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Sen. Needleman: COVID-19 March 30, 2020 Update — Update on Bridge Loan Program, CARES ACT Business Impact

From our State Senator, Norm Needleman.

Update on Bridge Loan Program

Applications for the Connecticut Recovery Bridge Loan program were stopped last week due to extreme demand. In less than two days, the program has received more than 4,000 applications. To help meet that demand, DECD and partner Connecticut Innovations have added new staff to process applications and have doubled funding to $50 million. If they did not stop taking applications, they would not be able to process current ones. Leaders will continue to provide updates as they’re made available.

Approval of Major Disaster Declaration

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has granted Connecticut’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration for the state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, thereby unlocking additional federal assistance programs for the state. The approval is for public assistance, meaning that impacted state agencies and municipalities in all eight counties will be reimbursed for 75 percent of the costs associated with their response and emergency protective measures.

What Exactly Did Congress Do Last Week?

Under the “Social Security and the CARES Act” passed last week by Congress, Social Security and SSI recipients are eligible for certain rebate payments:

  • The full rebate amounts are $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.
  • Everyone is eligible for the full rebate payments as long as they have an Social Security number and their household income is not too high. Rebate payments start to phase out at the thresholds of $75,000 for a single filer, $112,500 for head of household, and $150,000 for a married couple filer. This includes Social Security beneficiaries (retirement, disability, survivor) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients.
  • Many people will be paid automatically by Internal Revenue Service (IRS): everyone who filed a 2019 or 2018 tax return, and all Social Security beneficiaries (whether or not they filed a return). Others – including SSI recipients, who often do not file taxes – may need to take additional action to be determined by the IRS. One possibility is that they would be asked to file some sort of abbreviated return to get the payments, like with the 2008 stimulus rebates.
  • Like other tax credits, these payments do not count as income or resources for means-tested programs. So receiving a rebate will not interfere with your eligibility for SSI, SNAP, Medicaid, ACA premium credits, TANF, housing assistance, or other income-related federal programs.
  • These rebates do not affect receipt of state or federal unemployment compensation.
  • The bill also lets employers temporarily delay payment of their share of Social Security payroll taxes. This doesn’t mean they don’t owe these taxes, but rather they will make these payments in 2021 and 2022. This effectively allows the federal government to loan these businesses funds to ensure that they can continue operating during this crisis.
  • The bill also requires the Treasury Department, in conjunction with other federal agencies, to conduct a “public awareness campaign” about the rebates, especially targeting those who don’t file tax returns.

CARES ACT Business Impact

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed by Congress last week includes several important benefits for small businesses and nonprofits in Connecticut:​

  • Paycheck Protection Program Loans: Provide cash-flow assistance through federally guaranteed loans to employers who maintain their payroll during this emergency. If employers maintain their payroll, the loans will be forgiven.
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans & Emergency Injury Grants: An emergency advance of up to $10,000 to small businesses and private nonprofits harmed by COVID-19 within three days of applying for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Grants and loans may be used to keep employees on payroll, pay for sick leave, meet increased production costs due to supply chain disruptions, or pay business obligations, including debts, rent and mortgage payments.
  • Small Business Debt Relief Program: Provides immediate relief to small businesses with non-disaster SBA loans, in particular 7(a), 504, and microloans. Under this program, the Small Business Administraiton will cover all loan payments on previously secured SBA loans, including principal, interest, and fees, for six months.
  • Employee Retention Credit for Employers Subject to Closure or Experiencing Economic Hardship: A refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of wages paid by eligible employers to certain employees during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Delay of Payment of Employer Payroll Taxes: Allows taxpayers to defer paying the employer portion of certain payroll taxes through the end of 2020, with all 2020 deferred amounts due in two equal installments, one at the end of 2021, the other at the end of 2022.
  • Counseling and Training: Local resource partners can be found here. 

For more details on the CARES Act , please visit Connecticut’s COVID-19 Business Resource Portal.

