WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- The United States Senate passed the $1.9 trillion COVID plan proposed by President Joe Biden Saturday.

The stimulus package, also called the American Rescue Plan, is $1,400 relief checks for Americans who qualify based on their income and more aid through the fall for those dealing with unemployment.

The package also includes tens of billions of dollars in aid for small businesses and not for profits whose bottom lines have been hard hit by the pandemic.

Among the items included:

  • $15 billion to the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program.
  • $25 billion for a new grant program specifically for bars and restaurants.
  • Additional $7 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program

“Having the PPP, more money and allowing people to have another bite of that Apple especially for those that haven’t bounced back is going to be as important as all the other elements and making sure our economy comes back,” National Federation of Independent Businesses Iowa State Director Matt Everson said.

Mary Heller knows that well. With sales at her store Ivy Trellis Cards and gifts down between 30 and 50%, she said the PPP program has been a lifeline.

“If I would not have received that, it’s possible that my girls wouldn’t be working, and maybe we wouldn’t be open,” Heller said.

When she closed down her store in the spring, she had to switch to an online-only model. The idea of bringing the in-person shopping experience to her customers online was unfamiliar.

“We were not set up to sell online or anything,” Heller said. “That really hurt us.”

Her store sells a variety of cards, gifts, home decor, and as of late, many puzzles.

“So many people were locked in through this and still are,” Heller said. “Before, we didn’t do as much, but the puzzles and games have been a great thing this year.”

The last year has been a winding road of ups and downs for the store. Loyal customers have helped keep the ship afloat.

During the holiday shopping season, the City of Waterloo offered free parking in some of the downtown metered spots.

“It made a difference,” Heller said. “I’m hoping that the city will attempt to figure out some other way that maybe we can do more of that for downtown or find a different solution, then the meters and we could have more free parking.”

Recently, Heller applied for and recieved her second PPP loan.

We are in the middle of a two-week window set aside by the Biden administration in which only businesses with fewer than 20 employees can apply for the forgivable loans.

That includes the majority of small businesses in the U.S. Biden’s team is also carving out $1 billion to direct toward sole proprietors, such as home contractors and beauticians, the majority of which are owned by women and people of color.

“Small business is the backbone of the country,” Heller said. “If you don’t hold these jobs for a lot of these people, that’s where we have so much unemployment because of so many small businesses, restaurants, places like that that had to close. The PPP line was definitely the lifeline for all of these businesses.”

There is some good news. The latest NFIB monthly report found 50% of businesses are struggling to find qualified people and 25% plan on hiring new workers in the next few months.

“These are good signs. We are barely into 2021, and these are the problems we saw pre-pandemic,” Everson said. “But I caution that our economy is still very fragile. A giant part of our economy, which I call the entertainment sector, is still struggling.”

Everson said Iowa is stronger than most other states to recover quickly once this pandemic is behind us. But that won’t be for a while.

He said Iowa businesses had gone above and beyond to make customers feel comfortable visiting in-person. Ultimately, businesses won’t be able to recover until that happens truly.

“You still got half the economy that is not ready to re-enter society, and they’re not going to do it until you know they get the vaccine or they see numbers start to go down,” Everson said. “I think you’ll see more and more people go out and do that, but you know to make sure those businesses survive over the next three, four or five months until our economy comes forward back.”

In a year full of challenges for small businesses, Heller said she is thankful she has had the support and resources to weather the storm.

“We’ll never make the losses up probably, there’s there’s no way,” Heller said. “I’m just glad we were able to hold on. I am just glad we were able to get the PPP loan.”