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[Webinar recap] Small business relief loans, survival strategies and more

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A business impact webinar organized and hosted by the Association of Washington Business and presented by Kaiser Permanente on March 23 brought together several key Washington state public officials to provide clarity on small business relief, the status of the coronavirus outbreak and what employers can do throughout this unprecedented time. 

Major takeaways include that this situation is expected to be lengthy, and social distancing is a critical tool that must be adhered to if this virus’ spread is to be slowed. Here are some key pieces of information that members should know. 

Small business relief: Federal loans 

Jeremy Field, regional administrator for the Federal Small Business Administration, said loans for small businesses are available through its disaster relief program. He urged businesses that are struggling to go apply online for loans here. 

The denial rate for disaster loans is “pretty low” for most customers with a decent credit score. It takes about three weeks to hear back regarding approval and then one week to receive the loan. 

Field said this is a personal crisis for everyone, and that the administration is dedicated to helping customers, but their office is extremely busy at this time. Long wait times on the phone are likely — Fields said the worst example he’d heard of was someone on hold for over five hours. 

The Small Business Administration has been sharing its training protocols with its resource partners as well as field staff, Field said. This means if you have trouble reaching its Office of Disaster Assistance, you can reach out to local small business development centers that can help walk you through the online application process at no cost. 

If you are a small business with bad credit there are ways to raise your credit score. The administration has microlenders who are specialists designed to help improve credit scores quickly. A low or bad credit score can be an obstacle to getting approval for loans. 

Field said he expected Congress to pass further relief measures soon that more information will be forthcoming. 

Small Business Development Center business survival strategies 

Sheryl McGrath, broadcasting from the Small Business Development Center in Spokane, offered resources on business survival strategies that businesses can make use of immediately.  

  • Reduce expenses: The center is advising clients to objectively assess minimum staffing needs and make the appropriate reductions.  
  • Cash controls: Eliminate any expenses that are not essential to business survival. 
  • Stop buying inventory unless you can quickly sell it. 
  • Contact landlords immediately to discuss reduced or abated rent. Any changes you make would need to be documented in the lease amendment. 
  • Talk with anyone you are borrowing from for the possibility of loan deferral. Look at your debt load and see if you can restructure your debt to decrease payments. 
  • Vendor contracts and payments: Talk with suppliers immediately to see if you can delay payments or find other ways to reduce costs. 
  • Some utility companies are offering rate reductions. Contact your utility providers.  
  • Seek emergency relief from the state and federal government, the Washington State Department of Revenue and the IRS. 
  • The center is offering confidential, no-cost one-on-one advising to get the various loans available. Its team is also looking at traditional Small Business Administration loans, express lines of credit and alternative lenders. The team advises against taking same-day loans and urges caution if considering personal loans. 
  • Check with business interruption and continuity insurance – see what your insurance policy provides. 
  • Collect all accounts receivable, but try to maintain client relationships for future business because this will pass. 
  • Take a full inventory and secure as much as possible. Anything perishable can be donated or listed as a contribution for taxes. 
  • Look at new markets: Does your business have any way to sell products online?  
  • Communicate: Talk to your customers, your employees, your fellow business owners and your landlords. Focus on collaboration. 

The goal is overall to expand cash flow and survivability. 

Employment Security Department: Work requirements relaxed on unemployment benefits 

Dan Zeitlin of the Employment Security Department shared the tremendous workload the department has been under since the influx of unemployment insurance claims began to rush in, starting around March 8. He said the number of SharedWork applications has gone up and there’s been a tremendous amount of traffic to its website. 

The department has removed the full-time work requirement for employees to be put on standby status, where employees can continue to collect unemployment benefits without needing to seek new work. 

Because workers had previously not been eligible if they were part-timers, the system had been automatically denying them. The department has been working to inform those workers that they do have eligibility. 

The duration of standby has also been extended to 12 weeks. 

The new rules allow more leniency to unemployment insurance deadlines to workers under quarantine. The Employment Security Department is looking for and advocating for federal action, so more will be developing following decisions made this week. 

Social distancing is critical to containing the spread 

Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer for Washington state, said coronavirus case counts continue to grow throughout the state, partly to do with an increased testing capacity. COVID-19, the coronavirus, has been encountered in “most” of Washington’s counties, she said. 

Lofy urged frequent environmental cleaning if your businesses are open and said employees should telecommute if possible. Social distancing is the only tool that we have right now to slow the spread of the virus, she said. 

If one of your workers has a confirmed case of coronavirus, contact your local health department. Sick employees can use an online telehealth testing option on the state health office website. 

Even if an employee has mild symptoms, he or she should stay home from work. If an employee does test positive for the virus, the employee needs to stay home for at least seven days and at least three days after their fever has broken and their symptoms have significantly improved, she said.  

It is still recommended that employees who had close contact with anyone confirmed to be infected with the virus have two weeks of quarantine as well.