CDC Travel Advisory

This weekend, several conflicting reports arose concerning a potential quarantine of states including Connecticut. The travel advisory in Connecticut has not changed since Governor Lamont enacted “Stay Home, Stay Safe” on March 20. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued similar language on Saturday. Connecticut residents are asked to continue to avoid non-essential travel and to self-quarantine themselves for 14 days after traveling or crossing state borders as part of an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

A CT Transportation Update from the DOT

The state Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to monitor and modify its operations in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Here’s a few new updates:

  • The DOT has alerted its contractors and consultants, assuring them that investing in Connecticut’s  infrastructure, now more than ever, will help our economy recover. To that end,  transportation construction projects are continuing as scheduled.
  • Daily vehicle traffic volumes statewide have dropped substantially and are currently averaging 40% to 50% below normal. As a result of fewer vehicles on the roadway, road and bridge construction operations are modifying their activities to include new, longer duration, and weekday lane closures. These modified activities will allow contractors to complete more work without hampering traffic flow.
  • Maintenance Department facilities and garages are open. Highway and roadway maintenance–  including pothole repair, sign and guiderail repair, debris removal, tree removal, traffic signal repairs, and other related activities – will continue.
  • With declines in ridership on trains as a result “Stay Safe, Stay Home, ”  the DOT has made several changes in rail services. Beginning today, March 30, the New Haven Line will operate on an hourly schedule, with extra trains during peak times weekdays. This is approximately 50% less than a normal weekday schedule. The New Canaan Line, Danbury Line and Waterbury Line will also operate on a reduced schedule.
  • Also beginning today, the Hartford Line, both CTrail Hartford Line and Amtrak Hartford Line services, will run on a new special weekday schedule. The new schedule will be posted on the web site and at Hartford Line train stations. Shore Line East will continue to operate on a weekend schedule seven days per week.
  • CTtransit bus service and transit district services continue to move significant numbers of customers statewide, even though ridership is about 50% of a typical weekday. Many of these riders are traveling for essential purposes such as work or medical care.  Bus services continue to operate on a weekday schedule with some exceptions.
  • The DOT strongly encourages the public to reserve bus and public transit for ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY such as getting to and from work or for procuring essential needs such as food and medication. Customers should practice social distancing while waiting at bus stops and while riding the bus.
  • The service plazas and rest areas on I-95, I-395 and the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways remain open, with stepped-up cleaning and sanitization procedures. Only take-out food is being served and all seating areas are closed.

Donating Important PPEs

More companies are stepping up and meeting the extreme challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak. Most recently, Ardent Display Group of East Hartford, a company specializing in plastic products, recently designed and began manufacturing of a physician-approved plastic face shield for use in hospitals. They plan to donate 10,000 of these shields to local hospitals. While COVID-19 is a dire threat, Connecticut is responding in a reassuring way. Anyone who can make donations of PPEs and other protective equipment should visit www.211ct.org/DonationsCOVID19.

New State Resources

State officials have compiled several significant resources to assist the public during this continued outbreak. The Department of Children and Families has created an extensive guide to support online learning during school closings, available here. Additionally, the Governor’s office has created a list of information for residents to ensure they can remain connected to the internet available here.

Supporting Small Businesses and Restaurants

Many businesses are seeing downturns as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads. The governor’s office has compiled a list of information and strategies to help small businesses during this difficult time, including:

  • Selling e-giftcards, which will provide immediate cash flow while giving customers something to look forward to when the crisis is over
  • Promoting pre-orders, allowing business owners short-term financing while promoting select items
  • Enhancing online footprints, creating new and more detailed online platforms for business
  • Creating flexible service options, including potentially developing an online delivery platform

As well, people looking to support favorite local businesses can utilize strategies including:

  • Buying e-giftcards as something to look forward to after the crisis ends
  • Ordering products from stores for delivery online
  • Pre-ordering products
  • Ordering take-out or delivery from online platforms for restaurants

Connecticut Housing Finance Authority Updates

The Connecticut Housing Finance Authority has released a number of updates in its policies responding to COVID-19. These include:

