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Ask Us: COVID-19 & Your Business

Jump to topics:
BUSINESS SUPPORT
CARES ACT
DONATION OPPORTUNITIES
INSURANCE POLICIES
MAIL DELIVERY
“SAFER AT HOME” ORDER
SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE
UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
ZONING

To submit or vote up questions, visit Slido.com and enter the event code #ASK4BIZ or simply click here to be directed to that page. Questions can also be submitted via email at ask@madisonbiz.com. We will collect and aggregate your questions and post responses here in as timely a manner as possible.

“SAFER AT HOME” ORDER

Question: Can house cleaners continue to work or are only commercial cleaners exempt from the stay-at-home order?

Answer: In the Governor’s order issued March 24, 2020, Section 13 (n) on page 12 states that “cleaning and janitorial staff for commercial and governmental properties” is exempted. If you are a residential cleaner, to qualify as “essential,” your work would need to be deemed “necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.”

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has a comprehensive list of Essential Businesses on their website, and if you are still uncertain, you are able to inquire about your own specific business or circumstances at the very bottom of the page.

Question: With Gov. Evers requiring all nonessential businesses to close here in Wisconsin, can I continue running my website? I own a soap shop, so I sell soaps as well as cleansers, sanitizers, etc. I have very limited staff going in and a backlog of orders to ship.

Answer: In the Governor’s order issued March 24, 2020, businesses that produce sanitizers are listed several times as considered Essential (see Section 8 on page 5 and Section 13 (r) on page 13). Essential Businesses may continue to operate but should ensure their employees are maintaining social distancing and other best practices.

Question: How does the new “quarantine in place” order affect contractors who are working in private homes installing floors, appliances, etc. – can these services still be provided? In addition, if I am a business that receives supplies/shipments, can I still go into the office to accept them?

Answer: In the Governor’s order issued March 24, 2020, construction of many kinds (outlined in Section 10 on page 6 and Section 13 (n) on page 12) are deemed Essential at this time and would be able to continue working.

However, in Section 10, the order does note that housing construction is allowed “except that optional and aesthetic construction should be avoided.”

Essential Businesses may continue to operate but should ensure their employees are maintaining social distancing and other best practices.

Additionally, the Governor’s order states in Section 14 on page 15 that exceptions can be made for “Minimum Basic Operations” of businesses, so we would encourage you to read that section to determine whether the receipt of supplies and shipments is deemed necessary and allowed.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has a comprehensive list of Essential Businesses on their website, as well as the option to inquire about your own business or circumstances at the very bottom of the page.

Question: Do employees of essential businesses need certain documentation to continue traveling to and from work starting Tuesday, March 24, 2020?

Answer: The Governor’s order issued March 24, 2020 (and taking effect March 25 at 8 a.m.) does not currently call for any documentation needed to continue traveling to and from work.

Question: Gov. Evers has just ordered to shut down nonessential businesses for a month beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 25. Does this include all small specialty food businesses? Is there a list that I could check?

Answer: In the Governor’s order issued March 24, 2020, businesses that sell groceries are listed as Essential (see Section 13 (b) on page 9), as are food and beverage manufacturers, producers, processors, transporters and cultivators (see Section 13 (c) on page 10). Essential Businesses may continue to operate but should ensure their employees are maintaining social distancing and other best practices.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has a comprehensive list of Essential Businesses on their website, as well as the option to inquire about your own business or circumstances at the very bottom of the page.

Question: Are all construction businesses essential? I work for a family business that makes high-end doors and windows for houses and shelving for businesses. Am I considered essential?

Answer: In the Governor’s order issued March 24, 2020, construction and manufacturing of many kinds (outlined in Section 10 on page 6, Section 13 (n) on page 12, and Section 13 (v) on page 14) are deemed “essential” at this time and, therefore, you would be exempt from the “Safer at Home” order.

However, in Section 10, the order does note that housing construction is allowed “except that optional and aesthetic construction should be avoided.”

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has a comprehensive list of Essential Businesses on their website, and if you are still uncertain, you are able to inquire about your own specific business or circumstances at the very bottom of the page.

Question: Has anyone heard any government agency provide a metric for ending these business closures? Essentially, if we’re fighting a war against COVID-19, what’s the exit strategy?

Answer: An important question being considered by public officials at all levels of government is the balance of public and economic health.

On March 26, 2020, President Trump sent a letter to all Governors stating that “his Administration is working to publish guidelines for State and local policymakers to use in making decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put in place.”

CARES ACT

Question: Can someone explain the small business loan in the CARES ACT?

Answer: A comprehensive summary of the Paycheck Protection Program in the CARES Act can be found here.

SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE

Question: I am interested in applying for the SBA disaster loan. I’m finding information that says part of the loan could be forgiven, but I’m not seeing this consistently through all of the different reporting sources. How would I know how much would be forgiven, or if any?

Answer: Loan forgiveness is included in the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a lending program in the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package that was enacted on March 27, 2020. While the bill makes some important changes to the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, including the availability of $10,000 cash advances, it does not provide full loan forgiveness. The EIDL cash advance can only be forgiven if spent on paid leave, maintaining payroll, increased costs due to supply chain disruption, mortgage or lease payments, or repaying obligations that cannot be met due to revenue losses.

Businesses that have already secured EIDL loans will be able to refinance into a PPP loan that can be fully forgiven. Businesses should be able to apply for PPP loans at their bank or lender of choice once the program is stood up. Additional guidance will come from the Trump Administration in the coming days.

For further information about the CARES Act, click here.

Question: The SBA does not show Wisconsin businesses as eligible for disaster loans. When will that happen or is there another no- or low-interest working capital loan source for Wisconsin businesses? 

Answer: As of Friday, March 20, 2020 at 10 p.m., the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has made available Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) to assist small businesses in Wisconsin affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The WEDC has also approved a $5 million grant program designed to support certain small businesses, but as you will note in a previously answered question, these grants are only intended for current Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) clients. 

For important information and links to these two resources for small businesses, you can check out our page at madisonbiz.com/smallbusiness.  

If you have additional questions about either of these programs, you can submit a question at slido.com using the event code ASK4BIZ or simply click here to be directed to that page.

Question: Do you know yet what the criteria will be to qualify for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan? 

Answer: As of Friday, March 20, 2020 at 10 p.m., the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) made available Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) to assist businesses in Wisconsin affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. You can find more information about these loans, including information about eligibility and additional resources, at madisonbiz.com/smallbusiness

If you have additional questions about this program, you can submit a question at slido.com using the event code ASK4BIZ or simply click here to be directed to that page.

Question: The SBA disaster loan shows that it could be used for payroll, fixed bills, etc. Could it also be used for paying employees’ health insurance?

Answer: According to the SBA’s EIDL Frequently Asked Questions Fact Sheet, “[t]hese loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.” Per the Wisconsin SBA Office, health insurance “is a monthly obligation of the business so they should include that in their application to help the Disaster Loan Officer determine how much the applicant should be receiving.”

If you have additional questions, you can email the Wisconsin SBA Office at wisconsin@sba.gov. You can also visit their website at sba.gov/disaster.

Question: I see some disaster funding options being made available but all through lending services. Will there be grant funding as well? As a small business owner, I don’t want to take out a loan and take on more debt if I don’t have to. Even smaller grant amounts could go a long way for business owners. 

Answer: The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has provided $5 million in grant money to support small businesses through the COVID-19 crisis.  

NOTE: This program is intended for current Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) clients. If you are not a current client, this program is not for you. If you ARE a client, you will know who your CDFI is and can reach out accordingly. 

The money, which is intended to ease payroll and rent burdens for two months, will be awarded by CDFIs to for-profit businesses that are current CDFI loan recipients in good standing as of 3/1/2020. These businesses must have 20 or fewer full-time or part-time employees and greater than $0 but less than $2 million in annual revenues. Preference will be given to service and retail businesses. Businesses may be granted two months of payroll and rent expenses, up to a maximum of $20,000. Funds must be used for rent and payroll expenses, including covering paid leave (sick, family and other leave related to COVID-19) during the duration of the funding period. 

Click here or more information about the WEDC Small Business 20/20 Program.

Question: Regarding grant funding offered by the WEDC, if you’re not a current client of a CDFI, my understanding is that you’re not eligible for this grant. Is there grant money extended to small businesses regardless of CDFI affiliation?

Answer: As of Tuesday, March 24, 2020, we have not been made aware of any additional grant funding. The current opportunities we know about are the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans, the WEDC Small Business 20/20 grants and the Kiva loans. To learn more about any of these, please visit madisonbiz.com/smallbusiness.

Question: Who are the CDFIs in Madison?

A list of U.S Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) can be found here. Click to download an Excel spreadsheet of all current CDFIs and then sort the list to see only those in Wisconsin.

The three CFDIs active in the Madison area are the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), Forward Community Investments and Habitat for Humanity of Dane County.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

Question: My employees rely on the services they provide for commission and tips. If we temporarily close our doors, is there such a thing as temporary unemployment so they can collect benefits? The intention is that we will re-hire them post-crisis and that they intend on coming back to work. 

