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Federal Loan Programs – John L. Senft, Esq.

Quick update today…

As you may recall, several weeks ago Congress passed the CARES Act, which made financial relief packages available to small businesses.  These included the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Program.

Given the far-reaching economic impact of COVID-19, it was not especially surprising when the funds allotted for these programs were exhausted fairly quickly.  In an effort to provide further support to small businesses, Congress has now approved an additional $310 billion to fund the Paycheck Protection Program and $60 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Program.  While the new legislation has not yet been signed by the President, this is expected to occur today or tomorrow.

These are both valuable programs, with favorable loan terms and the potential for substantial loan forgiveness.  These programs are administered through the Small Business Administration.  The SBA’s website (www.sba.gov) is not yet accepting new applications since the new funding is not officially in place, but this should change quickly upon the President’s signature.  If you have not applied for these programs, this opportunity should be available shortly.  Similarly, if you have previously applied for a loan but did not receive approval due to a lack of funding, you may want to request a status update from your lender.

One other note for those of you with construction-related interests: Last night, the Governor announced that public and private residential and non-residential construction may resume statewide starting Friday, May 1 in accordance with safety guidance that will be issued by the administration shortly.  The date was moved up from a previously announced date of May 8.  The Governor also announced general  parameters for reopening businesses generally, but no specific dates were provided.

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.  Stay safe, everyone!

John L. Senft, Esquire

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U.S. Chamber of Commerce Save Small Business Initiative – John L. Senft, Esq.

Friends, I wanted to let you know about a new program which is available to provide assistance to small business owners.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has just announced the Save Small Business Initiative.  Through this Initiative, the Chamber is making available $5,000 grants to assist small employers in paying business expenses.

In order to qualify, a business must: (1) employ between three and 20 individuals; (2) be located in an economically vulnerable community; and (3) have been harmed financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.  A business can determine whether it is located in an economically vulnerable community through a zip code check available on the Initiative’s website: https://savesmallbusiness.com/

The grant application process will go live at 3 p.m. Eastern time on April 20.  The application can be completed online at the website listed above.  According to the website, the application will take about 10 minutes to complete, and the only documentation needed is the Company’s W-9 Form and basic supporting information about the business.

John L. Senft, Esquire

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PA Department of Health Order – John L. Senft, Esq.

On April 15, 2020, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued an Order establishing detailed protocols for social distancing, mitigation, and cleaning for all Pennsylvania businesses that are maintaining in-person operations. The protocols include requirements that all employees and customers wear masks; that companies provide masks for workers; and that companies deny entry to customers who are not wearing masks.  The Order becomes effective at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 19.

More specifically, the Order requires businesses with in-person operations to:

(1)     Clean and disinfect high-touch areas routinely in spaces that are accessible to customers, tenants, or other individuals;

(2)     Maintain pre-existing cleaning protocols established by the business for all other areas of the building;

(3)     Establish a response procedure upon discovery that the business has been exposed to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, including:

a.  Close off areas visited by the person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19. Open outside doors and windows and use ventilation fans to increase air circulation in the area. Wait a minimum of 24 hours, or as long as practical, before beginning cleaning and disinfection. Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas including but not limited to employee break rooms, conference or training rooms and dining facilities, shared electronic equipment like tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls, and ATM machines used by the ill person, focusing especially on frequently touched areas;

b.  Identify employees that were in close contact (within about six feet for about 10 minutes) with a person with a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19 from the period 48 hours before symptom onset to the time at which the patient isolated;

          1.  If the employee remains asymptomatic, the person should adhere to the practices set out by the CDC on April 8: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/critical-workers/implementing-safety-practices.html
          2. If the employee becomes sick during the work day, the person should be sent home immediately. Surfaces in the employee’s workspace should be cleaned and disinfected. Information on other employees who had contact with the ill employee during the time the employee had symptoms three and 48 hours prior to symptoms should be compiled. Others at the workplace with close contact within six feet of the employee during this time would be considered exposed;
          3. Promptly notify employees who were close contacts of any known exposure to COVID-19 at the business premises, consistent with applicable confidentiality laws;
          4. Ensure that the business has a sufficient number of employees to perform the above protocols effectively and timely;

c. Implement temperature screenings before an employee enters the business, prior to the start of each shift or before the employee starts work, and send employees home that have a temperature of 100.4 or higher;

d. Employees who have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath) should notify their supervisor and stay home;

e.  Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps. Employees should not return to work until the CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments. Employers are encouraged to implement liberal paid time off for employees who do not return to work as set forth above.

