CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A bill moving through the Legislature that will give help to some small businesses was amended Wednesday, with members of a Senate committee saying they want to provide as much help as possible.
House Bill 4175, the West Virginia Small Business Emergency Act, was introduced in the House of Delegates January 15 and passed that body the next day.
It would allow the governor and heads of three state agencies to establish emergency rules, which then must be adopted by the Legislature, that govern how small businesses affected by states of emergency can request state aid.
The original bill would have allowed various means of help, including deferral of tax collections, grants or loans.
However, the Senate Economic Development Committee adopted an amendment limiting the scope to a low-interest, short-term loan. Another amendment increases the maximum amount of the loan from $5,000 to $15,000.
That change was made after two area business owners said $5,000 wouldn't be sufficient because they had to shut down for several days as a result of the chemical spill.
"We had to replace all of our water filters, we did that twice," said Tom Minturn, owner of Chick-fil-A at Southridge. "We replaced our carbonators because water sat in the carbonators. We replaced all of our brewers -- our tea brewers, our coffee brewers and for us that was $23,000."
Additionally, Minturn paid his employees for time off.
Both Minturn and Scott Miller, who owns Ichiban and Bar 101 on Capitol Street, filed insurance claims with Travelers Insurance. Minturn was told his claim would be covered if the water had damaged his building. But because water service continued despite the contamination, his claim was an "uninsurable event."
"It's frustrating when you think your insurance is completely taking care of you," Minturn said. "It's all about semantics from my perspective."
Miller said he estimates Ichiban, which serves sushi and other high-quality fish products, lost about $7,000 in food that weekend and $30,000 in other losses. He doesn't know if insurance will cover his claims.
"I also had business interruption insurance I paid for for more than 20 years," Miller said. "What I was told by my company, which was Traveler's, is that it has to be an 'insurable event' before the business interruption coverage triggers. That means a fire or the roof collapses because of heavy snow or something like that."
Miller said he thinks a $20,000 loan would be more sufficient to help businesses that suffer losses that aren't covered by insurance, and he likely would apply for the loan.
State Sen. Chris Walters, R-Kanawha, agreed, saying his family-run business lost more than $5,000 because of the contamination.
"It wouldn't be a fix-all, but it would help if it were in place," he said of the loan program.
A second amendment increased the number of employees a small business must have in order to apply for the loan. Originally, 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees was the requirement, but state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, proposed an amendment to increase that number to 75.
All amendments were adopted and the bill was passed out of committee. The Senate Finance Committee will take it up next.