Franklin Countys First News

Chamber offers support during COVID-19 pandemic

AUGUSTA – Maine state, regional and local chambers of commerce continue to work together to support Maine businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chambers are hearing serious concerns from Maine employers about their ability to endure the pandemic. The chamber community is working closely with state, local and federal officials on efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on businesses and is hard at work updating employers and sharing resources aimed at helping businesses survive this challenging time. While prioritizing public health, chambers are also promoting ways every Mainer can help businesses, especially small businesses, continue to sell goods and services during the pandemic and its associated curfews and restrictions, including the executive order announced today by Governor Janet Mills.

Resources, emergency financial assistance and additional efforts include:

•The U.S. Small Business Administration has approved Governor Janet Mills’ request to provide disaster assistance to Maine small businesses. Businesses can apply, find more information, and download applications here. The deadline to apply for assistance is December 16, 2020. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information. Individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing may call (800) 877-8339. Completed applications should be mailed to U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.
•Governor Mills has signed an emergency omnibus package that establishes a consumer loan guarantee program through the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME), in partnership with financial institutions, to provide low- or no- interest loans for eligible people in Maine. Sole proprietors can now apply for FAME loans up to $5,000 with 3 chances to apply for a total of $15,000.
•Unemployment Insurance:
oState legislation was passed to make our Unemployment Insurance system more flexible for both employees and employers.
oFor employees: The usual one week waiting period for eligibility will be waived in the event of a Covid-19 related layoff.
oFor employers: Layoffs associated with COVID-19 will not count against an employer’s experience rating for UI tax purposes.
•At the federal level, Congress and the Trump administration are taking actions to blunt the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s economy. Rescue proposals are nearing a trillion dollars in aid. Among federal legislation being considered is Sen. Susan Collins’ “Keeping Workers Paid and Employed Act,” which would provide cash-flow assistance quickly to employers. This cash-flow assistance could be as much as the employer needs to stay in operation without lay-offs. Funds are required to be used to pay employees.

Chambers across the state are urging individuals to support local and small businesses in a variety of ways including:

•Encouraging Mainers to use delivery, take-out and curbside services at their local businesses.
•Paying vendors such as caterers now for events that have been postponed due to the virus.
•Buying gift cards to retailers, restaurants, shops, and movie, concert and theatre venues.
•Purchasing class passes for fitness studios, gyms and more.
•Purchasing merchandise online from retailers, breweries, restaurants, etc., including shirts, hats, books, signs, and more.

Many chambers are surveying member businesses for feedback on how best to support them. Several chambers are offering virtual events for members, sharing their video-conferencing capabilities with members at no charge, and holding social media contests to help support local businesses.

“Maine businesses and chambers of commerce are working closely together and with state and federal officials to advocate for businesses and to make sure employers are aware of and can access all resources available to help get them through this tough time,” President & CEO of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce Tom Peaco said. “These resources offer real assistance that we hope somewhat allay the stress businesses and individuals are facing in this difficult and uncertain time.”

“Every community’s needs are different, and we are reaching out to area businesses to help identify their needs and seek solutions,” President & CEO of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce Deb Neuman said. “One thing we all share is our commitment to supporting one another with a sense of optimism and confidence that despite the hits Maine businesses are taking now, we will make it through to the other side of this pandemic.”

“It is important all Maine employers know assistance and resources are coming together to help them weather this unprecedented pandemic,” Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors said. “We are all in this together, we are stronger together, and the chamber of commerce community is committed to helping find ways to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses, their employees and consumers, and Maine’s economy.”

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