Weekly Digest – 3 June 2020

Resources to Help You Survive – and Thrive – During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Now that some states are lifting lockdown restrictions, retailers whose offerings differ by the season are having an especially challenging time with reopening. Many were not able to fully restock their stores with spring items before they had to shut down, and have warehouses and stores full of items that no one wants now. Restaurants are also facing challenging times: combining their often razor-thin profit margins with capacity limitations required for social distancing may force some out of business. Some companies are also re-thinking the office as the normal workplace.

Gathering information is crucial for making the best decisions for your business and family as we learn to adapt to the COVID-19 world, so here are some resources to get you started.

CARES ACT UPDATES

Economic Impact Payments (aka Stimulus Checks)

Instead of checks, about 4 million households will receive their stimulus payments in the form of debit cards. They come in plain envelopes from “Money Network Cardholder Services,” which may make your payment look like junk mail. The front of the card has the Visa logo, and the back has the name of the issuing bank, MetaBank, N.A. You’ll have to first make a phone call to activate your card and set up a pin number. Once you activate your card by making a phone call, you can use it in the following ways:

  • Make purchases online and use it in any store that accepts Visa
  • Get cash from in-network ATMs
  • Transfer funds to your personal bank account
  • Check your card balance online, by mobile app or by phone

If you’re expecting a check, be on the lookout for one of these so you don’t throw it out.
Many people have been dismayed that the amount of their payment wasn’t what they expected. The follow-up letter doesn’t explain how the amount was calculated, and so far, the only option to fix that will be on the 2020 tax return. The Taxpayer Advocate Service, which usually helps taxpayers in dealing with the IRS, isn’t taking on any cases that are solely based on the Economic Income Payments.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

Funds from the second round of the PPP are still available. Demand for the second round was much slower as businesses began to understand the requirements for loan forgiveness.

On May 28, the House passed a bill that would relax the requirements for forgiveness. Provisions include extending the period for spending funds from 8 weeks to 24 weeks, and changing the amount required to be spent on payroll from 75% to 60%. The Senate has its own version, which would double the covered period to 16 weeks, but would not change the percentage to be spent on payroll.

Eased Restrictions on Tapping Retirement Funds

Besides putting money directly in peoples’ pockets with stimulus payments and the PPP, the CARES Act also made it easier to access retirement funds. According to a survey performed for Bankrate, about 14% of those with retirement accounts have withdrawn money to cover COVID-19 expenses. Making a plan to repay those funds will help you stay on track with your retirement goals.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)

The SBA is still working through their backlog of loan requests, and is still only accepting new applications from agricultural businesses

HELP FOR SMALL BUSINESS

Main Street Lending Program

After months of delay, funds from the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program may be available in the next two weeks, according to the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Additional FAQs about that program were posted on May 27, and include instructions on how to apply.

COVID-19 Themed Malware

In mid-May, Microsoft put out a warning about malware hiding in spreadsheet attachments to emails that purport to be COVID-19 trackers or graphs of cases within the U.S. These emails may come from a legitimate source such as Johns Hopkins University or may have titles similar to “WHO COVID-19 Situation Report.” A more recent variant pretends to come from the CDC and may have a subject line like “Business Continuity Plan Announcement Starting May 2020.” Opening the attached Excel-like spreadsheet can result in granting hackers remote access to your PC. Prevention is still the best method of protection from malware and ransomware attacks.

Cash flow and forecasting

Businesses of all sizes use financial projections to help make decisions. But in the COVID-19 pandemic, CFOs are finding that their original projections are useless. Some are going back to the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis as their worst-case scenario. Others are modeling out various scenarios to test their financial resiliency. While specialized software for modeling cash flow can provide more precise information, this article from Financial Management includes a downloadable tool and explanation for creating your own cash flow projections.

Dire cash flow projections may make it seem that layoffs are the only way forward. However, those layoffs can come with hidden costs. Not only do you lose the training you’ve already done with an employee, you will later have the additional costs of training a new team member.

If you are in a financial bind, many times your vendors, bank and landlord will be willing to work with you. Here are some scripts that can get you started.

WORK FROM HOME

Remote work

Poor sound quality is a common complaint in video meetings, but simple tricks like hanging a blanket or quilt behind you can make a big difference. Moving closer to the microphone is another quick fix.

Tech editor Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal just released a free ebook for subscribers that includes 50 tips on technology for working from home.

Working remotely means that instead of popping down the hall for a quick chat, we’re sending more emails. But too many emails can create extra stress for your team by pulling them out of focus, or simply adding unneeded messages to their inboxes. This article on Fast Company offers several pointers on email etiquette to help your team better manage their inboxes.

As businesses continue to operate fully or partially remotely, moving ahead may mean bringing on a new team leader, or reassigning someone to a new area. Onboarding a new leader remotely means you may need to make a few tweaks to your existing process. Because the short-term objectives for a new leader may have changed since lockdown began, clarifying exactly what the expectations are is essential. Providing a structured learning process also helps the new person get quickly up to speed.

REOPENING AFTER LOCKDOWN

Reopening after lockdown may not be enough to bring the economy back. Bringing the infection rate downplays a big role, according to a working paper by researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research who looked at the situation in Korea, where lockdowns were not implemented. The authors report that “At most half of the job losses in the U.S. and U.K. can be attributed to lockdowns. … Our finding suggests that the lifting of lockdowns in the U.S. and U.K. may lead to only modest recoveries in employment unless Covid-19 infection rates fall,”

Most businesses are planning on a phased approach to re-opening, according to a study by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions. The majority are not planning on bringing everyone back in the office immediately but will consider the employee’s role, their ability to continue working from home and access to child care when deciding whether to bring that person back to the office.

A recent report by the Federal Reserve indicates that many people may not want to come back to work. Business leaders noted that their challenges in bringing employees back include “workers’ health concerns, limited access to childcare, and generous unemployment insurance benefits.”

Bringing people back and keeping everyone safe means walking a fine line between respecting an employee’s health privacy and the risks of infecting others. The EEOC has issued guidelines on how to do that. This article on Accounting Today includes a summary of the most important points of that guidance.

GENERAL RESOURCES

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