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NYC small business lobbies Congress for pandemic shut down insurance coverage

Posted at 7:15 PM, Dec 07, 2020

A small business in Brooklyn is taking on Congress, lobbying for insurance coverage for future pandemics. While not an easy battle, the National Retail Federation says these conversations have to be had now in order to keep retailers open.

Ann Cantrell, speaking in front of the US House Financial Services Committee, said, "The past few months have been the darkest of my life.”

The owner of "Annie's Blue Ribbon General Store" in Brooklyn said it's time for real solutions.

"Insurance companies should not be in the practice of denying policy holders coverage when they need it the most. What happened to 'you're in good hands' or 'like a good neighbor,' Cantrell said.

Speaking on behalf of the National Retail Federation, Cantrell pleaded her case, saying, "We are a community store and people look to us as a pillar of light and hope in the neighborhood. Kids meet their friends at the shop to pick out a gift for their teacher, parents bribe their kids with a treat if they get a shot at the doctor or reward them if they get a good report card."

The pandemic, she said, nearly shut her business down. She said she pays $6,000 a year for what she calls "all risk" insurance. She was under the impression there was no risk that wouldn't be covered.

“When we (were) closed by the governor (New York’s Andrew Cuomo), literally the government shut us down,” Cantrell said. “I put in another call, each time saying that viruses were not covered under business interruption insurance.”

The National Retail Federation said Cantrell is a voice for retailers everywhere. And while it was able to get a hearing, the organization says many insurance companies aren't on board.

“What they’re saying is this will not be isolated to one area, this seems to be unending and keeps going on and on and on so they’re afraid it’ll cost trillions of dollars,” said Leon Buck, the National Retail Federation’s vice president of banking and financial services. “But what we’re saying is we don’t think so. We think if we’re paying into the fund and the federal government has money, the insurance companies will be fine."

“If we were in a COVID-21, for instance, if this happened again, maybe another virus, the business would be protected,” Buck added. “They’d file a claim with their insurance carrier whom they pay monthly premiums to and the federal government would help pick up the tab.”

As for Cantrell, who has loved general stores since she was a kid, this is about speaking up because someone has to.

“It's not just small companies like mine, it’s big companies. No one is covered under business interruption insurance,” Cantrell said.

Luckily, she said she built a good website and the holidays and her Paycheck Protection Program loan will carry her through. She hopes the next Congress will take up the issue. In the meantime, she reminds everyone to shop small.