Businesses grappling with the impacts of measures taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 received updated information from an online panel Wednesday, April 8. About 100 people signed into the virtual panel, hosted by the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“This [pandemic] is new to everybody. So please have patience, and remember people are doing their best to provide information and answers,” said chamber president Karen Groh. “The chamber is here for our business community. We’re a resource for you.”

The organization’s online list of resources can be found here.

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Greg Moreland, chief of staff for state Sen. Dave Arnold, said 1.179 million claims for unemployment compensation have been filed statewide since March 15—that’s 400,000 more than the total amount of claims in 2019. He said Arnold backs legislation that would allow waivers for public and private construction activities that use appropriate mitigation measures to prevent exposure to the virus. According to Arnold’s website, Pennsylvania is the only state to shut down all active public and private construction sites as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and the Department of Homeland Security recently designated residential construction as “essential infrastructure business.”

“We’re taking a look at how we’re going to come out of this with regard to both economic and health issues,” Moreland said.

Funding for businesses impacted by COVID-19 issues is available through the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act), legislation that was signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27. It provides several emergency capital programs.

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The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provides cash-flow assistance through federally guaranteed Small Business Administration (SBA) loans administered by banks and credit unions. If the employer maintains payroll, the portion of the loan used to cover employee salaries and limited other expenses will be forgiven. Kim Stout, SBA economic development and labor relations specialist, said PPP went live Friday, April 3. She stressed that there are some stipulations for the loan to be forgiven including the fact that 75 percent of the loan amount must be used for payroll.

She said independent contractors, freelancers and other gig workers are also eligible for the PPP program, and further information for those business owners is anticipated to be available Friday, April 10.

SBA funding through the CARES Act also expands eligibility to Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and provides an emergency advance of up to $10,000 to small businesses and private nonprofits harmed by COVID-19 within 3 days of applying for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).

Stout said SBA is hosting daily webinars on the emergency capital programs. The 90-minute webinars are held Monday through Friday beginning at noon. She said they will be held through April 17 via this link. For information on the webinar email the SBA district office at phila_do@sba.gov.

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Additionally Stout said a number of counties are developing their own programs to support small business.

Groh said a number of area financial institutions are SBA lenders and may already be working with their business clients to navigate the SBA emergency capital programs. Rebecca Witherite, Fulton Bank commercial relationship manager, said Fulton Bank is accepting applications only from existing clients, but may open it up down the road. Craig Connelly, BELCO Community Credit Union business developer and branch manager, and Courtney Eisenhauer, Members 1st Federal Credit Union, both said their financial institutions are working only with existing clients. Jim Rovito, First Citizens Community Bank fair lending officer, said while the bank is working with its customers, applications are also being accepted from nonprofit organizations.

Roger North, founder and president of North Group Consultants, offered some advice for business owners. “Times of abundance and times of adversity of the greatest opportunities for us to grow as leaders and to grow our organization’s culture and effectiveness,” he said, “As leaders we are called on for messages of hope and for a greater future. Your calling as a leader is to cast a vision for the future.”

He encouraged business leaders to over-engage with colleagues, clients, customers and with their community. Over-communicate with your team — the reality of the situation and how it affects them and the business. He also suggested when giving an offer to help—make it specific rather than a general offer.

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Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.

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