(4)     Stagger work start and stop times for employees when practicable to prevent gatherings of large groups entering or leaving the premises at the same time;

(5)     Provide sufficient amount of space for employees to have breaks and meals while maintaining a social distance of six feet, and arranging seating to have employees facing forward and not across from each other;

(6)     Stagger employee break times to reduce the number of employees on break at any given time so that appropriate social distancing may be followed;

(7)     Limit persons in employee common areas (such as locker or break rooms, dining facilities, training or conference rooms) at any one time to maintain a social distance of six feet;

(8)     Generally conduct meetings and trainings virtually (i.e., by phone or through the internet). Meetings that must be held in person should not exceed 10 employees;

(9)     Provide employees access to soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes and ensure that common areas are cleaned on a regular basis;

(10)   Provide masks for employees to wear during their time at the business, and make it a mandatory requirement to wear masks while on the work site, except to the extent an employee is using break time to eat or drink.  Employers may approve masks obtained or made by employees in accordance with Department of Health guidance: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/Documents/Diseases%20and%20Conditions/Homemade%20Mask%20Guidance.pdf;

(11)   Ensure that the facility has a sufficient number of employees to perform all measures listed effectively and in a manner that ensures the safety of the public and employees;

(12)   Ensure that the facility has a sufficient number of personnel to control access, maintain order, and enforce social distancing of at least six feet;

(13)   Prohibit non-essential visitors from entering the premises of the business; and

(14)   Ensure that all employees are made aware of these required procedures by communicating them, either orally or in writing, in their native or preferred language, as well as in English or by a methodology that allows them to understand.

Failure to comply could result in citations, fines or license suspensions.

In addition to the above requirements, the Department of Health identified various measures for businesses (other than health care providers) that serve the public within a building or a defined area, including:

(1)     Where feasible, businesses should conduct business with the public by appointment only. To the extent that this is not feasible, businesses must limit occupancy to no greater than 50% of the number stated on its certificate of occupancy a social distance of six feet at check-out and counter lines, and must place signage throughout each site to mandate social distancing for both customers and employees;

(2)     Alter hours of business so that the business has sufficient time to clean or to restock or both;

(3)     Install shields or other barriers at registers and check-out areas to physically separate cashiers and customers or take other measures to ensure social distancing of customers from check-out personnel, or close lines to maintain a social distance between of six feet between lines;

(4)     Encourage use of online ordering by providing delivery or pick-up options;

(5)     Designate a specific time for high-risk and elderly persons to use the business at least once every week if there is a continuing in-person customer-facing component;

(6)     Require all customers to wear masks while on premises, and deny entry to individuals not wearing masks, unless the business is providing medication, medical supplies, or food, in which case the business must provide alternative methods of pick-up or delivery of such goods; however, individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition (including children under the age of 2 years per CDC guidance) may enter the premises and are not required to provide documentation of such medical condition;

(7)     In businesses with multiple check-out lines, only use every other register, or fewer. After every hour, rotate customers and employees to the previously closed registers. Clean the previously open registers and the surrounding area, including credit card machines, following each rotation;

(8)     Schedule handwashing breaks for employees at least every hour; and

(9)     Assign an employee to wipe down carts and handbaskets before they become available to each customer entering the premises.

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions concerning these new requirements.

John L. Senft, Esquire

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April 2, 2020 Coronavirus Update – John L. Senft, Esq.

Good morning, everyone. Things continue to change quickly, and I have a new update today.

1. As noted in my last message, Governor Wolf had issued a “Stay at Home” Order for various counties in Pennsylvania. That Order has now been expanded to include the entire state. All individuals should stay at home except when engaged in certain essential activities or working to provide life-sustaining business and government services.

2. My last e-mail had discussed a COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program made available through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority. This Program apparently was very popular, as PIDA is no longer accepting applications. Various Federal programs, including the Paycheck Protection Loan and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, remain available (at least for now). If you are interested in applying for Federal relief, you should get that process underway immediately. Here is the link to more information: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources

3. As I’m sure you are aware, the Governor mandated the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses a few weeks ago. There is a process available for businesses to apply for an exemption or waiver to the shutdown requirement. The deadline for filing a waiver application is April 3; if you would like to apply for a waiver and have not already done so, time is running out. The online application is available here: https://expressforms.pa.gov/apps/pa/DCED/Waiver-process-keeping-physical-locations-open
I would also urge you to check the list of exempt businesses, as it has been updated periodically, including yesterday: https://www.scribd.com/document/452553026/UPDATED-4-00pm-April-1-2020-Industry-Operation-Guidance.

4. Finally, the Federal Department of Labor issued temporary regulations yesterday intended to help businesses comply with the Paid Leave and Emergency FMLA provisions contained within the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The regulations and accompanying explanations are lengthy (over 100 pages); I’m still in the process of reviewing them and hope to have a summary out to you fairly soon. In the meantime, however, there is at least some more specific information which will assist all of us in meeting the obligations of this new law. As a reminder, the FFCRA requires employers who employ fewer than 500 employees and governments to provide up to two weeks of paid sick time to employees who are unable to work (including work from home) because:
1. The employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
2. The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
3. The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
4. The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine.
5. The employee is caring for a son or daughter because the child’s school or place of care has been closed or the child’s childcare is unavailable due to COVID 19 precautions.
6. The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of the HHS in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.
The new law also expands the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide time off (some of which must be paid) to employees who are unable to work (or work from home) in order to care for the employee’s minor child because the child’s school or daycare has been closed.

