened its cafe on April 29, 2020 with the help of the paycheck protection program, part of the $2.3 trillion economic relief package passed by Congress in late March. REUTERS/Nathan Frandino

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Most small business owners in the United States believe the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is still ahead of them, with half saying their operations would permanently close within a year unless the business environment improves, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said on Tuesday.

A new U.S. Chamber-MetLife poll of small businesses taken from Oct. 30-Nov. 10 showed that 74% of the owners said they need further government assistance to weather the pandemic. That percentage rises to 81% for minority-owned businesses.

The quarterly poll found that the 62% of small business owners fear that the worst is still to come with COVID-19’s economic impact. Only 40% said they believe their small businesses can operate indefinitely during the current business environment.

“We must ensure small businesses across the country receive the assistance they need from the federal government,” said Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s chief policy officer. “Not passing the bipartisan compromise for temporary and targeted relief risks the permanent loss of tens of thousands of small businesses, financial hardship for millions of Americans, and unnecessary delays in combating the pandemic.”

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are still wrangling this week over a new coronavirus relief package that would provide additional unemployment compensation and aid to small businesses and other sectors of the economy hit hard by the pandemic.

Bradley said the quarterly survey found that 14% of small businesses are currently planning to cut staff, up from 9% in July and September. Staff reduction plans are back up to the 13% level that the survey saw in April during the pandemic’s first peak, he said.

The United States extended its rollout of the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine here Tuesday, inoculating healthcare workers on the frontlines of a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 people across the country.

Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Grant McCool