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COVID-19 Update for May 15: Here’s what Rhode Island 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, May 15, here are the latest updates leaders in Rhode Island’s business community need to know.

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Insights  <  COVID-19 Update for May 15: Here’s what Rhode Island 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, May 15, here are the latest updates leaders in Rhode Island’s business community 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, May 15, here are the latest updates leaders in Rhode Island’s business community need to know. To view last weeks updates, click here

THE LATEST – NATIONAL NEWS

Let’s start with an update on the Paycheck Protection Program.

It’s hard to believe, but the Paycheck Protection Program is nearly two months old. Created by the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27 and officially replenished with a second round of funding on April 23, the wildly in-demand, federally funded loan program was lauded as a proverbial life raft for small businesses across the country that have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 public health crisis.

So, where are we now?

The good news: The funds in the PPP are certainly being used. The federal government has pumped nearly $670 billion into the novel loan program, and – as of this writing – most of those funds had already been distributed. Here in Rhode Island, the U.S. Small Business Administration reported in mid-April that roughly 4,110 businesses had received PPP loans worth a total of more than $875 million.

The not-so-good news: The PPP has been rife with confusion since its launch… and the confusion doesn’t seem to be subsiding. At first, business owners were unclear as to how to apply for the loans. Then, small business owners were confused (and many were outraged) as to how behemoth companies like Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers were getting approved.

Now, there seems to be growing confusion as to how to get these loans forgiven.

According to federal guidance, the parameters for loan forgiveness seem relatively simple. In their simplest terms, the guidelines suggest that businesses will be eligible for loan forgiveness if they: 1) spend at least 75% of their loan over the course of an eight-week period on payroll costs, and 2) maintain their employee head count over the life of the loan.

But, as one may expect considering how quickly these guidelines were developed, business owners have a whole lot of unanswered questions. (And, considering the U.S. Treasury is planning on ordering audits for many businesses that receive these loans, they’re right to be asking questions!)

Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin addressed the business community’s concerns earlier this week, saying on Monday that his department is looking into providing more clarity and easing the terms of the loan program for small businesses across the country.

In the meantime, though, our advice hasn’t changed: Whether you’ve already applied for and received a loan through the PPP, or if you’re planning on submitting an application in the coming weeks, we strongly recommend you immediately reach out to your financial advisor to develop a plan that works for your business.

Sen. Reed introduces State & Local Stabilization Fund Act.

Some news that has both Rhode Island and national ties: U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) earlier this week introduced new legislation that would help states, cities and towns use federal funding to solve financial problems created by this crisis.

Sen. Reed’s bill, according to Sen. Reed himself, would ease bureaucratic restrictions and give local governments more control as to how they spend the dollars they received as part of the sweeping CARES Act. It would also provide an additional $600 billion in funding for state and local governments nationwide.

Here’s the summary of the bill, provided by Sen. Reed’s office.

Is another stimulus package coming?

It’s possible. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled another sweeping COVID-19 stimulus package earlier this week, which – if approved – would be the fifth federally funded relief package passed since the pandemic began in early March.

Pelosi’s bill, known as the Heroes Act, would commit another $3 trillion in federal funding to respond to the economic impact brought on by the crisis. According to a summary of the bill released by the House Appropriations Committee, the Heroes Act would, among other items:

  • Commit $1 trillion to states and tribal governments that, according to the summary, “desperately need funds to pay vital workers.”
  • Establish $200 billion to help provide hazard pay for essential workers.
  • Earmark $75 billion for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and isolation measures.

The Heroes Act also calls for the federal government to send another economic impact check to individuals and households; it would extend the weekly $600 addition to unemployment payments through January 2021; and it would commit $175 billion in funding to help renters and homeowners pay their monthly rent, mortgage and utility bills.

While the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives says it’s ready to move on the Heroes Act as early as next week, it’s expected to be held up in the Republican-controlled Senate, which doesn’t plan on passing any new stimulus packages until June at the earliest.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this bill, and will provide the latest as the situation develops.

THE LATEST – REOPENING RHODE ISLAND

Let’s start, as always, with the latest numbers…

As of Thursday evening, 12,016 Rhode Islanders had tested positive for COVID-19. Two-hundred and seventy-one patients were in the hospital, and 468 residents had unfortunately passed away due to the virus.

