These drastic measures, taken to protect the health of residents from the coronavirus and to buy time for hospitals, medical professionals and first responders to avoid stressing resources, have also had a devastating effect on local business owners.
Local numbers for unemployment claims in the Austin area will be available later in April, but the U.S. Department of Labor released national and statewide numbers April 1.
Texas saw 275,597 initial claims for unemployment for the week ending March 28, a 77% increase over the previous week. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, if this pace continues, the state will match 2019's total for unemployment claims—over 700,000—in just over a month.
Government officials are responding as quickly as they can to help Texans in need with new programs. Here is a sampling of what is out there for business owners, with links to apply for help.
On April 2, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-TX, hosted a virtual town hall with Tim Jeffcoat of the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide more information on federal programs. Jeffcoat is the director of the SBA's Houston District Office, but McCaul's tenth district includes parts of Austin, and the programs Jeffcoat mentioned are open to business owners everywhere.
The Paycheck Protection Program is a short-term loan that helps business owners keep employees on the payroll, and loans from the program will be fully forgiven if employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and if the money is used only for payroll, rent, mortgage interest and utilities.
"Once you get the loan, over the next eight weeks, we want to see you at full employment at full wages," Jeffcoat said.
The loan is open to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, although certain exceptions are available, including businesses in the hospitality and food industry that employ fewer than 500 individuals at individual locations.
The application form is available here, and a list of eligible lenders by ZIP code can be found here.
Banks and other lenders received guidance from the federal government April 2, and their ability to start offering loans began April 3.
"Use that money to put all your people back to work, or keep them at work, and keep them at the same wage level,"
This EIDL loan provides businesses with up to $2 million with a term of up to 30 years at an interest rate of 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits.
The EIDL loan and the PPP loan are not mutually exclusive, Jeffcoat said. A business could apply for both as long as it does not claim the same costs on both.
Both programs are intended to help keep small businesses afloat. The differences are that the EIDL loan cannot be forgiven, and it can be paid back over a long time period, whereas the PPP is intended for short-term payroll relief.
The amount of a EIDL loan is determined by the SBA after business owners provide their expenses and revenues. As part of the loan, business owners can also apply for an advance of $10,000, which the SBA aims to give out within three days of an application and which does not have to be forgiven.
Jeffcoat said the SBA is facing an "unprecedented volume in activity," but it will do all it can to assist small business owners who are hurting.
"We all know what Hurricane Harvey did to the Houston area," Jeffcoat said. "Now, imagine there’s two Hurricane Harveys in every single state. That’s what we’re facing."
In an attempt to take pressure off local small business owners until SBA funds become available, Austin City Council passed a resolution March 26 approving a loan program to "bridge the gap" between the initial impact of the outbreak and the rollout of federal loans.
These loans max out at $35,000, and like the SBA loans, the interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits. The term is either one year or the time it takes to close the applicant's SBA loan.
"We’re considering it a gap loan, a small loan, a microbusiness loan that will allow some relief before the SBA funds are funneled into our city," Austin Economic Development Director Veronica Briseño said at an April 2 virtual town hall hosted by the West Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Briseño said the city is working on getting approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development office April 2 and will disseminate information to the public as soon as possible.
The loans will follow SBA protocol, so Briseño suggested business owners pull together documents and forms based on the SBA's website in preparation for their application.
"It’s a little frustrating at the city level and the regional level because frankly, the resources required for a long-term solution really exist at the federal level," District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said at the town hall. "What we’re doing at the local level is trying to ... bridge [the gap for] folks to those programs as they get spun out by the federal government."
This Austin-based organization serves as a local navigator for employees and business owners to help answer questions about resources and help local residents find relief.
Tamara Atkinson, CEO of Workforce Solutions, said at the West Austin Chamber's virtual town hall that one of the programs available to help local small businesses is a shared work program. Under this program, an employer can reduce between 10%-40% of worker hours and keep employees on the payroll, and the Texas Workforce Commission can step in to supplement benefits that would otherwise be lost.
"We really want to help you keep your employees employed while you continue to weather this storm," Atkinson said.
The shared work program is just one of a number of programs out there to help workers and businesses recover from the coronavirus restrictions. Other options include expanded child care services for essential workers, upskilling employees and help with purchasing equipment for remote work.