In the past few weeks, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has put forth several relief efforts directed towards businesses in an effort to alleviate the strain caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 or coronavirus.
Governor Wolf’s Disaster Relief Order
On March 6th, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued an Executive Order mandating business closures throughout the Commonwealth to mitigate the risk of spreading coronavirus, or his “Disaster Declaration Order.” As a part of that Order, the Governor allowed for greater flexibility in a variety of industries. For example, the Order allowed for greater flexibility in the application of state and federal motor carrier regulations to accommodate truck drivers involved in emergency activities during this time. Accordingly, the Governor directed the Commonwealth Department of Transportation to waive or suspend any laws, or federal or state regulations, related to the drivers of commercial vehicles.
Moreover, both Governor Wolf and Rachel Levine, MD, Secretary of Health, have ordered that life-sustaining businesses and services (as outlined in this list) may continue to maintain in-person operations, but that other non-essential businesses such as gyms, salons and spas, casinos, concert venues, theatres, bars, sporting event facilities, golf courses, and non-essential retail facilities like shopping malls (except for pharmacies or other health care facilities located therein) must shut down. Liquor stores were also ordered to shut down pursuant to the orders, though grocery stores with Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board licenses may still sell wine and beer. Restaurants are permitted to remain open for carry-out and delivery only. Enforcement actions against businesses that do not close their physical locations began at 8:00 a.m. on March 23rd.
Business Exemption Options
Businesses may seek a waiver or exemption to the closure order by using Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development’s (DCED) Business Exemption Form. Among other things, the form asks how the business seeking the exemption meets the definition of “life-sustaining.” Furthermore, it asks whether the business has a plan to meet Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended guidelines to maintain employee safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses seeking an exemption should be mindful of the CDC’s guidance on the limitation on the number of persons permitted to be in one work space, and be ready to answer the above questions. Once an exemption form has been submitted, decisions will be communicated by email. In making its decisions, the Commonwealth will seek to balance public health, safety, and the security of its industry supply chains supporting life-sustaining businesses.
Additional Resources for Business Relief
Businesses that do not wish to seek, or do not qualify for, a business exemption have other sources of financial relief available. For example, the Pennsylvania DCED offers working capital loans that could be of assistance to businesses impacted by COVID-19. DCED resources and information will be posted to its website as they become available.
The United States Small Business Administration (SBA), in addition to local funding partners, may also be a source of assistance for affected businesses. The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they may be experiencing. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that are not being paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75%.
Moreover, the Commonwealth just created a portal for manufacturers, distributors, and other suppliers to upload information about supplies available for purchase so that the Commonwelath can efficiently procure these supplies for hospitals and other medical facilities across Pennsylvania. Notably, this includes any manufacturers that can shift their production to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) such as protective clothing, helmets, gloves, face shields, goggles, facemasks and/or respirators or other equipment designed to protect the wearer from injury or the spread of infection or illness (e.g., specialized sewing companies).
The Commonwealth has also decided that businesses that are temporarily closed due to COVID-19 will be granted Relief from Charges for any benefits received by a former employee who files for unemployment compensation, and their tax rates will not be increased because of COVID-19 related claims. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has programs to assist businesses impacted by COVID-19. The Shared Work Program, for example, can help keep employees attached to a business’s workplace by allowing an employer to temporarily reduce work hours rather than resorting to layoffs.
If a business has had to close temporarily, consider layoffs, or is financially at-risk for permanent closure, the Rapid Response Assistance Program is available to assist it with a variety of services and resources to help it. The Response Team is also available to assist employees. Moreover, the Commonwealth offers Local Assistance Partners so that businesses can contact them to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on their daily operations.
COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program
The COVID-19 Working Capital Access (CWCA) Program is administered by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA) and provides critical working capital financing to small businesses located within the Commonwealth that are adversely impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Importantly, there are no loan repayments required for the first 12 months.
All CWCA loan applications must be submitted through a Certified Economic Development Organization (CEDO). An eligible small business enterprise is a for-profit, limited liability company, partnership, proprietorship, or other legal business entity located in Pennsylvania, and having 100 or fewer full-time employees worldwide at the time of submission of the application. There will be a limit of $100,000 for each loan. The interest rate for such loans is 0%, except for agricultural producers, for whom the interest rate is 2%.
Philadelphia Small Business Relief Fund
The Philadelphia Small Business Relief Fund, jointly administered by the Department of Commerce (DOC) and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), offers grants or zero-interest loans to Philadelphia small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program aims to provide relief to small businesses in order to help them survive this crisis, retain as many employees as possible, help businesses avoid predatory lenders, and maintain the provision of goods and services for Philadelphia’s residents.
This is a three-tiered fund. Accordingly, the particular relief that a business qualifies for depends on its revenue level as follows:
- Microenterprise Grants: Businesses are eligible for up to $5,000 per business for businesses with less than $500,000 in annual revenue.
- Small Business Grants: Businesses are eligible for up to $25,000 per business for businesses with annual revenue between $500,000 and $3,000,000.
- Small Business Zero-Interest Loans: Businesses are eligible for up to $100,000 per business for businesses with annual revenue between $3,000,000 and $5,000,000.
Businesses could have applied for all three tiers prior to Mayor Kenney’s announcement yesterday. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis once all materials are received and determinations should take about two weeks.
On Monday, March 30, Mayor Kenney announced that due to high demand and limited resources, the Philadelphia COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund will not accept applications for the small business grants program or the small business zero interest loan program after 5:00 p.m. yesterday evening. Only applications for the microenterprise grant program, which provides $5,000 grants to small businesses, will be accepted after yesterday’s deadline.
Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority
The Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority’s currently putting together the Small Business First Fund to make $61,000,000 available for business assistance (see above). Funds can be used for working capital loans of up to $100,000 given to small businesses (and maybe nonprofits) who employ 100 or fewer people. Currently, the interest rates are set at 3% but the PIDA board has the authority to adjust the interest rates as low as 0%.
PIDA also provides low-interest loans and lines of credit for eligible businesses that create and retain full-time jobs for the development of industrial parks and/or multi-tenant facilities.
Kiva is a nonprofit organization that gives entrepreneurs access to 0% interest small business loans through a crowdfunding platform.
FINANTA, short for FINANcing and Technical Assistance, is a nonprofit lending institution facilitating access to capital and/or consultation services for consumers, entrepreneurs, and first-time homebuyers in the Philadelphia region. FINANTA gives entrepreneurs affected by COVID-19, and other emergencies, loans that can range from $5,000 to $15,000 without closing fees. For more information about the loans or to apply, call 267-236-7030.
As businesses face the economic pressure caused by these uncertain times, they may be forced to make tough decisions to respond to these unprecedented challenges.