It’s hard to find good news during a crisis like this, but Rhode Island’s COVID-19 numbers are trending in the right direction. The number of daily positive cases seems to be decreasing, and the number of people currently hospitalized, in the ICU and on ventilators are all down from this time last week.

Rhode Island’s economic reopening is under way.

Around this time last week, Governor Raimondo lifted the statewide stay-at-home order, officially bringing Rhode Island into “Phase 1” of its slow and steady ReopeningRI process. 

State leaders have repeatedly reminded us that the reopening of the economy won’t be a “flip of a switch” – and the restrictions included in Phase 1 prove they meant it. Many of the restrictions we’ve grown accustomed to are still being enforced: Dine-in service at restaurants, bars and cafes is still a no-go; social gatherings of more than five people remain banned; and Rhode Island is still cracking down on most forms of domestic travel.

Here’s what has changed, though:

  • Non-critical retailers – think bookstores, gift shops, clothing stores and the like – can reopen their doors with heavy restrictions. All of the non-critical retail guidelines can be found by clicking here – but, here’s the upshot: Capacity is limited to one customer per 300 square feet of space at a time; social distancing and face masks are still the law of the land; and contactless payment options are strongly encouraged.
  • Restaurants, as of today, are still limited to pickup, delivery and drive-through options. But, here’s some great news for anyone looking to schedule a date night: Outdoor dining options are set to come back as early as next week. Here’s the latest. More good news: You can now add a margarita to your take-out dinner order, as Rhode Island is now allowing restaurants to serve to-go mixed drinks.
  • Manufacturing, construction and service-based businesses were never technically mandated to close. They’re free to continue operating under existing guidelines.
  • Religious ceremonies, which were closed before Phase 1 began, can now resume with a strict five-person limit. Why even bother if only five people can attend? Good question. The answer: This allows places of worship to bring in, say, a priest, a deacon and a team of altar servers in order to celebrate Mass and live-stream it to parishioners. Funerals and other end-of-life rituals may also resume with a strict 10-person cap.
  • Office-based businesses can (sort of) reopen during Phase 1. The guidance allows for limited on-site visits, but strongly asks that professionals who have been working from home continue to do so.

Close-contact businesses – think salons, tattoo parlors, gyms and fitness studios – will remain closed through Phase 1, so you’ll need to keep wearing your hats and doing push-ups in your kitchen for the next couple of weeks.

Action items for business owners planning to reopen during Phase 1.

Business owners who are planning to reopen during Phase 1 have a few to-dos this weekend (if they haven’t done them already).

  • COVID-19 Control Plan: If you’re planning to reopen, you’ll need to develop a written plan outlining the steps you’re taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The state has provided an easy template for this plan, which you can find by clicking here. An important note: You don’t need to submit this plan for approval. Just fill it out, sign it and put it in a drawer; you may need to present it in the case of an inspection.
  • COVID-19 Checklist: All businesses planning to reopen also need to print, sign and display a COVID-19 Checklist. You can download and print the checklist by clicking here.

Both of these documents need to be printed and signed by Monday, May 18.

The Providence Chamber of Commerce ran a helpful webinar that walked through the process of creating a COVID-19 Control Plan. The recording can be found by clicking here.

While we’re here, here are some additional ReopeningRI resources.

As state policymakers and business leaders continue to shore up their plans for safely reopening, the ReopeningRI website is being updated on a near-daily basis.

Here are some of the latest links to bookmark:

Plus, here are some links to webinars and other informational productions that have come through the pipeline this week:

Finally, before we move on, here are few more resources related to reopening from around the Web:

Chambers, trade groups partner up to provide face masks to small businesses.

The state of Rhode Island has partnered with each of Rhode Island’s Chambers of Commerce, as well as select professional trade associations, to distribute more than 500,000 face masks and much-needed disinfectant solution to small businesses across the state.

Distribution of these supplies will begin next week; you can learn more on the Rhode Island Commerce website by clicking here.

You might also be able to procure free laptops.

The Microsoft Corporation is donating 500 laptops to help small businesses in Rhode Island continue working from home as the reopening plan progresses. Application are due by May 26; you can apply right now by clicking here.