Answer: As long as your business has been paying into state unemployment, your employees should be eligible to receive unemployment benefits if they lose employment through no fault of their own. Additionally, the governor has waived several eligibility requirements in order to make it easier for those unemployed during this outbreak to receive benefits. To file a claim, your temporarily unemployed staff should go to my.unemployment.wisconsin.gov and create an account. The Department will follow up with them.  

Please note that unemployment is treated on a case-by-case basis and that there are still some criteria for eligibility. In examining claims, the Department will look at the wages that you, the employer, have reported in your quarterly wage report. In the case of employees who receive commissions or tips, if tips or commissions have been declared and reported, then they are part of the claim. If a worker did not declare their tips or the employer did not include them on the W-2, then they are not included in the claim. If a worker disputes quarterly wages by saying they should be higher, they must be able to prove that claim. Declaring tips as income on their taxes is proof. 

You can find the Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Handbook for Employers here. If you have additional benefits/claimant eligibility questions or need support from the Department of Workforce Development, the Unemployment Insurance Employer Assistance line is 414-438-7705. The line is staffed M-F 7:35 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. The Department of Workforce Development has also created a general FAQ regarding COVID-19 and Unemployment, found here.

Question: My business has closed and my employees have filed for unemployment. Can I continue to pay benefits for my employees including health insurance?

Answer: In general, all that matters is wages earned. When calculating unemployment benefits, the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is looking at gross wages, which includes everything that is calculated prior to deductions. The employer share of contributions to health insurance, retirement, etc. should not impact claim calculations. You as the employer can continue to make healthcare or retirement contributions without affecting gross wages and therefore impacting unemployment insurance claims.

Please note that unemployment is treated on a case-by-case basis. You can find the Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Handbook for Employers here. If you have additional benefits/claimant eligibility questions or need support from the Department of Workforce Development, the Unemployment Insurance Employer Assistance line is 414-438-7705. The line is staffed M-F 7:35 a.m – 3:30 p.m. The Department of Workforce Development has also created a general FAQ regarding COVID-19 and Unemployment, found here.

Question: If my business is a salon, but my staff are all independent salon owners who are essentially renting space in my salon (they are all LLCs or S-Corps), can they file for unemployment? And would it be based on their 2019 taxes?

Answer: A representative at the Department of Workforce Development told us that as long as the salon owners have lost employment through no fault of their own, they should take the steps to file for unemployment. The Department of Workforce Development will conduct its own investigation into their circumstances to determine whether they are considered “independent contractors” under unemployment law and will then determine any unemployment benefits.

If you or they have additional benefits or claimant eligibility questions or need support from the Department of Workforce Development, the Unemployment Insurance Employer Assistance line is 414-438-7705. The line is staffed M-F 7:35 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. The Department of Workforce Development has also created a general FAQ regarding COVID-19 and Unemployment, found here. Please note that due to high call volumes, there may be a wait.

Question: I have a dental practice that has been ordered closed for regular business, except dental emergencies. Would I be able to call in a staff member to assist in an occasional emergency procedure if they are collecting unemployment?

Answer: The Department of Workforce Development has a guide to a variety of issues that impact eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits that can be found here. There are two eligibility tests that seem relevant to your question: $500 Maximum Earnings and 32 Hours of Pay in a Claimed Week. In order to remain eligible for unemployment benefits in a given week, they must not: 1. earn more than $500 in gross wages, and 2. work 32 or more hours. We’ve copied the relevant sections below.

For unemployment, each week the individual fills out their online claim for unemployment benefits, they will be asked a series of eligibility questions. They’ll be asked to report the work that they performed for you if they are called in to help with a dental emergency. As long as you stay within eligibility requirements, their unemployment claims shouldn’t be impacted.

Section 108.05(3)(dm)

No benefits are payable for any week in which a claimant earns wages, misses wages by missing work, and/or receives or will receive holiday, vacation, dismissal, sick pay, bonus pay, back pay, or temporary total, permanent total, or temporary partial disability payments exceeding $500 in the week.

Section 108.05(3)(c)

A claimant is ineligible for benefits for any week in which (s)he worked, missed work and/or received or will receive holiday, vacation, dismissal or sick pay totaling 32 or more hours from one or more employers.

The Department of Workforce Development has also created an FAQ for questions that have arisen specifically due to COVID-19, which can be found here.

INSURANCE POLICIES

Question: What should we look for in our insurance policy to see if this situation would qualify for a claim? 

Answer: It is important to fully understand what your insurance policy covers, so we would encourage you to reach out directly to your insurance agent or broker to discuss your coverage. 

