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Sen. Ryan Aument, a Republican from Lancaster County.

As restaurants, bars, gyms, entertainment venues and other small employers looked forward to the higher capacity limits and fewer restrictions that began Sunday, there was a sense of optimism that the worst of this yearlong COVID-19 nightmare may finally be behind us.

However, reality tells us these and other small businesses will take years — not just weeks or months — to fully recover from the extraordinary struggles of the past year.

Many of these businesses had to take out loans just to cover payroll and keep the lights on. Many others had to sell off property and equipment, while others still were forced to delay critical expansions and upgrades.

The perfect storm of supply chain disruptions, mandated business closures, increased costs for personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, strict capacity limits and reduced revenue dealt a fatal blow to many employers, forcing them to permanently close their doors. Others are holding on for dear life.

As we look forward to what the future holds for us in a world after COVID-19, we must be mindful of how much our small employers have suffered and how much time and effort they will need to get back in good financial shape.

That is why we have introduced a package of bills in Harrisburg designed to prioritize Pennsylvania small businesses and ensure the employers who make up the lifeblood of our economy can not only survive, but thrive in the years ahead.

Our “Prioritize PA Small Business” package takes a three-pronged approach to solving the daunting problems facing employers: direct financial assistance, tax reform and regulatory relief.

We are not only giving them the tools to deal with the immediate strain created by the pandemic, but also creating a road map for these employers to come back stronger than ever in the years ahead.

The package would:

— Create new loan and tax credit programs to support employers affected by government restrictions during the pandemic.

— Change state tax laws to help impacted businesses and level the playing field between small and large employers, while also providing parity with federal law.

— Cut red tape and eliminate many of the regulatory burdens on small employers, while providing greater oversight of new regulations that could create financial strains on small businesses.

If we want to emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before, we need to make a concerted effort to create a favorable environment for business and job growth.

That means taking bold steps like the bills in the “Prioritize PA Small Business” package to ensure these critical parts of our community remain open for business for generations to come.

State Sen. Ryan Aument, a Republican who resides in Mount Joy, represents the 36th Senate District; he is secretary of the Senate Republican Caucus. Twitter: @SenatorAument. This op-ed was cowritten by Republican state Sens. Camera Bartolotta, Kristin Phillips-Hill and Judy Ward.

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