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COVID-19 Update for September 2: As we close out the summer, 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 September 2, here are the latest updates leaders in Rhode Island’s business community need to know.

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Insights  <  COVID-19 Update for September 2: As we close out the summer, 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 September 2, here are the latest updates leaders in Rhode Island’s business community need to know.

As we close out another New England summer and head into September, Rhode Islanders are still navigating a host of challenges related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Our team at blumshapiro is staying focused on answering the local business community’s most pressing questions. As of Wednesday, Sept. 2, here’s what you need to know.

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Enjoy the three-day weekend, and happy (almost) Fall.

LET’S START WITH SOME GOOD NEWS…

We’ve been at this for 25 weeks now. Let’s change up the order, and start with some good news from around Rhode Island and across the country.

Going back to school is going to be weird and occasionally scary. A pair of Florida teachers are lightening the mood in their classroom by transforming their students’ desks into tiny Jeep Wranglers.

The Rhode Island Foundation and United Way are continuing their respective herculean efforts to help. The Rhode Island Foundation awarded another $1 million in grants to non-profit organizations impacted by the pandemic; United Way distributed another $600,000.

Plus: Here’s the best Rhode Island has to offer, according to Rhode Island Monthly’s annual “Best of Rhode Island” Awards.

KEEP AN EYE ON THIS: FEDERAL UPDATES

Where are we on the next federal stimulus package?

The good news: Democrats and Republicans in Congress are $500 billion closer to a deal on the next federal stimulus package. The bad news: They’re still $900 billion apart.

Let’s quickly recap the negotiations…

Here’s where we started: The Democrat-controlled House introduced and passed a $3 trillion package known as the HEROES Act back in May. The Republican-controlled Senate countered with a proposed $1 trillion package known as the HEALS Act in July.

Here’s where we are now: On the left, the Democrats have reduced their proposal and floated a new plan with a $2.2 trillion price tag. On the right, Republicans have said they’d be willing to go up to $1.3 trillion.

Despite the $900 billion difference, there are plenty of items on which both parties agree. Both sides are in favor of a second round of direct payments, and their respective proposed funding levels for schools, vaccine development, and small business relief are pretty similar.

The big difference: The two sides of the aisle are extremely far apart when it comes to the level of federal aid they think state and local governments need. The Democrats’ proposal includes $915 billion in federal aid earmarked for direct support to local governments. The Republicans’ proposal offers around $150 billion.

What’s next? It sounds like Senate Republicans are aiming to unveil their latest proposal as early as next week. From there, we’ll have to wait and see.

How about the Paycheck Protection Program?

The new news: The U.S. Small Business Administration recently rolled out updated guidance on loan forgiveness for the Paycheck Protection Program, including new interim final rules and updated FAQ documents.

blumshapiro partner William Moore, Jr. broke down the newly issued guidance on our website. Read his analysis by clicking here, and catch up on the latest below.

Meanwhile, a report released this week by the House Oversight Committee found that thousands of PPP loans were improperly issued to businesses that shouldn’t have been eligible. This development may lead to additional hurdles being added to the loan forgiveness process.

blumshapiro has been at the forefront of interpreting PPP guidance and providing trusted resources for our clients since the program launched in April.

Our team is working with clients to assist them with navigating through compliance requirements of the loan forgiveness program, to ensure forgiveness is received, help expedite the loan forgiveness process and provide a reliable and trusted source of information. You can learn more about our loan forgiveness services by clicking here.

Let’s talk about that payroll tax break…

With Congress locked in a stalemate on the next stimulus package, President Trump’s administration took a handful of matters – namely: deferring payroll tax collection for some workers; extending enhanced unemployment benefits; encouraging federal agencies to extend an eviction ban; and delaying student loan payments – into their own hands.

The response to these efforts has been… mixed. The details of the enhanced unemployment benefits have confused governors across the country; affordable housing advocates say the eviction moratorium touted by the White House isn’t a moratorium at all; and the student loan deferrals have been called anything from vague, to insufficient, to deeply concerning.

Let’s focus on the payroll tax deferral, which officially took effect on Sept. 1.

President Trump’s August memo specifically called for a deferral of employees’ portion of the payroll tax from Sept. 1 through the end of the year. The deferral applies to employees whose biweekly pay is less than $4,000, which amounts to employees who earn annual salaries of less than $104,000.

In theory, the payroll tax deferral will add a little something extra to employees’ paychecks from now through the end of the year. The catch: The IRS issued guidance related to this deferral last week, specifying that these deferred payroll taxes will indeed be due in 2021.

The question employers are struggling with: How will this work? If business owners don’t withhold their workers’ portion of the payroll tax, the employees may be responsible for paying the IRS those deferred funds in 2021 – which, at best, would complicate their April tax returns, or, at worst, put some employees in a financial bind.

Employers do have an option to “make arrangements to other collect the total applicable taxes” from their employees, but that comes with its own complications.

This will be a pressing compliance issue for many business owners. We encourage you to contact us or your financial advisors to put together a plan that will work for you.

Quick Hits: More national news…

The $600 billion Main Street Lending Program, already extended through the end of the year, is now open to non-profit organizations.

The race to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine is still on, and the FDA might be getting closer to issuing authorizations.

As schools start their reopening processes, teachers have officially been deemed essential workers.

