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Help available for struggling businesses, laid off employees

Facing unprecedented closures and having to make alternative arrangements to serve customers and keep employees on the clock, there are resources available to help local businesses weather the financial fallout of COVID-19.

Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce Director Catherine Glover says she hopes to see two things in that regard — a quick response from state and federal governments to soften the economic blow and continued support of the businesses and restaurants working to remain open during the public health crisis.

“We have a lot of hope that (state and federal governments) are going to realize the impact on small businesses and implement things as quickly as they can,” Glover said.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

Tied in with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order closing restaurants and bars to dine-in services until at least March 31, the order also removed a number of barriers for employees who have been laid off or had their hours reduced due to COVID-19.

To help speed up the process, the order:

  • Removes the one-week waiting period to apply for unemployment benefits for those workers who lose their jobs
  • Removes the requirement that a person must look for another job during this time when so many potential employers are closed and social distancing guidelines are in effect.
  • Allows employees who lose their jobs or, in certain cases have their hours reduced due to COVID-19 issues, to apply for unemployment benefits
  • Waives the requirement that part of the application process be in person
  • Directs that these unemployment losses won’t be counted against employers

Employees can file for unemployment online at des.nc.gov or by phone at 888-737-0259 if they don’t have a computer. Employers may also file for unemployment insurance on behalf of their employees. For more information, call 919-707-1150.

NC 211

For those looking for assistance with housing, utilities, healthcare, food, mental health resources, clothing, aging and disability services, employment and income, NC 211 is an information and referral service provided by United Way of North Carolina. To access the service, one can simply dial 211 on their phone, or visit www.nc211.org.

Worldwide, the United Way has established a COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund to help connect those affects by the virus with the resources they need. According to Beaufort County United Way director Sally Love, the North Carolina United Way is working on establishing a special fund specifically for those affected by the virus in North Carolina.

SMALL BUSINESS LOANS

Last Friday, Cooper requested a disaster declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide Economic Injury Disaster Loans to North Carolina businesses. These loans will provide up to $2 million in low-interest loans for businesses affected by COVID-19.

According to a SBA press release, the federal government has eased requirements for states to receive a disaster declaration and made loans available statewide, rather than just for a few counties. A SBA Disaster declaration was declared for North Carolina Wednesday evening.

For more on the SBA response to COVID-19, visit SBA.gov/Disaster.

SOME BUSINESSES ROLL ON

While some businesses have had to close their doors completely amidst the health crisis, many local businesses have shifted their business model to include curbside service and online shopping options.

“These are unprecedented times and these are unknown times, but what we do know is that these businesses are here, and they are supportive of everyone in our community during normal times,” Glover said. “Our message is to continue to support them in any way you can. If a business is offering takeout or delivery, take advantage of that. If a business is selling things online, take advantage of that. As we continue to recover after this, they’re going to need our support more than ever. Keeping that money local is going to be crucial.”