  • Delaying payments for the Energy Conservation Loan program for three months
    • Actively, loans in this program represent about $5.3 million, with an average loan balance of more than $5,270. Each participant will save an average of $90.
  • Waiving its policy of waiting up to 30 days to implement income changes for rental assistance programs and federal section 8 vouchers. For the next three months, families can get immediate adjustments.
  • Rapid exit and rehousing funding has been increased to assist people in shelters in finding permanent housing. This will also help fund the purchase of hotel rooms for at-risk homeless individuals.
  • CHFA is purchasing 100 hotel rooms to serve 200 elderly citizens.
  • For the next 60 days, all CHFA loans will see all new foreclosures halted, all foreclosures in action suspended and all eviction and ejectment activity ceased until May 19.
  • CHFA is also making itself available to borrowers to discuss forbearance and loan modifications.

Primary Voting

Legislators are working with the Secretary of State and Governor to potentially amend voting regulations, allowing any voter to apply for an absentee ballot in the upcoming primary and general elections. Given the threat posed by the COVID-19 epidemic, we need to make voting as accessible as possible. I will let you know if this effort is successful.

Caring For Your Pets

The Humane Society of the United States has provided a toolkit for how local animal shelters may best prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as information about pets and COVID-19: https://www.animalsheltering.org/COVID19

For more information about caring for your pets while facing the challenges of COVID-19, please visit https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/coronavirus-covid-19-faq. This link includes important information on how to create an emergency plan.

Resources For Education

If your kids are cooped up at home and you want to make sure they’re still learning while schools are closed, please utilize these free educational services.

The PBS KIDS Daily Newsletter shares fun activities and tips to help your kids learn at home.

Zearn Math has 400 hours of digital lessons, with on-screen teachers, meant to inspire a love of math. Service is free to use during this time.

Code Break is a weekly challenge webcast teaching children about computer science.

Reminder! Wash Your Reusable Grocery Bags

While we’re washing our hands and standing six feet away from others and wiping down pin pads and door handles and smart phones with antibacterial wipes, let’s not forget another personal item that we need to keep clean: our grocery bags!

Think about it: canvas and polypropylene grocery bags get tossed on the floor of your car, or stored in the trunk. They’re hauled around 12 months of the year and filled with everything from garlic bulbs and fresh lettuce to cereal boxes and canned goods. They get warm, damp, dirty, and they collect spills and odors.

Connecticut is phasing-out the use of single-use plastic grocery bags; many private grocery store chains have already decided to do this on their own due to customer demand and out of a concern for the environment.

Like washing kitchen towels, or bath towels, or the kids’ sports gear, recyclable grocery bags are pretty easy to clean. Here’s how:

  • Canvas bags are the easiest to clean. Just toss them in the washing machine and launder them in hot water with detergent. Then run them through the dryer. Voila! They’re like new.
  • Recycled plastic bags, like those made from recycled plastic containers (i.e. polypropylene bags), should be washed by hand in warm, soapy water and then line dried.
  • Nylon bags should be turned inside-out and washed by hand in warm, soapy water. If you prefer to machine wash them, use the gentlest cycle. Then allow them to air dry.
  • Some people use insulated shopping bags to carry frozen foods or refrigerated meat. Just wipe these bags down with a disinfectant spray or cloth.

Pfizer Support

Pfizer’s Connecticut locations and more than 3,000 workers are working to fight COVID-19. Its Groton Labs research facility and clinical research unit in New Haven are allowing it to be on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic. Among the steps it’s taking to help stop COVID-19 are:

  • A collaboration with German biotech company BioNTech to research and develop a potential vaccine for COVID-19, which the Food and Drug Administration is engaging with. It hopes to begin clinical trials by late April.
  • Studies of a protease inhibitor developed for a similar coronavirus intended to be developed and adapted into an antiviral
  • These efforts in our own backyard are reassuring that steps to fight COVID-19 are being actively undertaken.

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