I hope you are all doing well! Please reach out any time if I can be of help to you.

______________________
John L. Senft, Esquire

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March 30, 2020 Coronavirus Update – by John L. Senft, Esq.

Friends, changes in the Coronavirus landscape have been arriving at a breakneck pace.  I know that many of you have been attending webinars, reading articles, and gathering information over the past several days.  I wanted to provide you with a summary of various items which may be helpful to you as you manage your businesses and navigate your personal lives.

STAY AT HOME ORDER

As you all undoubtedly know, most of Central Pennsylvania’s citizens are now under a “Stay at Home” Order issued by Governor Wolf (Adams and Franklin Counties being a current exception for now). The Stay at Home Order requires citizens to stay at home except for certain essential activities and work to provide life-sustaining business and government services.  Essential activities include items such as: obtaining medicine or medical supplies; visiting a health care professional; getting food and household consumer products, pet food, and supplies necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences; engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running; and performing work at a life-sustaining business.  Since the Governor had already ordered the closing of non-essential businesses on March 19, the new Stay at Home Order has not resulted in any material changes to business operations; life-essential businesses may continue their activities within the framework of the Governor’s March 19 Order, and telework remains an option for all businesses to the extent feasible.

EMERGENCY LEAVE FOR EMPLOYEES

When I sent my last e-mail, the Federal Government had just passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act), which requires Companies with less than 500 employees and governments to provide paid emergency leave and emergency Family Medical Leave to their employees.  The law becomes effective on April 1, although the U.S. Department of Labor has indicated that it will not seek to initiate any enforcement actions until April 18.  Late last week, the DOL issued guidance intended to answer common questions about the administration of the leave provisions, which can be found here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-questions. Among other things, the Guidance confirmed that the Act does not apply retroactively (i.e., any paid time off made available to employees prior to April 1 will not count toward a Company’s obligations); that an employee who is laid off is not entitled to the emergency benefits made available by the Act; and that an employer may not require an employee to supplement FFCRA pay with paid leave that the employee may have available through the Company’s paid leave policies.

POSTER

The Department of Labor has also issued a poster which notifies employees of their rights under the FFCRA.  You can access the poster here: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/posters/FFCRA_Poster_WH1422_Non-Federal.pdf. Employers must post the Notice in a conspicuous place on its premises. An employer may also satisfy this requirement by emailing or direct mailing this notice to its employees, or by posting this notice on the Company’s internal or external website.

CARES ACT

Late last week, Congress passed, and President Trump signed, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  The CARES Act makes various relief packages available to Companies whose businesses have been impacted by the Coronavirus.

One of the primary loan options under the CARES Act is a “Paycheck Protection Loan”, which is available through the Federal Small Business Administration to businesses with less than 500 employees.  Qualifying businesses may apply for loans up to 2.5 months of the Company’s payroll costs up to $10 million. Most fees are waived and personal guaranties are not required.  There is a maximum term of 10 years, and the interest rate is not to exceed 4 percent. Proceeds of the loan may be used to cover payroll costs, mortgage payments, rent, and other debt services requirements.

A Paycheck Protection Loan also offers partial loan forgiveness.  More specifically, borrowers can apply to the lender for forgiveness in an amount equal to the sum of the Company’s qualifying costs during the eight-week period during the origination date of the loan.  Qualifying costs include payroll, mortgage interest, rent, and certain utility payments.

Another option is an “Economic Injury Disaster Loan”. Loan amounts through this program may be for up to $2 million, with a 30-year term and an interest rate not to exceed 3.75%.  This program provides for an emergency advance of up to $10,000 to injured businesses within three days of applying for the loan through the SBA. To access the advance, an employer must first apply for an EIDL and then request the advance. The $10,000 advance does not need to be repaid under any circumstance, and may be used to keep employees on payroll, to pay for sick leave, or pay business obligations such as debts, rent and mortgage payments.

Information on these programs is available here: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources

STATE RELIEF

Finally, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has made aid available to impacted businesses through a COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program administered through the Pennsylvania Industrial Authority.  This program provides working capital loans of up to $100,000 to companies with less than 100 employees.  These are zero interest loans, with a term of three years, amortized over 12, with no payments due in the first year. More information concerning this program can be found here: https://dced.pa.gov/programs/covid-19-working-capital-access-program-cwca/.  The State Industrial Authority also has other types of business loans available.

Please feel free to get in touch if I can answer questions about any of these items.  Stay safe, everyone!

John L. Senft, Esquire

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