Updated 9/10/2021 at 3:00 p.m. Updates in bold
On Thursday, September 9, President Biden issued executive orders regarding new policies to combat COVID-19. The White House has released a document summarizing the orders, which can be found here.
The orders include the following:
• Department of Labor Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring employers with more than 100 people to require vaccination or weekly testing
• Department of Labor rule requiring employers with more than 100 people to provide paid time off for vaccinations
• Require federal employees to get vaccinated within 75 days or risk termination (which would remove the option for weekly testing in lieu of vaccination)
• Extend the federal employee vaccination requirement to federal contractors
• Require Medicare and Medicaid funding recipients to fully vaccinate their staff
• Urge schools to set up regular testing based on community spread
• Expand free COVID testing
On Friday, September 10th, Seema Nanda, Solicitor for the U.S. Department of Labor, explained that these orders will be implemented via an OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard expected “in weeks.” Details on how employers will have to report information, what employees will be included in the requirement, and who bears the cost of testing, were not available. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is compiling employer questions and we will be providing answers as the information becomes available.
– Restaurants, bars, stores, salons, gyms, theaters, event venues, nightclubs, and other businesses can operate at 100% capacity, and crowd-size limits are lifted on all indoor and outdoor gatherings.
– While Pennsylvania’s face covering order was lifted on June 28th, the PA Department of Health continues to urge individuals to follow CDC guidance for wearing a mask where required by law, rule, and regulations, including healthcare, local business, and workplace guidance. For the protection of themselves and others, individuals who have not yet been vaccinated or are partially vaccinated are still encouraged to wear a mask when in public. The CDC requires individuals to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs, such as airports and stations. Masks are also recommended, regardless of vaccination status, while indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission. As of August 30th, Columbia and Montour counties are at a high transmission rate.
The latest CDC guidance regarding masking indoors is not an OSHA regulation. However, an employer could be cited for creating an unsafe working condition if a claim is filed, according to OSHA’s Wilkes Barre office.
Vaccination and Testing
The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Geisinger in encouraging eligible individuals to get vaccinated. Resources to help employers communicate with their employees about vaccination are available from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, provides recommendations for developing a workplace vaccination strategy.
Geisinger is offering vaccines to anyone age 12 or older either by appointment or through a walk-in clinic. Click here for information.
Click here to find vaccination sites statewide.
Columbia County EMA is assisting Susquehanna Valley Medical Specialties with COVID-19 vaccination appointments. Those eligible should call 570-389-5735, Monday through Friday only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Provide name, date of birth, address and phone number. Someone from Susquehanna Valley Medical Specialties will call back to schedule an appointment. The clinic expects to experience a large volume of inquiries and asks callers to allow ample time for a call back. Callers who are not contacted within 72 hours are asked to call again. Another way to schedule an appointment time for their vaccination, patients simply need to log on to our website at svmedspec.com and click on our Covid-19 vaccination link to enter their contact information.
Individuals needing a ride to a vaccination appointment can call 1-800-632-9063 to schedule a free ride with rabbittransit.
Geisinger offers both symptomatic testing and testing for travel. Visit here for details.
If you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, contact your physician for a referral to a testing site.
– The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) included a tax credit for small employers that offered paid time off for receiving and recovering from the COVID-19 vaccine. This tax credit makes it easier for businesses to incentivize their workforce to get vaccinated, as well as give employees the proper time they need to get vaccinated and recover from it if they experience side effects. In July, the program was expanded to provide tax credits for employees who need time to take care of family members.
The original employer tax credit for COVID-19 vaccine paid time off was announced in April 2021. It allowed eligible businesses and nonprofits to be reimbursed for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave or family leave (10 days or two work weeks) given to any employee to get vaccinated or recover from vaccination side effects. The reimbursement of $511 per day or $5,110 in total is deducted from the employer-portion of Medicare taxes and applies to paid time off taken between April 1 and September 30, 2021.
The July 2021 update to the ARP’s paid sick leave and family tax credits now allows employers to claim tax credits for paid time off given to employees to get vaccinated themselves or to accompany a family or household member to get vaccinated. It also includes paid time off for employees who need to take care of a family or household member that is recovering from vaccine side effects.
Click here for additional information from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about the Small Business Vaccine Tax Credit.
– The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is now closed. Applications are no longer being accepted.
– The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Small businesses and nonprofit organizations may qualify for EIDL loans with a 3.75% fixed rate for companies and a 2.75% fixed rate for nonprofits. Businesses can apply directly with the SBA for EIDL loans.
Businesses needing assistance in applying for an SBA loan can contact the Small Business Development Center network.
– The Employee Retention Credit is extended through December 31, 2021. The new credit, beginning January 1, is 70% on $10,000 in wages per quarter (or a maximum $28,000 per employee through December 31, 2021).
The new law expands eligibility to include employers who experienced a decline of more than 20% in a qualifying quarter.
Employers can also apply to the PPP program and take advantage of the tax credit program, provided the same wages are not used.
The IRS has issued updated guidance on utilizing ERC.
– The Shuttered Venue Operators (SVO) grant program provides assistance to live venues that were harmed by COVID-19 restrictions. The SVO grant program will distribute $16 billion in funds to live venue operators, including eligible movie theaters, concert spaces, museums and performing arts organizations.
SVO grants are being administered directly by the SBA. Click here for program details and to apply.
– It is the intent of the Columbia County Commissioners to provide qualifying small businesses a grant to assist in covering the business’ operating expenses incurred in 2021. Operating expenses include but are not limited to: payroll, rent, mortgage, utilities, costs of goods, supplies, raw materials, etc. Grant proceeds may not be used to acquire another business entity. $1,250,000 will be made available for the Columbia County Commissioners Small Business Grant.
Eligible businesses must have experienced a net reduction in revenue of at least 25% in calendar year 2020 compared to calendar year 2019.
Grants will be awarded on a first come, first served basis until all grant funds are awarded. The application period opens September 1, 2021. Grants are to be awarded in $4,000 increments. No awarded grant will exceed $40,000.
Additional details and the application link are available at csgiving.org/cccsbg.
A program for non-profit organizations in Columbia County will follow the small business program.
– SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) has created a loan program with funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. For-profit businesses can apply for loans of at least $10,000 with an interest rate of 3.25%. Funds can be used for working capital and can be disbursed based on past working capital expenses. No payments are due in the first six months.
There is a $500 underwriting fee and a $100 filing fee.
For more information, visit https://seda-cog.org/covid-19/ or contact SEDA-COG’s Business Finance Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– The Chamber’s low-interest loan program is offering loans of up to $10,000 for members at 3% interest for 30 months, with interest only payments for the first 12 months. If you are interested in the Chamber’s loan program, contact Fred Gaffney at the Chamber of Commerce at 570-784-2522 as funds are limited.
Unemployment, Benefits & HR Issues
The PA Department of Labor and Industry provides UC guidance for employers with impacted employees.
Small Business Recovery Program
The Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania Zeigler College of Business has established a Small Business Recovery Program (SBRP) to assist local businesses in recovery from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know these are challenging days for small businesses throughout the region, and the Zeigler College of Business wants to be a partner to help solve those problems,” said Todd Shawver, dean of the Zeigler College of Business.”
The SBRP will assist regional small businesses with any aspect of their business, except for financial assistance. These services can include, but are not limited to:
• Professional sales assistance
• Social media and marketing strategy
• Business strategy redevelopment
• Cost structures and monitoring
• Tax guidance
• Open to customizing services depending on business needs.
Anyone wishing to access the services of the SBRP can do so by filling out a request form.