The St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce hosted a COVID-19 conference call Friday morning with U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, who answered questions submitted to the Chamber by north country small businesses over the last week.
About 80 participants tuned in at 11 a.m. seeking clarification on the $2-trillion economic relief package passed by the Senate late Wednesday night and by the House Friday. President Donald J. Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, into law late Friday afternoon.
Friday’s conference call largely covered the small business portions of the legislation.
“This bill provides robust support for small businesses who are facing really an unprecedented time, an unprecedented challenge, particularly in the state of New York, and particularly in our district,” Ms. Stefanik said.
She added that with the north country’s high percentage of businesses in the tourism, hospitality, restaurant and retail industries, her focus is on “small business rescue, not on Wall Street.”
In addition to the one-time direct payment of up to $1,200 for many adults, the package includes $500 billion in loans to large businesses — airlines, cities, states and companies deemed important for national security — $377 billion in loans and grants for small businesses, $150 billion for local, state and tribal governments and $130 billion for hospitals.
The CARES Act blocks foreclosures and evictions on federally-backed mortgage properties during the pandemic and pauses federal student loan payments for six months, with interest waived. It also expands who qualifies for unemployment assistance to now include freelancers and those who have been furloughed.
Remaining funding under the CARES Act has been designated for food assistance programs, the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Postal Service.
Part of the $377 billion in loans and grants for small businesses is designated for partially-forgivable Small Business Association loans, which will be approved and administered by local financial institutions. And “most” of each of those loans will not have to be paid back, Ms. Stefanik said.
“The SBA partners with local financial institutions, community banks, credit unions, and I think that’s the right model because it cuts out the typical federal bureaucracy, but it also gives those local financial institutions the flexibility to understand what the needs of the community are,” she said.
Moving forward, she continued, the priority will be ensuring SBA regional offices and financial institutions have the capacity to process a higher volume of loan applications.
“We’re already working with the SBA regional administrators to prepare,” she said, adding that New York has already seen an overwhelming number of unemployment applicants and the online application platform “is not used to this level of traffic.”
Canton’s Small Business Development Center housed at SUNY Canton and development centers nationwide may receive supplemental funding through the CARES Act to assist with providing information about new loan programs.
The relief package assigns $240 million in supplemental funding to SBA resource partners, which include small business development centers and women’s business centers.
“That’s a key focus of this as well, making sure that those resources that are already out in the community get supplemental funding to meet the incoming demand that they’re going to get from the business community,” Mareck Laco, Ms. Stefanik’s legislative director, said Friday.
Amid questions circulating across the country about what the CARES Act does, and for whom, Ms. Stefanik said a top priority remains: public health.
“My office has prioritized public health, and we have been working with our county public health officials across the district since the onset of the coronavirus,” she said.
“Both the governor and the president are in close touch — as well as the New York delegation — about what the plan is to prioritize public health, while also understanding the economic challenges that this has created for so many families.”
Ms. Stefanik said guidelines for specific concerns about small business aid through the relief package are forthcoming from the IRS and the U.S. Department of Labor.