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COVID-19 Update for April 17: Here’s What Massachusetts Businesses Need to Know

As the news surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, our team at blumshapiro is staying focused on answering the local business community’s most pressing questions. As of Friday, April 17, 2020, here are the latest updates leaders in Massachusetts’s business community need to know.

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Insights  <  COVID-19 Update for April 17: Here’s What Massachusetts Businesses Need to Know

As the news surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, our team at blumshapiro is staying focused on answering the local business community’s most pressing questions. As of Friday, April 17, 2020, here are the latest updates leaders in Massachusetts’s business community need to know.

The Latest News

President Trump says governors can reopen before May 1, but up to them

In a telephone call with governors yesterday, President Trump backed down from demanding states reopen by May 1, but told the governors it was up to them when to reopen, including opening earlier than May 1.

CARES Act 2.0 under consideration

Congress faces intense pressure to negotiate an interim rescue package as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic accelerates across the country.  Some 17 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past month and $349 billion in funding for a small-business relief program ran out as of Wednesday evening.  Partisan deadlock reigns in Washington – Republicans want to add more money to the small business loan program while Democrats demand urgent funding for states and municipalities and for struggling hospitals.  Meanwhile, the nation’s governors are asking Congress for $500 billion in economic aid, far more than even the Democrats have suggested so far, to plug revenue gaps.

Paycheck Protection Program update

This week saw expanded eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), as the self-employed and independent contractors are now able to apply for PPP loans.  At the same time, the PPP reached its $349 billion cap on Wednesday evening, allocating all of its funding in less than two weeks.  By week’s end, Congress was debating adding an additional $250 billion to the PPP; small business advocates want lawmakers to add more money to the disaster loan program as well.

The impact of COVID-19, social distancing on the economy

Eric Rosengren, the president of the Boston Federal Reserve, recently discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economic environment.  Among the highlights:  “social distancing is expensive,” and the economy most likely won’t rebound in a V-shape like many are hoping.

Additionally, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari echoed those sentiments, saying without an effective therapy or vaccine for COVID-19, the country faces rolling shutdowns, and should develop an 18-month strategy.

And the IMF declared the “Great Lockdown” recession could be on par with the Great Depression, as unemployment rates are expected to climb to 20% as soon as the end of April.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation launches Save Small Business

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a small grant program on Monday (April 20) at 3 p.m.  Businesses with three to 20 employees in disadvantaged areas (determined by ZIP code) are eligible for $5,000 grants.  While the program doesn’t officially launch until Monday, you can check eligibility now by entering your ZIP code.

SBA economic injury loans limited to $15,000

After announcing that the max amount for the SBA Economic Injury and Disaster Loans (EIDLs) will be capped at $15,000 per applicant, and fears (later realized) that initial funding of the PPP will be used up by the end of the week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called on Congress to provide additional funding for small businesses.

Supreme Court to work remotely

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court announced earlier this week it will hear oral arguments via teleconference.

Implementation of CARES Act

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said 80 million taxpayers should receive coronavirus relief payments by April 15, and that the government is accelerating assistance to businesses as well.

Economic advice for post-pandemic

The International Monetary Fund is encouraging policymakers to avoid repeating the Depression-era mistake of ratcheting back budget deficits. Instead, it’s urging them to ramp up fiscal stimulus when the coronavirus contagion starts to abate.

Massachusetts News

Governor Charlie Baker Speaks about Coronavirus Response Today at 2:30 p.m.

Watch live to get the most up-to-date information.

Moving forward

On Monday, Governor Baker announced he was working in accordance with other governors of eastern states (including Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware) to begin discussing the next phases of social distancing, as well as when a gradual easing of social distancing measures might be considered and what these new recommendations might look like.

Amazon to add 1,800 jobs in Massachusetts during pandemic

As demand increases throughout the pandemic, Amazon announced earlier this week it plans to add more than 1,800 new jobs across Massachusetts at facilities located in Holyoke, Everett, Fall River, and Stoughton.

