Situation Report COVID-19 Updates | MARCH 27, 2020
From business unusual to business VERY unusual. In uncertain times it's said you can have two reactions – hope or fear. I'm watching businesses choose another path – adapt and affect change. I know it's exhausting and there are a lot of uncertainties, but there are many ways to make a difference, amplify your ROI, and help your community through these challenges. Keep up the amazing effort, and we are here to support you.

At the Chamber, like you we find ourselves in an incredibly stressed environment right now, offset by thankfulness and long term optimism. Our state and federal government are making decisions to support our most vulnerable in the short term, while shoring up business to survive and even thrive in the recovery. The question, of course, is will the money get to the right places to keep business afloat and families solvent? That’s how we’ll get through this.

Because of the ever-changing and important information for businesses that we're tracking, I'm including all of our members and partners on this email. If you would like to opt-in to continue to receive these emails, please sign up for COVID-19 updates here.

I’m looking ahead. I anticipate a deep but short lived recovery. Because the economic fundamentals are good. And the government is doing some smart things in terms of assistance and economic stimulus. Yes, we will have significant challenges in supply chain recovery but I like where we started. And this economic seizure is different from the Great Recession. This isn’t about fault, or about material bad actors. So the all-hands-on-deck approach we are seeing is fundamentally different.

The charge before us: prepare for the recovery, be ready to grow again. Because the economy will recover so long as we all can survive. And right now we all are making tough decisions in order to do so. What’s the “right” path moving forward? Where do I spend and where do I cut? On the advice of some very wise mentors, I am thinking about our guiding principles moving forward, to provide context for our actions as we make a series of judgment calls. Because, first off, we need to reset expectations. The budget and our strategic plan for the year is no longer our playbook. What principles will guide your organization in this New Normal? This will be different for each of us.

Our framework
1) We must be a good steward of our resources
2) We must be sensitive to stressors being experienced by our constituency
3) We must take actions that position this organization to be relevant coming out of this crisis

Whatever your framework, the goal is to position ourselves to come out of this with a well-conceived plan to ramp up quickly. Be encouraged!

In breaking news, the President has now signed the emergency relief package, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) . The legislation includes:
  • $375 billion for small businesses, and a provision making rent, mortgage, and utility costs eligible for SBA loan forgiveness.  
  • $1,200 direct cash payments to individuals making less than $75,000/year plus $500 per child; lower, tiered payments to those with incomes up to $99,000/year.
  • Expanded unemployment insurance, adding $600 per person per week onto the base maximum unemployment benefit for four months. Additionally, the program will now include freelancers, furloughed employees, and gig workers. 

Unfortunately, the package did not include language making 501(c)6s—or other non-profits besides 501(c)3s—eligible for the new $350 billion loan/grant program.

A summary of the legislation is available   here. You can view a fact sheet on how the bill assists local governments and nonprofits in responding to coronavirus, provided to us by Congresswoman Betty McCollum is here and summary from our member, Winthrop & Weinstine.


COVID-19 update
As of this morning, 398 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. Of those, 60 cases required hospitalization and 180 already are on the mend such that they no longer need to be isolated. In total 14,003 tested, 4 deaths. The counties represented now represent a significant section of the state, the highest count being in Hennepin County at 141 and Ramsey County at 34. The rest of the East Metro: Dakota County at 28, and Washington County at 22.
 
Workforce
Today I got my first update on impacts of COVID-19 in terms of the workforce and labor market analysis. RealTime Talent and the Greater Metropolitan Workforce Council (GMWC) are gathering information from healthcare employers and associations to better understand changing workforce needs due to COVID-19, and how they might attract those who have been laid off who might be interested and able to transition into both short-term and long-term opportunities where the earnings exceed that which would be received through unemployment benefits.

Insights and details can be found here and DEED labor market analysis per Workforce Development Area – posted on www.greatermetropolitanworkforcecouncil.org .

