With most public businesses closing to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19, many people and businesses have been financially struggling this month. To aid in that, leaders in each level of government are working closely together to ensure that each individual and business gets the assistance they need during this pandemic. Among the largest methods of helping financially have been the changes in filing for unemployment and applying for loans, as well as the establishment of designated funding for donations.
“We're continuing each day to put packages and things together to help the citizens of Hazard and the citizens of Perry County and east Kentucky when we can,” said Perry County Judge-Executive Scott Alexander. “We know that we're a regional hub and we want to do everything we can to prepare the people here.”
Zach Lawrence, director of the Economic Development Alliance, said he has been working with the city and county and with local businesses to do what can be done at this stage.
“Currently all the impacts with the coronavirus are our top priority,” said Lawrence. “Protecting the existing employment base is of utmost importance to me in my position every day but especially in the current climate we find ourselves in.
“We're no doubt in an unprecedented time, but I want to let the businesses know I'm here to help,” Lawrence said, adding he will answer questions and assist with disaster relief loans as needed. Lawrence said he has been updating the Hazard-Perry County Economic Development Alliance Facebook page with information and resources that may be useful to people. Lawrence said if businesses need his help, they may contact him at, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The actions being taken to help people across the state have been increasing weekly for each level of government, as they all work together. Days ago, President Donald Trump approved Kentucky's request for a declaration of a major disaster in relation to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This order, officials said, will make federal funding available to the commonwealth and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance for all areas in the commonwealth impacted by COVID-19.
“The additional federal resources this declaration makes available will help communities across Kentucky continue responding to the coronavirus,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “As Senate Majority Leader, I’m working with President Trump and the members of his cabinet to help Kentucky receive the necessary supplies and funding to care for those in need.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Andy Beshear said unemployment eligibility has been expanded due to COVID-19. During this expansion, individuals typically not covered by unemployment insurance, including self-employed, independent contractors, freelance workers, substitute teachers, childcare workers employed by religious affiliated organizations and non-profits were given the ability to file. Those who left their job for “good cause” because of reasonable risk of exposure (self-quarantine) or due to caring for a family member affected by the virus are also eligible to file for unemployment at this time.
Beshear also waived the waiting period for unemployment benefits. The state’s new policy on COVID-19-related unemployment benefits states that payments are authorized for 14 days upon approval, without the standard seven-day waiting period. A claimant may request benefits every two weeks, and this process may continue for a maximum of 26 total weeks or until the claimant obtains employment or returns to work. The weekly benefit amount is based on the worker's past wages, and the maximum weekly benefit amount is $552. Workers approved for unemployment benefits due to COVID-19 will also not be subject to a job search requirement during the course of their benefits.
In order to file a claim for unemployment benefits, claimants must be prepared to present a Social Security or alien registration number, date of birth, mailing address and telephone number. Certain employer information will also need to be provided, and could include the business/company name, business/company mailing address, business/company phone number, dates of employment and the reason the individual is no longer working for each employer. Other information that may be needed on the application includes: a list of states the individual worked in if they did work in other states; the name and address of the temporary agency if they worked for a temporary agency; the agency name, component name and a copy of their standard if they worked for the federal government; a copy of their DD214 Member 4 if they were in the U.S. Military; and the name of the contractor if they worked through a skilled trade union.
Workers who have already filed an application do not need to do anything at this time. Those who have not filed an application have been asked to file them per the schedule previously released that is based on last names. Days to file have been designated based on the beginning letter of last names.
The Kentucky Career Center JobSight network of career centers throughout Eastern Kentucky is also working to ensure that individuals who have lost their jobs due to ongoing issues related to the Coronavirus pandemic will have their claims for unemployment insurance benefits quickly processed and eligible funds will be made available. Applications for unemployment must be initiated by contacting local workforce professionals across the region by phone, as all in-person services at local Kentucky Career Center JobSight locations have been suspended until further notice upon state order. Regular career and employment services remain available, and if individuals live within the 23-county Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) workforce area, they can apply via telephone through the Kentucky Career Center JobSight’s Community Action partners.
