Business “Assistance”

jobs 0820

Today is Day 166 of Pandemia in Gunnison County, if you care to believe our public health officials. (I would ask, why wouldn’t we believe them, but there seem to be many, including the president of the United States, quick to believe the nuttiest of conspiracy theories, who think for some reason that public health officials across the country couldn’t possibly be as interested in public health as they are in crashing the economy and destroying lives.)

And while we’re tired of everything this year going wrong and just want it to be overwith and back to normal, I think we’re currently in the calm before a terrible storm.

A columnist excoriated Congress for recessing in the middle of this, noting that no one else has the luxury of neatly turning off their response to the pandemic. I get the sense that everyone in Congress feels they’re at an impasse, nothing to do, let’s just go home because there’s really no reason to panic. Everything and everyone is managing.

Look at the stock market, right? And if you’re making $67,000 or more annually, your job — which likely was not lost in the first place — has been restored. That “V” recovery, the sharp plunge down followed by an equally sharp rise right back to where we were, seems tantalizingly within reach. If you want to cherry pick.

I already can’t find my way back to it, but just this morning I read that if not for six tech stocks, led by Amazon (which I didn’t particularly think of as “tech”), the stock market would be underwater.

A lot of quarterly earnings came out yesterday, and e-commerce was huge. Walmart was even giving Amazon a run for its money, and Target looked great. So did little Etsy. Right behind that, though, was news of more large retailers filing for bankruptcy. Small businesses that don’t report quarterly earnings continue to close. The estimate is that at least 100,000 American businesses have closed their doors permanently since the onset of Pandemia.

Ours is an economy based on the necessity of people spending on unnecessities, about 75 percent of it devoted to consumerism. So does it really matter if people shift from shopping at brick-and-mortar locations to on-line? Well, it’s going to matter when the shopping likely comes to an end.

Without an extra $600 per week tacked onto their benefits, the newly unemployed, their ranks joined by another 1.1 million people in today’s weekly report, no longer have enough in their benefit checks to pay rent and buy food. For at least 5 million people, their job-provided health insurance is gone as well.

Let’s put that unemployment figure in perspective. Prior to the arrival of Corona, the largest number of Americans to file in any given week, ever, for unemployment was 675,000. For 22 weeks now, more than one million people have lost their jobs each and every week (except last, when the number was slightly under one million).

The unemployment rate was somewhere north of 10 percent prior to the newest one million. Without stimulus checks and bonus unemployment benefits, that’s a lot of buying power available in January now gone.

Evictions are only just now getting underway. Bad weather season is still early, and yet we’ve had hurricanes, tornadoes, a derecho that plowed through the corn belt right before harvest, and wildfires. There was already a lumber shortage before millions of board feet started catching fire: what happens when construction costs explode upward? Not to mention food costs.

Then there’s the piece close to my heart: assistance money for small businesses is largely used up. More layoffs, and then closures, seem inevitable, as members of Congress loll by their poolsides and contemplate their re-election campaigns.

Several private funds sprung up over the past several months, most of them aimed specifically at trying to get money to businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans, disabled or LGTBQ people, or people in rural areas .  .  . and even with all these parameters, there are still more people who need help than money to give to them.

Into all this, rather late in the game but perhaps early to be on the cusp of what might become the second downward leg of a “W” recovery (the notion of a “K” is also taking shape, where the rich get richer and the rest of us really suffer), comes the State of Colorado.

The state didn’t make any fiscal offers of assistance when the feds and local municipalities did. But it did receive some money from the CARES Act, the same act that gave businesses Paycheck Protection Program money, which may or may not be a loan and which may or may not be forgiven, depending on what Congress may decide if Congress ever decides to get around to deciding anything.

Colorado gave its money to Energize Colorado, and I’m not clear if this organization existed prior to Pandemia. Based on the appearance of the presenters at the webinar I attended this week, it’s a bunch of young hipsters out to save the world, or at least the state. By the time they get around to it, however, the world they’re setting out to save might be gone.

This program was supposed to be available to all Colorado businesses with 25 or fewer employees (you can use your off-season count), with special emphasis on: women, minorities, disabled people, veterans, rural denizens and, in a couple of twists, tourism-oriented companies and those that have yet to receive assistance. The application was supposed to be available in early August.

This week, which by my reckoning is mid-August, Energize Colorado held a Zoom webinar to inform prospective applicants of the process. Which they themselves still don’t have figured out.

This assistance comes in both grants for 2020 and loans for 2021. But they will tell you how much of each you might be getting, rather than you asking for what you think you need. And what they said in their webinar was: the grants are to be used for expenses incurred between March and the date of application, but not on anything you got other assistance for.

They may be doling this money out in monthly rounds, and then — this was my favorite part — once they award it to you, you will receive it six to eight weeks later. So perhaps you will get notified of a grant in December, which you will receive in March, to be applied to expenses incurred prior to September 2020.

One poor woman, her business already permanently closed, wanted to know if she could apply and put the money toward her debt. No, they said. How many other Colorado businesses, probably starting to struggle a second time right about now, will go under while waiting for this kind of “help”?

I wasn’t very kind, although I don’t believe I was rude, in my invited feedback to their webinar. (Probably, with today’s technology, they have my exact computer ISP and have already scratched me off the eligibility list.) But they’ve been sitting on money since May, working on a an application that still isn’t live, with still no clear sense of when money might be released to the disabled black female military vet who runs a scenic touring company in rural Colorado who has managed to hang in there without any other assistance.

The final question on their survey of how they did wanted to know how likely the respondent was to apply for this grant/loan. I started to put my answer at 8 out of 10, then changed it to 10. Of course I’m going to apply. I hope they hear the subtext: what other option do I have?

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