At the State Level
Executive Order 20-20 goes into effect tonight at 11:59pm. If yours is one of the many companies seeking further clarification on “critical industry” classification, be sure to go to www.mn.gov/deed/critical . Commissioner Grove recognizes that, for some businesses, part of your workforce may be critical, while others are not. Isn't necessarily an "all in" or "all out" determination. Glad they recognize that nuance.

An update on the $330M legislation, HF 4531/SF 4451: the second COVID-19 Response Efforts Bill of the 2020 session passed both the House and Senate yesterday. The bill can be found here .

The Bill allocates state funds and provides some policy tweaks that enable various entities to react to the pandemic crisis. It includes financial assistance to food shelves and homeless shelters across the state, and creates a Small Business Emergency Loan Program to assist businesses that have been most impacted. The bill also grants extensions for drivers’ license renewals and codifies the actions taken by Governor with regard to expanding unemployment insurance access to more Minnesotans.

At the Federal Level
In addition to the massive stimulus package, SBA EIDL application process is proving to be onerous, not for the faint of heart. This includes long hold times over the phone or inconsistency in website being online. SBA is doing their best, but patience is definitely required!

Top 5 questions regarding COVID-19, EFMLA, and its impacts to your workforce

1. Are there tax credits also available for maintaining insurance premiums for my employees?
In the tax credit heading of the Employer paid Leave Fact Sheet the DOL states “Applicable tax credits also extend to amounts paid or incurred to maintain health insurance coverage”. More guidance on this is expected soon.
 
2. If I currently have an employee out on a regular FMLA protected leave. Do they also qualify for another 12 weeks under EFMLA?
Yes. Another 12 weeks specific to the six circumstances as outlined in the law.

1. Is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19
2. Has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19
3. Is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis
4. Is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in(2)
5. Is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19; or
6. Is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury.
 
3. If the federal, local or state government mandates my business to close does that qualify my employees for Emergency Paid Leave and/or EFMLA?
The Employer and Employee Fact Sheet states: The Act provides that covered employers must provide all employees expanded family medical leave (and sick leave) where the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined (pursuant to Federal, State or local government order”.
 
4. What are my notice requirements regarding Emergency Paid Leave/EFMLA?
 
5. Are employers under 50 exempt from Emergency Paid Leave and Extended FMLA?
There is a statement that small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for exemption from the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or child care unava ilability if the leave requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business. More guidance on this is expected soon.

In Saint Paul
I had the chance to interview Mayor Carter on Zoom this morning about the proposed Bridge Fund, which is expected to be voted on next week.

Bridge Fund for Families The Saint Paul Bridge Fund includes a $1 million investment to provide families $2,000 of direct assistance for rent or mortgage payments.​​ Eligible families will have:
  • Income at or below 40% Area Median Income, which is $40,000 for a family of four,
  • At least one Pre-K to 12 student in the household, and
  • Experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19.

Bridge Fund for Small Businesses The Saint Paul Bridge Fund includes a $2.25 million investment to provide $7,500 grants for immediate business expenses, including but not limited to:
  • Rent/mortgage payments
  • Employee health benefits
  • Leave payments and payroll
  • Accounts payables
  • Payments due to suppliers

Eligible small business will have:
  • 20 or fewer employees,
  • gross revenue of $2 million or less,
  • been in operation for the last six months in Saint Paul, and
  • had their revenues significantly impacted by at least one of the Governor's COVID-19 executive orders in 2020.

Resources:
Please know that if you can’t find your way through the influx of information available , you can reach out to our Rapid Response Team for individualized guidance. We are here for you! The East Team’s Rapid Response Team, and all our partners, are accessible via Ramsey County’s COVID-19 contact list and inquiries page .

Please feel free to forward this to others who may be interested, who can opt in to receive our daily COVID-19 Situation Reports or view them on our COVID-19 web page.

We're working closely with Ramsey County Means Business page to post the most up-to-date information and critical resources and our Events page for the listing of webinars happening all across the community.

Be well !

B Kyle
President/CEO
Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce