PLATTSBURGH — Elected officials answered questions regarding issues with unemployment claims and relief loan applications and more during a conference call hosted by the North Country Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Plattsburgh) said he understood people’s frustration with long waits, website crashes and communication issues as they try to get through to the state Department of Labor to apply for their unemployment benefits.
The state DOL has hired 200 more people to handle the increased volume and people are being pulled from other agencies to work the phones.
North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) explained that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act extended unemployment benefits to workers, like the self-employed and independent contractors, who are not traditionally eligible.
This funding also enables them to receive an additional $600 on top of their usual weekly payments through the end of July.
Jones explained that people need to be denied traditional unemployment benefits through their state’s DOL website before they can apply for PUA.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas acknowledged that the two-step process may be frustrating, but pointed out that it helps people access funds they would not normally be able to obtain.
Jones encouraged independent contractors who work in multiple states to contact the labor department about which state they should go to for unemployment benefits.
Stefanik said the CARES Act reimburses half the costs of unemployment benefits for nonprofits who self-insure or self-fund.
Additionally, nonprofits are eligible for Paycheck Protection Plan loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
SBA Northeast New York Manager Jeffrey Boyce explained that the demand, need, interest and urgency in the SBA's programs is unprecedented, and that the SBA is working around the clock to move them forward.
The Paycheck Protection Program is the largest domestic economic recovery mechanism ever implemented, he added, with $349 billion in funding and the hope for more.
Boyce explained that the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Emergency Advance of up to $10,000 is one of three programs the SBA has available, and that it is intended to be disbursed in a matter of days.
He remained hopeful that those funds, which became available last week, will begin to be disbursed this week.
PPP funds will take a little longer to disburse, he explained, while a traditional EIDL loan typically takes about 45 days to go out from application to disbursement.
“The information required to prepare, package and structure that loan is much more significant.”
Stefanik noted that EIDL loans are starting to get issued, so small business owners should check their accounts.
Boyce added that more than 400,000 loans, equal to about $100 billion in funding, have been approved, though more needs to be done.
“At least we know that it is working and funds are flowing.”
PATIENCE, STAY IN TOUCH
One local small business owner reported that others have received their EIDL deposits at far lower levels than they were expecting, as low as $30 or $155.
Boyce said that should not be the case, and that people should expect at least $1,000.
Local banks are getting swamped, with some not accepting new applications for SBA loans even from existing clients.
“The advice we’re giving folks is to shop around, is to contact several different lending institutions whether they be banks or credit unions," Boyce said.
The SBA is also working to bring additional lenders into the PPP program and has added a portal to its website where banks and credit unions can get certified and authorized.
Douglas said he had heard from a local bank that, as of Wednesday, had received 30,000 such applications and had to hit pause to catch up.
“We can only caution patience, stay in touch with your bank, contact the person that you’re working with every couple of days and I believe most of them will catch up, but they’re going through that same overwhelming initial response.”
Stefanik, Jones and State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) all acknowledged that the COVID-19 crisis proves that there is a need for better and more expansive broadband and cell coverage.
“Teachers have not had any personal face time with students in weeks, and we’re talking about a few more weeks,” said Little, herself a former teacher.
Both Little and Jones said second-home residents are welcome in the North Country, but that they should take the necessary precautions to self-quarantine if they are re-locating from areas with high levels of COVID-19.
Stefanik said securing more COVID-19 tests for the North Country is a number one priority, and that her office is putting in daily requests to support counties.
She said Congress is currently negotiating an additional $250 billion in PPP funding, which would ideally be passed by the end of the month.
Stefanik also wants to see increased funding for community health centers and rural hospitals, and said future legislative packages need to look at hazard pay for health care workers and other individuals on the front lines.
Jones added that there needs to be more aid to localities as well, who will take a big hit through the loss of sales tax.
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