Small business owner says Democrat-led COVID benefits are smothering middle class

Small business owner says federal handouts is crushing middle class businesses

FILE - In this April 30 ,2020 file photo, a barber shop shows closed and hiring sign during the COVID-19 in Chicago. On Thursday, Aug. 27, just over 1 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that the coronavirus outbreak (Associated Press)

Florida small business owner Lea Orchard says she is still reeling from the financial repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s not the economic shutdown that has had a lasting effect on her business.

"2018, 2019 we we’re rocking. We had no shortage of customers or stylists – everything was great," Orchard, who owns several salons in the Great Clips franchise told Fox News. 

"Then COVID hit and we got shut down for eight weeks. I’m in Florida so it wasn’t as bad as other states," she added. "I had 97 employees when we shut down. When we opened back up only 50 came back."

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Orchard explained she was forced to keep three of her then-12 salons closed due to a shortage of employees. 

The Tampa Bay local said the greatest hurdle in getting her salons up and running again hasn’t been a lack of customers – it's motivating people to return to the job market.

"It’s been 15 months since we re-opened and we only have 70 employees," she said. 

Orchard, who runs salons in Tampa Bay said federal programs aimed at assisting Americans throughout the pandemic has left a lasting effect on small business owners not just in Florida, but across the country. 

"I’m making half of what I made, as far as revenue goes," she explained. 

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Orchard – whose son is in charge of recruiting for the salon franchise – said despite the above minimum wage rate stylists bring home in her salons, she cannot get people to actually show up for the interviews. 

Great Clips stylists make an average of $10 to $14 an hour in her salons, plus at least another $10 an hour in tips, Orchard estimated. 

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis opted out of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program in June, which barred the $300 weekly supplemental funds for unemployed Americans in his state. 

But the move, initiated as a part of the governor's "Return to Work" push, has not been enough to help fill employment needs statewide.

"These people are staying home because they’ve discovered Medicaid. They’ve increased food stamps also for those who stay home and aren’t working," Orchard said. "Now the new deal is that you can’t evict people, and so now they basically get free rent."

Congressional Democrats, led by Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, pushed the Biden administration to extend the eviction moratorium after it expired last month. 

The ban on evictions is set to last through the first of October. 

Fox News could not reach Bush for comment on whether Democrats will again petition the administration for an additional extension, as delta-positive COVID cases gain steam nationwide. 

Republicans challenged the administration's extension of the moratorium and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., said it lacked "both a legal basis and an economic justification." 

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The salon franchise owner said she and fellow small business entrepreneurs feel as though the middle class has become a target for Democrats pushing COVID benefit extensions. 

"It’s done on purpose," she told Fox News. "To keep these people at home, keep these people on the government dole and get rid of the middle class."