For many businesses, their first-party property insurance policies will include coverage for not only property damage but also for lost profits resulting from that damage. The coverage for lost income often covers loss resulting from things like: damage to the property of a customer or supplier or a supplier’s supplier (contingent business interruption), government action such as evacuation orders (order of civil authority) and damage to properties that attach customers to the policyholder’s business (leader property). 

The main question to ask when it comes to property insurance coverage for all COVID-19-related loss is whether the presence of the virus can cause or constitute property damage and whether such damage played a role in the loss of income. Make sure to connect with your insurer to understand your specific coverage and be sure to keep proper records of losses (income and expense) resulting from the outbreak’s impact.

ZONING

Question: Do I still need a permit from Zoning to put out a portable sign (a.k.a. sandwich board) to identify curbside pick-up or to advertise that my business is open?

Answer: On March 27, 2020, the City of Madison’s Department of Planning & Community & Economic Development’s Building Inspection Division issued a release stating that “in an effort to accommodate the community and respond to temporary changes in business requirements and needs, enforcement of public right-of-way and private property portable A-frame sign licensing and permitting rules will be temporarily relaxed, until business closure orders have been lifted.”

Simply put, this means that you will not need to obtain a valid license before you display any portable sign in the public right-of-way or on private property during this time period.

The City does ask that you follow these guidelines during this time period: *Only place a sign in front of your place of business, not at a nearby street intersection, across the street or in a boulevard area.
*Do not block the sidewalk, sidewalk ramps at intersection corners, fire hydrants or other similar features, and do not lock or otherwise attach a sign to a feature in the public right-of-way.
*Place signs at least 10 feet from a driveway opening and 25 feet from a street intersection to maintain vision clearance safety for pedestrians and vehicles.
*Do not place signs in the public right-of-way if you have space on your private property. City staff will relocate signs placed in the right-of-way back onto private property, if observed.

MAIL DELIVERY

Question: If my business is deemed non-essential, will the Post Office continue to try to deliver my mail to my business address? Can I get it rerouted to my home address? Do I have to pay for that? And how do I arrange that?

Answer: The U.S. Postal Service has created several webpages providing USPS-specific coronavirus information: a General Statement, Updates on Coronavirus for Business Customers and Updates on Coronavirus for Residential Customers.

One of the questions on the Residential Customers page is, “How is USPS Handling Mail for Closed Businesses?” Here is their answer:

“Mail on the delivery route is returned to the Delivery unit and will be held for 10 days under current policies. Customers can request a temporary hold for their mail up to 30 days. Caller Box customers should contact their local office to discuss how they will be handling the pickup of this volume. Any high volume customer will be contacted to discuss pickup options as well.”

It is possible to temporarily reroute your mail using the USPS “Change of Address” process, which you can do online here.

BUSINESS SUPPORT

Question: Are there organizations locally that are supporting the emotional side of business ownership right now? Having to lay off employees was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, and I am just looking for support from others who are having a similar experience.

Answer: This is a great question that we are glad you are asking. Please know that you are not alone in asking this question or thinking about this. Supporting the emotional side of business ownership is something that we are interested in and actively working to find a solution for, so if you’d like to be a part of building something like this, please send your ideas and/or information to ask@madisonbiz.com.

DONATION OPPORTUNITIES

Question: I am a restaurant owner who has excess food that I’d like to donate. Do you know anyone who is taking it?

Answer: Currently we know that FEED Kitchens and Healthy Food For All may be able to take some unused restaurant product. They will not accept opened or unsealed food products and priority will be given to items that are not short-dated.  

If you have food that follows these basic guidelines that you would like to donate, please send an email with the subject line “Restaurant food for donation” to feedmanager@feedkitchens.org and include an itemized list of products you have available.

Question: I have two unopened boxes of 100-count latex gloves. Where can I donate these items? 

Answer: Currently, Public Health Madison & Dane County’s EMS Services is in need of masks, paper and/or cloth gowns. If you have any of these products, please reach out to Carrie Meier at meier.carrie@countyofdane.com or (608) 444-4827 to coordinate a drop-off. 

Additionally, Housing & Homelessness Services is requesting donations for the following items:

–Hand Sanitizer
–Face Masks (surgical)
–Gloves (especially latex-free)
–Thermometers – Forehead reading
–Clorox wipes
–Paper towel
–Bleach spray
–Toilet paper
–Food: Fresh fruit, grab & go snacks for kids, single-serving food
–Diapers (sizes 2-6)
–Baby Wipes
–Disposable goggles or face shields 

If you are able to donate any of these items, please reach out to KNeuschel@publichealthmdc.com or tkoppmueleer@cityofmadison.com to coordinate a drop-off. 

Please note that due to Infection Control requirements, unsolicited items, including hand-sewn cloth masks, will not be accepted.