Notes: Programs and policies to help businesses are changing every day – this information is accurate as of April 1.
The blanket of quiet that covers typically lively streets and sidewalks in the region is eerie. I found myself in the weird position of wishing there were fewer parking spaces available in Reston Town Center. This quiet is a killer for commerce as residents hunker down in their homes to comply with safe distancing requirements to stop the spread of COVID-19. Thousands of businesses in the region are seeing their revenue disappear, making it difficult to pay the rent and other bills.
Amid all this stress, it’s heartening to see how quickly governments and economic development organizations have pivoted to focus on developing resources and relief for their businesses, particularly smaller ones that make up a significant amount of the retail and hospitality trade. Enabling access to staff in various agencies for help with routine, often time-sensitive questions is another challenge that governments at all levels are sorting out as well.
Small businesses will want to explore options from all sources, public and private, and act quickly to avoid losing out and allow time for applications to be approved. For example, Virginia Career Works is being deluged with applications for the Rapid Response funds authorized by the governor to help employers stay open and avoid layoffs (these monies can’t be used for payroll or benefits).
Federal sources include the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) temporary Paycheck Protection Program, funds that employers will not have to repay if they meet certain conditions, as well as long-term low-interest loans and bridge loans for immediate needs. Qualifying businesses can apply now for the new Economic Injury Disaster Loan to pay fixed debts, payroll and other bills; interest rates are 3.75% for businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits.
For businesses of all sizes, the US Treasury just announced the Business Retention Credit for employers whose business is fully or partially suspended by government order during the calendar quarter AND whose gross receipts are below 50% of the comparable quarter in 2019.
At the state level, businesses and individuals must still file Virginia income taxes by May 1 but can delay paying income taxes due until June 1; interest will still accrue. Regional workforce teams will be activated to support employers that slow or cease operations; those employers will not be financially penalized for an increase in workers requesting unemployment benefits.
Virginia Community Capital is teaming up with two organizations to host a free webinar Fridays (starting April 3) and Tuesday evenings to give updates from state leaders on new state resources for small businesses, offer management, finance, and marketing tips, and field questions about programs. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce is also updating information from multiple state agencies on this page.
Examples of private-sector assistance for customers are everywhere, I’m happy to report. Loudoun County Business Retention Manager Chris Hunter noted that landlords and banks in the county have shown flexibility on loan terms and payments, and some are offering discounted rates.
- Utilities are suspending disconnection and offering alternative payment arrangements.
- Telecom companies such as Cox and Verizon are waiving penalties for late payment and other breaks.
- Chambers of commerce are also stepping up to help – for example, Alexandria’s chamber keeps a list of shops and restaurants offering pick up or delivery service.
Local/Regional: Below are highlights of local business assistance throughout the region as of April 2; to find about tax deadlines and other relief not mentioned, contact your jurisdiction.
- Mason SBDC and the Community Business Partnership are available to help via individual counseling sessions (via Zoom) with questions about the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans and other topics.
- Alexandria (SBDC): Regularly updating a helpful, detailed explanation of the SBA disaster loan and has counselors who can explain it.
- Arlington County: Waiving interest and penalties for local taxes if they are paid by May 31. Developed a resource guide for restaurants and small businesses and a list of businesses offering delivery and curbside pick-up; the county will put up a sign designating curbside free parking spaces upon request.
- Fairfax City: Extended the deadline for payment of the meals and occupancy taxes for 90 days; the returns still need to be filed on time. See the COVID webpage for resources such as a flyer to educate customers about social distancing and links to business groups that are promoting curbside and delivery options to the public.
- Fairfax County: Established a resource webpage that includes webinars from the NoVA Chamber of Commerce on key topics such as “Understanding Leases and Contracts in the COVID 19 Landscape.” Also, the county’s Business Emergency Operations Council, which works as a liaison with the county, has set up a dashboard that businesses and associations can access.
- Loudoun County: Hosts a one-stop shop webpage that directs users to various types of resources, some customized information for rural businesses, and also launched a LoudounPossible podcast with updates on new resources.
- City of Manassas: Businesses can sign up for a newsletter to get regular updates; the economic development staff is also available for consultation.
- Prince William County: Offers a resource page with links to various sites, as well as staff consulting services. The tourism office is asking businesses to complete a short survey to assess the impacts.
- Stafford County: Set up the Stafford Small Business Coronavirus Disaster Assistance Grant Fund with $250,000 for operating capital to small businesses to meet immediate needs. The COVID site has links for industry resource pages and large private relief efforts such as Facebook and Verizon.
Please, Don’t Leave Anything on the Table
Before COVID, many counties had excellent business resources (in libraries, as well as EDOs) that I suspect don’t get used nearly enough; educating citizens about what is available to them is a daunting task - I know, I’ve been there. How many companies, for example, are aware that two Virginia transportation agencies joined forces to provide up to $10,000 to employers affected by construction on I-66 and I-395 to help pay for telework costs?
So, if there is a bright spot to be had in all of this, perhaps it is that companies will discover these in looking for relief.
Ann Marie Maloney, a native to the Washington, DC area, is a communications consultant who specializes in small business, economic development, and getting information to people who need it. She spent eight years making tax issues clear and has mostly recovered from it. Ann Marie can be found at www.amsquared.net.