Sherrill Town Hall Answers COVID-19 Questions

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Mikie Sherrill town hall on MyVeronaNJ.comRep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ-11) held a telephone town hall Tuesday afternoon to specifically address constituents’ concerns about small business assistance and unemployment payments during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Verona is part of Sherrill’s congressional district. The congresswoman has posted a Coronavirus Resource Guide to her website.

The federal CARES Act includes a $350 billion fund for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to support businesses with fewer than 500 employees. These small businesses can qualify for a loan of up to 2½ times their monthly payroll, that will be forgiven if they maintain their payroll for two months and spend 75% of the loan on payroll costs. The number of “ifs” in the PPP program prompted one caller to ask what happens if her business can’t maintain payroll if the state doesn’t allow businesses to reopen before that two months is up.

Alfred Titone, district director of the Small Business Administration (SBA) in New Jersey was on the call and encouraged a caller to apply for the loan anyway and make a decision on accepting it or not when she is notified that she has been approved. The SBA doesn’t make direct loans to small business during normal times and it isn’t running the PPP program. Small businesses have to apply for loans at a participating bank, which is getting a fee from the federal government for participating.

Another caller said that he had not been able to get a PPP loan from his bank because he uses it for checking and deposits but does not have an existing credit relationship with it. Sherrill acknowledged the problem. “We’ve been hearing about this,” she said. “The Treasury Department has to fix this immediately. I heard that the requirements were not up to par before it opened.” Titone added that banks have a “huge backlog” of applications right now.

Callers didn’t seem to be having any better luck with the small business grant and loan programs now available through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA). Tim Sullivan, the head of NJEDA, was on the call and said that its initial loan pool had been “substantially oversubscribed” and that it would be releasing another $10 million pool of funds on Monday morning, April 13. He urged callers to watch NJEDA’s COVID-19 information page for updates on business assistance. Sullivan suggested that business owners use the “Eligibility Wizard” found on the middle of that page to determine what type of assistance they might be able to receive.

There were also questions about unemployment assistance and help for contract workers and the self-employed. Robert Asaro-Angelo, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor was on the call and he said that there has been a 1,600% increase in claims for unemployment, which has overwhelmed the system. He said that the state hopes to get the first claims paid next week and told a caller who has not been able to get confirmation that her claim had been accepted that payment on claims that are substantiated would be retroactive to when the person was laid off. He reminded listeners that New Jersey has posted a job bank to help people who have lost jobs due to the pandemic. New Jersey also is adding more call-in lines to its unemployment office.

Asaro-Angelo also spoke to the help available for the self-employed and contract workers (those who receive a 1099 for tax filing and not a W2). This program is called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and it provides provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to qualifying individuals who are unable to work due to COVID-19. In addition to PUA, there is also the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provides an additional $600 per week to people now getting unemployment check and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which gives those on unemployment an additional 13 weeks of benefits to all recipients. Asaro-Angelo told one caller that these additional benefits will also be given to people who were laid off prior to the pandemic and are still eligible. (The state’s guide to these benefits is here.)

One caller asked a question that may also be of interest to Verona residents: Whether any of the state or federal programs would cover lost income if he cannot rent his shore house this summer. The answer right now is no, but Sherrill said that she hopes that loss of tourism income can be handled in the next piece of legislation in Congress.

Sherrill also updated listeners on her health status. She had announced on Saturday that her husband had tested positive for COVID-19 and that she was being tested. Sherrill’s test came back negative for the virus.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].

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