For assistance with unemployment or to enroll for career and employment services during normal business hours, contact one of the following partners based upon the county of residence:
• Bell-Whitley CAA (Bell County): (606) 337-3044
• Big Sandy Area CAP (Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin, Martin and Pike counties): (606) 789-2857
• Daniel Boone CAA (Clay and Jackson counties): (606) 598-5127
• Gateway CA (Menifee and Morgan counties): (606) 743-3133
• Harlan CAA (Harlan County): (606) 573-5335, extensions 237, 236, 241, or 233
• KCEOC CAP (Knox County): (606) 546-2639
• LKLP CAC (Knott, Leslie, Letcher and Perry counties): (606) 436-3161
• Middle Kentucky CAP (Breathitt, Lee, Owsley, and Wolfe counties): (606) 666-2369
• Northeast Kentucky CAP (Carter, Elliott and Lawrence counties): (606) 638-4949.
If individuals seeking help live within the EKCEP workforce area, they may also apply for unemployment benefits by calling the toll free number, 1-888-503-1423. Employers within the EKCEP service area requiring Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) services or assistance directly relating to issues with the COVID-19 pandemic can also contact staff members at the above agencies.
“My obligation is to keep people safe during this time,” said Beshear. He continued, “I realize many of the steps I am taking to protect Kentuckians during this COVID-19 emergency are affecting employers and workers financially. Temporarily waiving some of the UI benefit rules during this time is one step I can do to help protect Kentuckians financially. I know this is a difficult time but we are going to get through this by working together to help each other.”
Perry County Judge-Executive Scott Alexander and Hazard Mayor Donald “Happy” Mobelini encouraged residents of Hazard and Perry County to file for unemployment benefits, and reminded people that this is something needed right now and there should be no stigma to needing public assistance right now.
“There's no doubt that filing for unemployment is hard,” said Alexander. A lot of people, he said, believe this is their fault or is something they did, but it is just a sad fact of the situation.
“At this time, this is nothing that anyone has done. This was an unforeseen event, the virus is an unforeseen enemy that none of us was prepared for,” Alexander said. “If you qualify and you've worked, don't feel ashamed. Do the right thing and sign up for your unemployment.”
Mobelini agreed, stating that the town, county and state have all been declared in a state of emergency and funds are needed, so there is no shame in needed assistance.
“We've been declared an economic disaster area, so there is no stigma to filing for unemployment,” said Mobelini.
Another step that was taken this month, was when Beshear signed an executive order requiring law enforcement to cease serving eviction notices. Renters still owe their rent, however, landlords can’t evict people during the state of emergency.
“I’m asking everybody to be healthy at home,” said Beshear. “Healthy at home, more so than any of us have done, over the next coming weeks, which means that we can’t kick people out of their homes. Not right now.”
Additionally, officials with the Kentucky Small Business Development Center have announced that the U.S. Small Business Administration has designated COVID-19 as a qualifying event for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. The designation allows all businesses and private non-profits in every Kentucky county to qualify to apply for low-interest, fixed rate loans that can provide up to $2 million in assistance for a small business. The federal funds are available directly through the SBA’s Disaster Assistance Program, and the actual loan amounts are based on the amount of economic injury the business has sustained. The loans will provide vital economic support to small businesses, and the EIDL helps meet the necessary financial obligations that businesses could have met had the disaster not occurred.
The loans are available to businesses directly affected by the disaster; businesses that offer services directly related to the businesses in the declaration; and other businesses indirectly related to the industry that are likely to be harmed by losses in their community. Depending on the industry, a small business could be defined as business with a maximum of 250 employees or a maximum of 1,500 employees. The business can be a sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation or private non-profit. The loans are not open to religious or charitable organizations, gambling concerns, casinos or racetracks.
