Responding to the ongoing global Coronavirus pandemic, government, at all levels, has been taking drastic measures to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and to provide economic assistance to the individuals and businesses that have been impacted. This article highlights some of the key actions taken by state and federal government
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, President Trump issued the national guidelines “15 Days to Slow the Spread” and, after briefly suggesting that businesses and people could potentially return to normal by Easter, extended the National Guidelines for at least another 30 days. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis initially resisted calls for a state-wide lockdown but has now issued an Executive Order providing for “Safer at Home” measures including the closure of all non-essential businesses, and directing that citizens remain at home except for essential services and functions. The economic fallout has been dramatic as the economy grinds to a halt. Global economic recession is now a reality, with the only question being how long will the recession last and when can the country get back to work.
While all sectors of the economy have been dramatically impacted, small businesses and individual employees have been especially hard hit. With the need to continue social distancing guidelines and business closures, the Federal Government and the State of Florida have implemented economic packages to provide emergency relief and economic stimulus for the affected businesses and the people who were employed by them.
The CARES Act: On Friday, March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) was signed into law. This law provides an estimated $2 trillion in relief to individuals and businesses suffering due to COVID-19.
- Individuals: Under the CARES Act:
- Individuals will receive a check of up to $1,200 per person and $500 per child based upon the individuals income;
- If you are on unemployment, the amount of time you can be on unemployment has increased by 13 weeks and the federal government will add an additional $600 per week to the unemployment pay for up to four months;
- All federal held student loan payments, including interest, are deferred through September 30, 2020 without penalty to the borrower;
- A Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for gig workers and freelancers is established;
- The time to file 2019 tax returns is extended until July 15, 2020; and
- All health insurance plans are mandated to cover COVID-19 testing, vaccination and treatment,
- Small Businesses: The CARES Act defines a small business as one with 500 or fewer employees. For these small businesses, the CARES Act:
- Provides $10 billion for grants of up to $10,000 to provide emergency funds for small businesses to cover immediate operating costs;
- Allows for the Small Business Administration to provide loans of up to $10 million per business. Any funds from that loan that are used to maintain payroll, keep workers on the books or pay for rent, mortgage and existing debt could be forgiven, provided that workers stay employed through the end of June of 2020; and
- For businesses with existing SBA loans, $17 billion has been allocated to help pay for up to six months of payments.
- With regards to whether a business has fewer than 500 employees, the SBA will be applying its “affiliation” rules to determine if a business is actually “controlled” by another business. If so, those businesses will be treated as a single business for the purposes of determining the number of employees. SBA’s guide on “affiliations” can be found here.
- Larger Businesses and Targeted Businesses: In addition to small businesses, the CARES Act provides some relief to larger businesses and also to specific types of businesses. These include:
- The “Main Street Business Lending” program which will be administered by the Department of the Treasury and Federal Reserve. This program provides:
- $4 billion in loans or loan guarantees for cargo air carriers;
- $17 billion in loans or loan guarantees for businesses critical to maintaining national security;
- Tax credits for businesses that keep employees on the payroll;
- For hospitals, the CARES Act:
- Sets up a $100 billion emergency fund to keep hospitals and employees afloat;
- Lifts the planned 2% Medicare sequestration payments cuts to providers until the end of this year.
- Providing $1.32 billion in immediate additional funding for community health centers; and
- Significantly expanding the availability and use of telehealth.
- The “Main Street Business Lending” program which will be administered by the Department of the Treasury and Federal Reserve. This program provides:
The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program: The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity administers this Program in partnership with the Florida SBDC Network and Florida First Capital Finance Corporation to provide cash flow to businesses economically impacted by COVID-19. These short-term, interest-free loans help bridge the gap between the time the economic impact occurred and when a business secures other financial resources, including payment of insurance claims or longer-term Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. Up to $50 million has been allocated for the Program. The application period for this short-term interest-free loan opened on March 17, 2020 and will continue at least through May 8, 2020. The highlights of the program are:
- Short-term interest-free loans in an amount up to $50,000 for business owners.
- Loans to be repaid without interest within one year.
- Interest rates after one year go to 12%.
- Purpose of the Program is to provide short-term liquidity to small business owners to remain open despite economic impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Families First Coronavirus Response Act” (H.R. 6201): The key features place new responsibilities on employers to assist employees who are affected when the employee or a family member is affected by Coronavirus. The Bill includes the following:
- Applies to businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
- Paid Family and Medical Leave for 12 weeks (the first 14 days are to be paid under sick leave provisions).
- This leave benefit covers employees who have been working for at least 30 calendar days.
- Among other uses, employees may use the leave to respond to quarantine requirements or recommendations, to care for family members who are responding to quarantine requirements or recommendations, and to care for a child whose school has been closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- After the first 14 days, employers must compensate employees in an amount that is not less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. These pay requirements apply to only the COVID-19-related leave reasons listed above.
- The provisions will go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire on December 31, 2020.
- Paid Sick Leave provisions of the Bill also require employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide full-time employees two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave for specific circumstances related to COVID-19 (e.g., self-isolating, doctors’ visits, etc.).
- Part-time employees are also covered and entitled to paid sick leave for the number of hours equal to the number of hours they work, on average, over a two-week period.
- Employers must compensate employees for any paid sick time they take at their regular rates of pay.
- Employers will be required to post a notice informing employees of their rights to leave.
- As currently drafted, the Bill expressly provides that it does not preempt existing state or local paid sick leave entitlements.
- Employers will be provided with tax credits to offset their costs in meeting the new paid leave mandates.