Plus: Are websites dedicated to COVID-19 information too confusing? The Rhode Island primary is coming up, and November is right around the corner. Are you ready to vote? And, look under your cushions and dig through your car’s cupholders. The nation’s grocers need your spare change.

THE LATEST – NEWS FROM RHODE ISLAND

Let’s start with the latest numbers…

As of Tuesday evening, 22,002 Rhode Islanders had tested positive for COVID-19. Eighty-one patients were currently in the hospital, and 1,050 individuals had passed away due to the virus. The state had processed 530,488 COVID-19 tests.


Rhode Island is (mostly) set to go back to school…

The focus in Rhode Island this week has been the state’s effort to reopen schools with in-person learning, a move that has obvious impacts on just about everybody.

The latest: Governor Raimondo is still eying Sept. 14 as the official “first day of school,” but she’s made it clear that school districts have some flexibility to “ease into” in-person learning over the first four weeks. The goal is to have all Rhode Island students back in the classroom for in-person learning by October 13.

The state has launched a website dedicated to providing Back to School information. Head to www.back2schoolri.com for the latest.

Meanwhile: Most of Rhode Island’s colleges and universities are back up and running with comprehensive testing and contact-tracing strategies and extremely strict social-distancing policies.

ROUND 2 OPEN: Restore RI Small Business Grant Program…

The $50 million Restore RI Grant Program – the first wave of the $200 million plan to support Rhode Island’s small business community – officially launched at the beginning of August.

Around 1,500 businesses applied during the first round of the application process, requesting roughly $15 million in grants. Round 2 of the popular local program launched on August 15.

The Restore RI initiative was designed to support the state’s most severely impacted small businesses. To be eligible, businesses must have 10 employees or fewer (with some industry-specific exceptions), and they must prove that the pandemic has led to significant losses in revenue. Grants of up to $15,000 are available, and they can be used to cover large fixed expenses like rent and utilities, or costs related to reopening their doors in compliance with the state’s COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

Want to apply? Click here.

State rolls out other programs to support local businesses…

Restore RI isn’t the only program Rhode Island leaders have launched in recent weeks. A few others include…

  • Back to Work Rhode Island is a program led out of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training that aims to help unemployed Rhode Islanders find work. By partnering directly with local businesses, the initiative aims to connect people with job opportunities in vibrant sectors across the state. Learn more by clicking here.
  • Rhode Island Reconnect, a program from the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, was created to help Rhode Islanders change careers, learn a new trade or work toward a degree or professional certificate. Learn more by clicking here.
  • The Neighborhood Business Grant Program, funded by Lowe’s and administered by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), is offering financial support to small businesses across Rhode Island. The initiative has been funded with $400,000, and minority- and women-owned businesses will be prioritized. Learn more by clicking here.

A full list of COVID-19 business resources is available on Rhode Island Commerce’s website. Find it by clicking here.

We’re still in Phase III of the ReopeningRI plan…

…And we’ll probably stay here for a little while. As Rhode Island’s daily COVID-19 positive caseload trends in the wrong direction, state leaders are cracking down on the existing rules and adding new restrictions.

A Phase III reminder: If you’re planning to reopen, you have some paperwork to fill out. Here’s where to start.

  • 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.

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHTS

We took another industry-by-industry tour around the Web. Here’s what we’re reading.

Hospitality: The pandemic has obviously hit the hotel industry hard, but businesses across the country are flexing their creativity muscles with solutions. As travelers keep canceling their traditional family trips, hotels are moving away from marketing toward vacationers and toward establishing themselves as social-distancing meccas. Their new targets? How about stressed-out remote workers who need a change of scenery? Or college students who miss their dorms?

Can you imagine trying to open up a brand-new hotel during a pandemic? These folks did it. Here’s how it went.

Plus: Want to watch an interesting webinar right now? The National Restaurant Association has a great one on “The Road Ahead” for the food-service industry. Want to watch one next week? Tune in on Sept. 8 for this one on the global hotel industry.

Finally: Two items of note for Rhode Islanders: 1) The University of Rhode Island’s Small Business Development Center is offering free business consulting services for restaurants and caterers; and 2) the Rhode Island Hospitality Association worked with a local law firm to develop an in-depth FAQ document related to recovering from the COVID-19 crisis.

Long-term care: Nursing home operators have received additional guidance as to how much control they’ll have over their portion of federal relief funds.

Plus: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently rolled out a comprehensive infection-control training program for frontline facilities. Here’s the latest on the qualifying hospital stay and benefit period waivers.

Construction: The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation issued new guidelines for construction companies operating in Rhode Island. According to the Associated General Contractors of America’s local chapter, the guidance itself hasn’t changed much – but it’s now officially formalized.


THE NEW NORMAL

As always, we’re on the look-out to learn how businesses across the country are navigating this crisis. Here’s what we’re reading this week.

Companies are trying everything to help keep their remote employees engaged… even helping them grow herb gardens and surprising them with confetti.

Speaking of remote work: Some businesses are considering just making their work-from-home policies permanent fixtures even after COVID-19 is behind us. Pinterest, for example, just doled out nearly $90 million to terminate its lease! Here are the pros and cons of ditching your office space.

Plus: Monitoring employees’ health while respecting their privacy is a tough juggling act. Here’s what experts recommend. And… have you ever heard of companies offering paid paternity leave… for pet owners? Now you have. What a world.

 

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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