There are still a lot of unknowns for local businesses as they respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, but recently Rep. Doug Collins has been taking part in meetings to answer some of their questions and let them know about available resources.
Collins, who represents north Forsyth and several other counties in northeast Georgia, has recently been meeting with members of locals chambers of commerce, including the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, via video conferences to talk about what issues they are facing.
“It sort of reflects the craziness of the year we're living in,” Collins told Forsyth County News this week. “Normally, I would be out and able to go to businesses, go do round tables, go to rotaries and do things like that we just can't do anymore, so using videoconferencing is a great way for us to communicate.”
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Congress has approved relief in the form of the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, with many other bills being considered.
For businesses, the CARE Act offers loans, grants and other forms of assistance. All businesses with fewer than 500 employees can also apply for the paycheck protection program, which has authorized more than $349 billion for businesses to cover payroll for businesses that maintain employee and compensation levels, with up to 25% of the amount also being able to mortgage interest, rent and utility costs for eight weeks.
“It's for businesses for eight weeks,” Collins said. “This would turn into a grant if they were able to maintain payroll, maintain their rent, their interest and things like that, it will be forgiven, so it's a way to bridge the gap, and that's one of the biggest ways, but it's also one of the one's we'll have to go back and put more money into as we go forward because it has been such an amazingly popular program.”
Along with businesses hearing about the congressional response, Collins said officials had several questions about when he thought the epidemic would be over and businesses could reopen.
“The better part that I heard, though was most businesses were trying their best, No. 1, to keep their employees that they can,” Collins said. “No. 2, those that can't, they're working out arrangements so they can have them ready to access when they open back up.”
Collins said the meetings also gave business owners a chance to talk about the similar situations they were going through.
“We've been talking to a lot of businesses and knew their concerns about their employees, their concerns about their businesses and the virus itself,” he said. “What I found out more was it was a good chance for folks to get together, different businesses, and hear from each other that they're not alone. I think sometimes we all get so siloed into our own business, our own family and we forget that others are going through sort of a similar thing and have similar questions.”
Though the epidemic has been devastating for some businesses – Collins said a hotel manager he recently spoke with said they would generally have about 90% occupancy, which was now in the single digits – he said he's also heard of businesses finding ways to innovate and reassess how certain parts of their business are done.
“I talked to a very large company's CEO who is based here in Georgia,” Collins said, “and it was interesting, they were making the comment that they had done a couple of Zoom calls that day with different aspects of this business, and after they got off the call they thought, 'Well, this went really well. Normally, this would've been a trip...' He was saying that this could actually spur the telecommuting, the video conferencing along that had been sort of used but not used in a capacity like it is now.”
When asked what steps he would like to see Congress take next, Collins said he believed the response would continue to target small businesses and hospitals.
“I think the next thing you'll see is more money added to small business, the paycheck protection, the payroll issue and make sure businesses can survive this for a few more weeks. I think you're going to see more money put in that,” Collins said. “There's going to be some more discussions about state and local resources that are being used at this time, but states are being given a lot of money upfront, so that's money that still has not run out. Hospitals, I think the next step is making sure that hospitals and first-responders still have the resources they need.”
Collins said he also felt the epidemic created an opportunity to look at the economy's supply chain issues and reliance on China.
“We've got to look at why we woke up on a morning one day into this pandemic and realized that 60% of our pharmaceuticals were coming from the very country the pandemic started in and manufacturing was overseas and other stuff,” he said. “These are the kinds of ideas that we need now to take a look at and decide how do we make our economy stronger by having more of our critical infrastructure supply chain needs based here in the U.S. and not in other countries.”