- The Bill provides $1 billion in emergency unemployment insurance (UI) relief to the states: $500 million for costs associated with increased administration of each state’s UI program and $500 million held in reserve to assist states with a 10 percent increase in unemployment. Besides the necessary increase in unemployment, in order to receive a portion of this grant money, states must temporarily relax certain UI eligibility requirements, such as waiting periods and work search requirements.
Florida Department of Emergency Management – Emergency Requisition Requests: For healthcare facilities unable to get necessary supplies, including personal protective equipment, N95 Masks, and COVID-19 tests, the Florida Department of Emergency Management has created a COVID_19 Emergency Requisition Request system that allows the facilities to request necessary equipment when it is unable to obtain it anywhere else. The form for this can be found here.
Actions Taken to Slow/Stop the Spread of COVID-19
The Executive Office of the Governor: As of the date of this article, the Governor has issued numerous Executive Orders aimed at slowing or stopping the spread of COVID-19. These orders include:
- EO #2020-51 establishing a coronavirus response protocol and directing a public health emergency;
- EO #2020-52 declaring a state of emergency;
- EO #2020-68 suspending bars, pubs, and nightclubs and limiting capacity at restaurants, and limiting the size of groups at public beaches;
- EO #2020-69 allowing local government meeting to occur electronically;
- EO #2020-70 restricting restaurants to take out food service only and suspending movie theatres, concert houses, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys, arcades, gymnasiums, fitness studios and beaches in Broward and Palm Beach counties;
- EO #2020-71 restricting on-site alcoholic sales, but allowing restaurants to sell packaged alcohol to-go and closing gyms and fitness centers;
- EO #2020-72 prohibiting any non-emergency or elective emergency procedure or surgery;
- EO #2020-80 requiring the screening and isolation of anyone arriving in Florida from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut by airplane;
- EO #2020-82 requiring the screening and isolation of anyone arriving in Florida from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut regardless of how they arrive;
- EO #2020-83 advising people over the age of 65 or with other health issues to stay at home and advising against any gathering, including work, where 10 or more people are together.
- EO #2020-91 and 92, commonly referred to as the “Safer at Home” order, closing all non-essential businesses, and directing that citizens remain at home except for essential services and functions.
Florida State Agencies: In addition to the actions taken by the Governor, state agencies are also taking action.
- All agencies have suspended licensing, and renewal requirements for existing licensed professionals for at least 30 days.
- Florida Department of Emergency Management: FDEM has activated Level 1, which is a full scale Activation of State Emergency Response Teams and has mobilized the national guard. Additionally, FDEM has:
- Established a grant program to assist Florida Counties;
- Worked with the federal government to provide needed medical supplies, including mobile intensive care units, ventilators, hospital beds, personal Protective equipment,. N95 face masks, and other necessary medical supplies.
- As discussed above, FDEM has established a process to allow healthcare facilities to request these needed items.
- FDEM, in conjunction with the Agency for Healthcare Administration, have implemented emergency rules restricting who can visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
- Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles: Driver license renewal requirements have been suspended for at least 30 days.
- Florida Department of State: The Florida Department of State has extended the annual report filing deadline for businesses until June 30, 2020.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”): CMS, in conjunction with Florida Medicaid, has also taken steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 and provide additional access to care to patients that have or may have COVID-19. These steps include:
- Confirmation that Florida Medicaid will cover all medically necessary services related to testing and treatment of COVID-19;
- Waiving prior authorization for medically necessary services and supplies for Florida Medicaid patients;
- Removing limits on prescription refills and allowing for 90-day supplies of medications for Florida Medicaid patients;
- Waiving co-pays for all services for Florida Medicaid patients; and
- Waiving Medicare Telehealth Reimbursement Restrictions.
Schools and Universities: School districts and universities across the state are making significant changes to ensure the safety of their students, staff, and the community at large. These include:
- Extending spring break until March 30, 2020 (with the exception of Collier, Duval, Sumter, and Union counties);
- Implementing distance learning for all K-12 students from March 30 through at least April 15th;
- Cancelling required student assessments and adjusting graduation and grade promotion requirements accordingly;
- Cancelling school grades;
- Establishing programs to provide technology and internet access to low-income K-12 students to access distance learning;
- Colleges and universities are directed to use virtual or remote learning for the remainder of the spring semester and all other activities and gatherings have been cancelled or postponed; and
- Colleges and universities have cancelled May 2020 commencement ceremonies and are considering extending the spring semester through June of 2020.
County and other Local Government Actions: Counties and other local governments are also taking action to stem the tide of COVID-19. These actions include:
- Orange and Osceola County have ordered all theme parks to close and imposed curfews;
- Miami-Dade County has ordered parks and public beaches to close;
- Many other counties have also closed or limited beach access;
- Lake County has issued emergency orders requesting that residents over 65 shelter in place and requesting that employers with residents over the age of 65 to allow working from home.
- The Florida Keys have closed to visitors; and
- Some counties and cities have also closed boat ramps and restricted access to boating and boat gatherings.
Stay Up To Date
Additionally, both the state and federal governments are providing numerous online resources to keep people informed of COVID-19 and how to protect themselves. These sites include:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
- The Florida Department of Health: https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/
- Florida Division of Emergency Management: https://floridadisaster.org/covid19/
- Florida Department of Education: http://www.fldoe.org/em-response/index.stml
COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge for everyone. If you have concerns as to how to access the resources described in this article, please consider contacting an attorney at Smith & Associates to discuss your rights under these new laws and regulation.