Survey: How do you feel about the ReopeningRI plan?

Providence Business News is running a survey asking business owners (and the general public) for their thoughts on Rhode Island’s approach to reopening the economy. Take the survey by clicking here.

In case you’re wondering how the rest of the country feels about reopening, here’s an interesting survey from Inc.com.

Finally, it’s not a survey – but it’s certainly worth signing up for: The Rhode Island Society of CPAs is launching a new email service for members who need assistance with COVID-19-related matters. Sign up – and provide feedback – by clicking here.

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT – CONSTRUCTION

We mentioned this last week, but it’s good news worth repeating: Most major construction projects are moving along as scheduled, according to the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council.

While we’re talking about the construction industry, here are a few upcoming webinars from the Associated Builders & Contractors that may prove helpful:

THE LATEST – RHODE ISLAND’S BUDGET & TAX DEADLINES

Rhode Island leaders are bracing for significant budget shortfall.

There’s just no beating around the bush: This crisis is really going to put a dent in Rhode Island’s finances. We’re currently looking at a nearly $800 million shortfall, while projections show state spending is projected to rise.

The latest on federal and state tax deadlines.

It might feel like it’s been years, but it was only last month that Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo announced that the state would mirror the federal government’s decision to postpone the April 15 tax filing deadline to July 15.

Since then, we’ve had a few additional changes on the federal side of the tax world. Joseph Feehan, blumshapiro partner, has the latest here.

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT – FOOD & BEVERAGE 

If you have a few minutes with nothing to do, here are a couple of stories in the food & beverage universe that we found interesting this week.

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT – HOSPITALITY

We already talked about the return of outdoor dining (wahoo!), the new rule permitting the sale of to-go mixed drinks (hurrah!), and the indefinite timeline on the return of dine-in service (alas!) – but we don’t want to forget about the hotel industry.

Here’s what we’re reading this week:

Plus, in case you missed them, here’s a roundup of additional resources related to the hospitality industry in Rhode Island and beyond.

Finally, before we move away from hospitality: You can donate to the Rhode Island Hospitality Association’s Employee Relief Fund, which provides employees who have been laid off due to this crisis with financial support, by clicking here.

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT – LONG-TERM HEALTHCARE

Long-term care providers, for the past two-plus months, have been working tirelessly to take care of a large percentage of our nation’s elderly and infirmed population. blumshapiro partner Jonathan Fink laid out his thoughts on the road to recovery for long-term care providers. You can read his analysis by clicking here.

Plus, here are a few additional resources:

ONGOING – FINANCIAL RELIEF PROGRAMS FOR BUSINESSES

We’ve mentioned most of these programs in prior weekly updates (after all, this is our ninth COVID-19 weekly update) – but they’re still available, so we keep including them. Feel free to keep scrolling if you’ve read our past dispatches.

Rhode Island rolls out Microenterprise Stabilization Grant Program (MSGP)

Introduced by Rhode Island Commerce on Thursday, April 23, the MSGP is designed to provide financial relief to small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 but left out of federal stimulus programs. The program can provide up to $5,000 to so-called microenterprises, which are defined as “bona fide business entities with between two-five employees” whose owners’ total household income must be 80% less than their hometown’s median income.

These loans are only available in participating towns and cities across Rhode Island. Learn more about the program, and find the links to apply, by clicking here.

Staying with Rhode Island Commerce, here are a few additional resources:

Department of Health & Human Services announces funding to healthcare providers

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has announced $30 billion in immediate relief funding to healthcare providers in support of the national response to COVID-19, as part of the distribution of the $100 billion provider relief fund provided for in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

This site is open to all healthcare providers, regardless of network affiliation or payer contract. HHS is contracting with UnitedHealth Group to facilitate delivery of the funds. Learn more, and apply, by clicking here. 

LISC, Citizens Bank distribute Small Business Recovery Grants

Citizens Bank teamed up with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation last week to launch a Small Business Recovery Grant Program. The program offered eligible businesses grants of up to $7,500 to help limit layoffs and continue to provide employee benefits.

Citizens and LISC began accepting and fulfilling applications on Monday. The organizations said the fund was exhausted before the end of the week.

LISC is currently promoting several other grants on its website, including a few that were funded by joint donations from Verizon and Sam’s Club. Learn more by clicking here.