Businesses that can use conventional funding are encouraged to do so, when possible. The SBA conducts a “Credit Elsewhere” test to determine if it is evident that a business has sufficient cash flow to obtain conventional financing. The loans may be used to pay debts, payroll and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster. Businesses that apply must have a credit history that is acceptable to the SBA, the ability to prove that they can repay the loan and collateral for loans greater than $25,000. The interest rates are 3.75 percent, and the loans are available for up to 30 years. The loan application is free. Businesses that are approved for a loan are not obligated to accept the funds. The approval process will take between 14 and 21 days.
Applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans are available online at, disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/. When applying, applicants should include the disaster in the application by specifically naming “COVID-19” or “coronavirus;” apply online instead of by mail; write the password down, because neither the system nor any personnel will able to retrieve it if lost or forgotten; save the application at every prompt, because the website may go down periodically due to high volume; do not rush through the application; and be sure to use the same contact information (business name and the name of all owners) that is used on federal tax returns.
“I know as a small business owner it can be overwhelming,” said Alexander. “We're here to help you navigate through this as small businesses,” he said.
Another way that city and county officials have been trying to help people is by announcing that the Hazard Downtown Incentives Program (HDIP) is still available. This program, said Hazard's Downtown Coordinator Bailey Richards, has been around for a while, but is not used often. The city, she said, was wanting to announce it at the beginning of the month, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state at that time, so the plans were pushed back. The program, Richards said, helps businesses with debris removal, building beautification, facade improvement and offers small mini grants.
“We want people to take advantage of that and be able to come downtown,” said Richards.
An additional method of financial help for the area is the creation of donation funding sites. Members of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky recently announced that a Response and Recovery Fund was created to help the region. The Foundation committed the first $10,000, and said that contributions can be made through individuals' own donor-advised funds, by mail, or on Facebook.
“We know that many people in our communities and across our region are dealing with a multitude of challenges right now. Small businesses are struggling, employees are losing hours and we’re all taking extra precautions to try to protect our own family and our communities. As this situation evolves, please know that the team at the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, the Appalachian Impact Fund and each of our local affiliate Community Foundation boards stand ready to help. We live in a closely knit region, and when any of our communities struggle, we help each other out,” said Foundation officials in a statement.
Mobelini reminded people of the Team Kentucky fund that Gov. Beshear mentions, and also encouraged people in this area to consider donating to the Team Hazard-Perry County fund that can be found on the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky's website, appalachianky.org.
“We encourage you to donate to that Team Kentucky fund,” said Mobelini. He continued, “We're going to have a Team Hazard-Perry County fund and we want this money to go directly to the people that is affected by the coronavirus everyday.”
Once on the website, he said, click the donate tab and then designate the donation to the Team Hazard-Perry County COVID-19 Response Fund, and the money will be distributed where it needs to go, said Mobelini.
The Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) organization has launched a website to provide resources for those living in the area as the response to the virus goes forward. The website includes resources for small businesses, employees, E-Learning, families, mental health and the Small Business Impact Survey. Through this website, small businesses are able to gain access to SBA Disaster Loans and support agencies such as the Kentucky Small Business Development Center, Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corporation, Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, etc. Employees are able to receive information on assistance and how to file unemployment insurance claims, Kentucky SkillsU (GED Testing), Kentucky Community and Technical College System, SNAP Benefits and more. Parents and guardians are now acting as teachers, because of school closures, so the site provides a variety of free e-learning resources to help parents and students during this time. The website offers family friendly activities such as virtual dance lessons and museum visits, as well as available resources and tips to keep positive mental health. For more information, visit the website at, https://www.thereisafuture.org/covid19.
All employees, employers and small business owners can file online for unemployment and low-interest loans. For more information regarding unemployment benefiting employers and employees and for low-interest disaster loans to help businesses and homeowners recover from declared disasters, visit, https://kcc.ky.gov/Pages/default.aspx, and, https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.