The primary concern of area chambers of commerce during the coronavirus pandemic is taking care of the business community, Frisco Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Felker said. But when faced with unprecedented stress on local economies, North Texas chamber and association leaders say they are in straits just as dire as those of their business constituents.

“Our income has been cut drastically,” Felker said. “And yet we don't have any relief available to us at this point in time. We're as much on the front line as anybody who's out there trying to help our business community. To say it’s a little frustrating and disappointing would be an understatement.”

When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, it excluded 501(c)(6) organizations, such as chambers of commerce, from accessing loans and grants made available to most other small businesses, according to the American Society of Association Executives.

Chris Wallace is the president and CEO of the North Texas Commission, the regional public-private partnership between businesses, cities, education institutions and other local stakeholders. He said he is calling on North Texas' congressional representatives to include associations in the next stimulus bill.

"In recent discussions with our 15 members of Congress, we are encouraging them to include associations and chambers of commerce (501(c)(6) organizations in the next stimulus package," Wallace said in a statement. "The COVID-19 pandemic has also created financial hardships on chambers and associations, who, during this time, are busy navigating emergency aid resources for their own members."

Because chambers of commerce operate as businesses, each with their own staff, Felker said he would like to see organizations with a 501(c)(6) designation included in future stimulus bills. However, as the designation also includes lobbying organizations and unions, Felker said he believes politics may be getting in the way.

“If you're more conservative in your policy, you don't want to give any relief to unions,” Felker explained. “If you're more liberal in your policy, you don't want to give relief to lobbying organizations.”

Felker said the nation’s elected officials may not fully understand what chambers actually do.

“We advocate on behalf of business, but we're not paid lobbyists,” he said. “It’s a little frustrating to get caught up in the middle of politics with all of that going on right now.”

Since the spread of coronavirus and the associated stay-at-home orders that closed many local businesses, Felker said the chamber’s incoming revenue has declined sharply.

“For those who may not know, our revenue is basically divided between events and membership dues,” Felker said. “For these two [to] three months, I'm estimating [events revenue] will be off about 80%-90%. Our new dues revenue has gone down by 90% [and] renewal dues have gone down by probably 70%. So there's no doubt that it's having an impact.”

Those stressors are exactly why chambers and associations should be included in future rounds of aid, Wallace said.

"The commission, our chamber partners, CVB’s and other associations in our region do incredible work supporting their members and their members’ workers," Wallace said in the statement. "Membership-based associations are among the most-stressed industries during this uncertain time, and we all must support these organizations, as they are economic generators for our communities.”

As part of the process to receive its 5-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Frisco chamber built up six months of operating reserves. Because of that, Felker said the organization is in “good shape” but noted that not every chamber is in that position.

“I do feel very bad for all of those [chambers] that aren’t in that condition and that are going to have some closures and layoffs,” Felker said. “That's just going to further slow down the recovery in those business communities because without the chamber there, it's not going to happen as quickly.”