Massachusetts among states preparing Test-and-Trace programs

Several states have launched new efforts to contain the virus, laying plans to test aggressively and track possibly infected people with help from nonprofits, universities and the private sector.  Massachusetts, Utah and North Dakota are among those working on the kinds of comprehensive strategies that public-health experts agree are necessary to arrest the virus’ spread and lift the social-distancing measures that have closed much of the U.S. economy.

Unemployment

According to new projections from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the state is bracing for a projected 570,000 layoffs over the next three months, raising the state unemployment rate to close to 18%.

Unemployment claims by independent contractors may also inadvertently put employers at risk, as the CARES Act only just extended unemployment benefits to independent contractors and the self-employed, yet the state forms have not yet caught up.  As a result, it may look like the independent contractor is actually an employee of a company that has not been paying the appropriate unemployment benefits.

Anticipated tax shortfall

Also according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, tax collections for the state are projected to fall by $4.4 billion, with some anticipating a two-year shortfall of $6 billion.

Guidance regarding essential service workers and safety practices

On April 14, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued guidance to all non-healthcare essential service workers and their employers regarding safety practices for workers who may have had exposure to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Industry News

Construction

The construction industry has received the largest share of loans offered by the Paycheck Protection Program.

News also broke this week that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is considering a slow ramp-up for the construction industry, restarting building projects after they were shut down in mid-March.

Several public school construction projects throughout Massachusetts have been delayed while the full financial impact (as a result of lower incoming sales tax amounts) is determined.  While the Massachusetts School Building Authority will face some budget strain as a result of current conditions, CFO Laura Guadagno believes the agency is well positioned to weather the storm.

Food and Beverage:

Earlier this week the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) launched a new national campaign – #ShopSmart – meant to help protect America’s food and grocery workers, as they continue to be exposed to the coronavirus through grocery shoppers.

Meanwhile, spikes in coronavirus cases at meat plants are causing concern regarding the stability of the food supply chain and worker safety.

Food service distributors delivering critical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic should get prioritized for federal loans according to a bipartisan group of 33 lawmakers.

Health Care

On Wednesday, the Baker-Polito Administration outlined ongoing steps to support long-term care facilities, including $130 million in new funding, expanded testing, PPE distribution, and more.

The Joint Committee on Financial Services is now accepting written testimony by email on a bill Governor Baker filed last week to provide additional liability protections to health care providers during the coronavirus pandemic.  The bill provides workers staffing field hospitals—like those set up at the DCU Center and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center—and other health care professionals with protection from liability and lawsuits “when the care that they provide is impacted by the COVID-19 emergency.”

Additionally, many health care workers will see raises of $5 to $10 per hour after the union representing licensed nurses and caregivers working in Massachusetts state hospitals and group homes negotiated the hazard pay.  The raise will last at least through May 30, and possibly longer.

Medicare hospitals received the first round of aid meant to help defray costs associated with coronavirus and caring after uninsured patients.  The federal government delivered $30 billion last Friday; ultimately, $100 billion is expected to be handed out.

Higher education

Some universities are already making contingency plans should students not be able to return to campus safely in the fall.  Boston University, Brown University, the University of Massachusetts system, MIT, and Harvard University are all discussing various scenarios.

Colleges are also seeking clarity regarding whether higher education institutions can seek funding under the Federal Reserve’s Main Street lending program.  Initially, it appeared that nonprofits (including colleges) would not qualify.

Insurance

Massachusetts auto insurers are cutting premiums for drivers in the Commonwealth since the amount of driving, and therefore claims, has decreased substantially during the pandemic.

Manufacturing

On April 13, Governor Baker announced the creation of a Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (M-ERT), meant to assist manufacturers throughout the state pivot toward producing personal protective equipment and other safety equipment.  Additionally, $10.6 million in funding is being made available through M-ERT grants to provide funding for manufacturers to make this change.

Additionally, defense firms are expected to request some of the $17 billion designated for companies vital to national security and contending with coronavirus disruptions.

Nonprofits

The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network has created a Coronavirus Resource Page to consolidate resources nonprofits may need during this time.  The resource page includes information on philanthropic and government relief, federal and state policy updates, and other resources and webinars.