Small Business Administration resources

The Small Business Administration’s Rhode Island District Office is promoting a couple of webinars scheduled for next week. Sign up by clicking here.

Plus, remember: The SBA funds a network of partners that offer local businesses free counselling and guidance through this crisis. Here are the links to learn more:

Wounded Warrior Project and Disabled American Veterans announce relief efforts

The Wounded Warrior Project committed $10 million to “help meet the immediate needs of warriors who are in urgent and significant financial crisis” due to this crisis. Learn more by clicking here.

Disabled American Veterans also launched a program to financially support veterans across the country. Through this program, DAV is planning to provide at least 2,500 grants of $250 to self-employed veterans. Learn more by clicking here.

Rhode Island Student Loan Authority providing aid to local businesses

The CARES Act includes a provision that will allow employers to provide a student-loan repayment benefit to employees on a tax-free basis. Here in Rhode Island, the state’s Student Loan Authority is encouraging local businesses to take advantage of that federal program by offering a 10% match per employee covered by a repayment program of a participating company. Learn more about their program by clicking here.

Capital Good Fund launches Crisis Relief Loans

The Capital Good Fund has developed an emergency loan program – ranging from $300 – $1,500 – to help individuals and families who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. These loans can be used for paying utilities, covering medical bills, paying rent, purchasing groceries and other uses. Learn more by clicking here.

THE WEEK AHEAD – UPCOMING WEBINARS, TRAININGS AND MORE

SCORE Rhode Island continues training series

SCORE Rhode Island is continuing to host informational webinars that may be helpful for the business community. Their ongoing list of webinars can be found on their website by clicking here.

Coming up in the next few weeks:

ONGOING: Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee continues hosting business forum calls

Typically held on Tuesdays and Fridays at noon each week, Lt. Gov. McKee’s business forum conference calls cover a wide range of topics related to the COVID-19 crisis. They are free to join and open to the public. You can keep an eye on the weekly schedule – and dial-in information – by following Lt. Gov. McKee on Facebook.

Eat Drink Rhode Island will help you decide on tonight’s takeout dinner

Dave Dadekian has transitioned his Eat Drink Rhode Island website into a one-stop shop to support the state’s struggling restaurant and bar community. The site has a little bit of everything. Here are a few of the popular landing spots.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Support Local:

Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee worked with the small business community to launch a new website that helps Rhode Islanders connect with and support their favorite shops, stores and restaurants. Learn more – and a buy a gift card to your favorite restaurant – by clicking here.

Donate to the COVID-19 Response Fund:

The Rhode Island Foundation and United Way teamed up at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis to create a dedicated philanthropic fund to support the nonprofit organizations on the frontlines of the pandemic.

The fund is currently accepting grant applications. Learn more, donate, or apply by clicking here.

OUR INSIGHTS: INDUSTRY-BY-INDUSTRY

Our team at blumshapiro is working every day to provide you with the latest information pertaining to the individual industries in which you operate. You can find real-time updates within the following links:

Our firm’s complete suite of COVID-19 webinars, articles and federal and state guidelines can be found by clicking here.

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

LOOKING AHEAD – THE NEW NORMAL

What does life after COVID-19 look like? That’ll be the question we all have to figure out together.

For now, here’s some interesting takes to add to your reading list:

SHOUT OUT TO HELPING HANDS

In times of crisis, Rhode Island’s business community is coming together. Let’s end with a few words of thanks.

Kudos to Dunkin’ Brands, which recently announced it would be waiving up to a month’s worth of rental fees for its more than 900 franchisees across the country.

Thanks to Fidelity, which is continuing to increase its donations and volunteer efforts to support those impacted by this crisis. Providence Business News outlines their efforts; catch up by clicking here.

Citizens Bank recently awarded grants to 11 Rhode Island small businesses, according to a news release published by Providence Business News.

Finally, a cool idea from the Providence Chamber of Commerce: They’re selling a shutdown-inspired T-shirt to raise funds for the COVID-19 Response Fund. Buy it here.

Finally, thank you to the Rhode Island Foundation and United Way, whose COVID-19 Response Fund has granted a total of $7.2 million to support more than 180 nonprofit organizations since the beginning of the pandemic.

 

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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