State officials promise help is on the way for businesses

Iola native among state officials discussing federal and state programs aimed at easing economic impact of coronavirus pandemic.

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April 6, 2020 - 9:55 AM

The downtown square is deserted in the middle of a business day. Federal and state assistance programs aim to help small businesses recover from the economic losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register
David Toland

The state is using every proverbial arrow in its quiver to help businesses cope with the ongoing COVID-19 economic shutdown, Kansas Secretary of Commerce David Toland said Friday.

The Iola native spoke as part of a statewide “First Friday” webcast hosted by K-State Research and Extension.

He was joined by Secretary of Labor Delia Garcia and Laurel Klein Searles, who directs the state’s unemployment services program.

“These are unprecedented times we’re living in,” Toland said, while giving a rundown of the funding mechanisms the state is providing, or assisting when it comes to receiving federal funds, to help Kansas businesses stay afloat.

THE MOST prominent programs for businesses, made available through the federal COVID-19 relief bill signed into law March 27, are still coming into focus, Toland noted.

The Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) are both being administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Through the PPP, businesses with fewer than 500 employees can receive loans of up to 2½ times their average monthly payroll for the prior 12 months, up to $10 million. The government is backing this program with $349 billion.

If those businesses maintain their existing employment levels, those loans will be forgiven.

The EIDL funding, meanwhile, provides $10,000 in working capital to small businesses and nonprofits, which does not have to be repaid.

A second loan through EIDL extends up to $2 million, but carries a 3.75% interest rate for small businesses and a 2.75% interest rate for nonprofits.

Payments can be deferred for up to 12 months.

Getting information to the businesses, and getting applications filled in an orderly manner has been difficult, Toland noted, because of the high volume of calls and website clicks to SBA.

Toland cautioned patience as the state sifts through the voluminous bits of information coming in from Washington, D.C.

“The rule-making and guidance has been changing by the hour, literally,” he said.

To aid the effort, Toland said the Department of Commerce added 10 staffers to provide online assistance to Kansas business owners, starting today.

“We wanted to do what we can to backstop other partners, lenders and SBA centers,” Toland said. “We have a lot of people mobilizing quickly to meet this demand.”

ABOUT TWO weeks ago, the state launched the Hospitality Industry Relief Emergency (HIRE) Fund, a zero-interest bridge loan made available to restaurants, bars, lodging and events centers.

Within 24 hours, more than 1,100 applications had been filed, Toland noted, exhausting the state’s $5 million allocation. The number of applications since then has swelled to almost 1,500.

Toland hoped additional federal funds will be made available. If so, those additional applications will be approved, on a first-come, first-serve basis. (Applicants do not need to refile, he added.)

TOLAND noted other state programs being retooled because of the coronavirus pandemic, including for communities receiving Community Development Block Grant funds, and others enrolled in Incentives Without Walls programs.

“We’re doing everything we can to cut the red tape and speed delivery to small businesses that need liquidity right now,” he said.

“This is our work, what we’re here to do,” Toland said. “We’re trying to give folks clarity right now in real time.”

GARCIA and Searles both spoke about the historic volume of unemployment claims that flooded the state’s offices in recent days.

Last Monday, for example, the unemployment office haad 877,000 attempted calls.

They encouraged those filing for unemployment to do so online at getkansasbenefits.gov.

The phone number is geared for those who do not have Internet access or do not speak English.

Garcia said the Department of Labor doubled its staffing, and is bringing back retirees to help because those manning calls must be sufficiently trained to do so.

New employees would take several months to train, Garcia noted. These staffers must be up to speed in a matter of days.

“We aren’t the only state going through this,” Garcia said. “Every single department of labor is going through this.”

She urged patience for those filing.

“We are in uncharted waters, doing the best we can,” Garcia said.

Searles, meanwhile, noted the state has a shared work program, through which employees whose hours have been cut because of the slowdown can file for partial benefits.

Another tool for employers is a “file by spreadsheet” to submit claims on behalf of their workers.

The Department of Labor does a weekly town hall discussion on its Facebook page at 3 p.m. Wednesdays for residents to view.

TOLAND ended the 40-minute presentation with a word of optimism.

“We know this is an incredibly challenging time, we also know that this is temporary,” he said. “We don’t know how long it will last but we are going to get through this as a state, we’re going to come out of it stronger. We’ve got great partnerships across state governments and with local communities, to make sure we can be creative and nimble and flexible to meet the needs of Kansas businesses, Kansas workers and Kansas communities.”

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