A House committee on Wednesday gave quick approval to legislation designed to provide financial relief to small businesses in West Virginia that lost income after last week's chemical spill.
Meanwhile, area organizations want to help Charleston businesses bounce back after being forced to close.
"About a day into the chemical leak we realized it was going to have a pretty heavy economic impact in our community," said East End Main Street Director Ric Cavender. "It's just reminding people that our local businesses and workers have been suffering through this."
The House bill that advanced Wednesday is the first taken up by a legislative committee that addresses the fallout from the spill and "do not use" water order.
"This bill gives a suggested roadmap for recovery for these businesses," said Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, who heads the House Committee on Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.
The bill (HB4175) suggests that small businesses could apply for grants, or low- and no-interest loans. Businesses also might be able to defer payment of payroll taxes and consumer sales tax collections to the state.
The bill stipulates that "only the most vulnerable of businesses should be eligible" for state-funded financial assistance.
The legislation directs the governor and Division of Homeland Security to set up emergency rules for helping small businesses. The bill doesn't define "small business" - what size of company would qualify. Nor does the legislation set a monetary cap on financial relief, or say how the program would be funded.
"This bill doesn't go into specifics," Skaff said. "It allows those agencies that deal with these things to develop those parameters. We leave it up to them how they want to administer it."
Skaff said most businesses' insurance plans don't cover income losses caused by disasters. He said restaurants and hair salons - businesses that use a lot of water -- were especially hard hit by the water crisis.
"The business owners ... are struggling," Skaff said. "You take one weekend out of a month, and it's a huge hit."
Skaff is co-owner of the Vandalia Grille in downtown Charleston, which has filed a lawsuit against Freedom Industries, the company where the chemical leaked, and West Virginia American Water.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant promised an expedited review of the emergency rules, if the bill passes. Tennant said she already has fielded calls from small business owners asking about emergency loans.