Real Estate

Commercial property owners (and some tenants) are beginning to take notice of a tax law change included in the recent CARES Act.  The change is an expansion of the tax deduction for many property improvements to 100% of the cost right away, as opposed to over 39 years.

Meanwhile, commercial landlords are trying to determine how best to deal with tenant defaults, especially with reports that as many as 75% of retail and restaurant tenants did not make their April 1 rent payment.

Restaurants and hospitality

The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) issued an extended advisory regarding the 60-day credit rule, approving an additional 30-day credit extension for a total of 120 days.

Transportation

With ridership deeply decreased, the MBTA announced earlier this week they are expecting a revenue shortfall of $231 million by the fiscal year end on June 30.

Available Resources for Massachusetts Businesses

Federal Disaster Declaration

Federal aid will be available to cities and towns, state agencies and certain nonprofits in all Massachusetts counties to help pay for emergency protective measures (response costs) related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Refer to the links below for additional information on eligible costs.

Coalition forms Business Equity COVID-19 Emergency Fund (BECEF)

A coalition of trusted community organizations – including Amplify Latinx, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, the Boston Foundation’s Business Equity Fund, CommonWealth Kitchen, the Foundation for Business Equity’s Business Equity Initiative, and Ujima Boston have come together to form the Business Equity COVID-19 Emergency Fund (BECEF) to support Black- and Latinx-owned businesses in Massachusetts, which are particularly vulnerable to the financial hardships resulting from the coronavirus crisis.

Boston Globe Media launches Slack workspace

Boston Globe Media has created Small Business Community, a group of business owners and executives convening through the Boston Globe and allowing them to meet other small business owners, share support, and connect with Boston Globe media.

Pro bono legal support

A coalition of law firms, nonprofits and governmental agencies in Massachusetts has joined forces to help small businesses and nonprofits in the greater Boston area access emergency loans and other sources of relief.  The coalition launched a new website on April 10 dedicated to providing information about loans and other sources of relief, and to connecting eligible businesses to free legal support

Additional and previously mentioned resources:

How You Can Help

The community-minded response of Massachusetts’ business community has been nothing short of extraordinary. There are plenty of ways to contribute to the statewide effort to navigate this crisis.  Here are few:

Future Updates and Additional Resources

We will be providing regular updates over the next several weeks as new developments are made available. If you have any questions whatsoever, please do not hesitate to reach out.  We are here to help you with your tax and business advisory needs.

And a Last Good Word…

We all need some good news right now – here’s some from this week:

While M.S. Walker is normally busy distributing wine and spirits and making liquor at its Boston distillery, they too have answered the call to adjust their production to contribute to the fight against COVID-19.  They are now using their distilling equipment to make hand sanitizer, which they’re distributing to police and fire departments throughout the state.

In more good news, Wachusett Brewing Co. and Atlas Distributing are releasing an India pale ale called Glory American IPA to raise money for coronavirus response funds.  Sales proceeds will benefit the Worcester Together fund.

And finally (for this week), McDonald Electrical Corporation, one of the leading electrical contractors in the Northeast, donated 60 N-95 masks to Old Colony Hospice, which provides hospice and palliative care services.  Their nurses and other caregivers are on the front lines, including working in nursing homes, and the masks are critical to providing personal protection.

In the meantime, you can refer to the following state agencies and associations for the latest information:

COVID-19 Business Resources

Disclaimer:  The contents of this resource are for general informational purposes only.  While every effort has been made to ensure its accuracy, the information is provided “as is” and no representations are made that the content is error-free.  We have no obligation to update any content, comments or other information for retroactive or prospective interpretations or guidance provided by regulators, financial institutions or others.  The information is not intended to constitute legal advice or replace the advice of a qualified professional.  There are areas of the CARES Act where additional clarification from the Treasury Department and the SBA is needed.  Your judgment and interpretation of the act may be needed.  Users should consult with their legal counsel and representatives of the lending institution regarding the proper completion of their application and supporting documentation.

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