Coronavirus economic victims can obtain relief

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In addition to health victims of the coronavirus epidemic, the quarantine has also created economic victims. Some businesses have closed, while others remain open but with reduced staff. In some cases, the hours of the workers have been reduced. Other businesses have seen sales decline. Some workers have left their jobs to self-quarantine or to care for others who are recovering from the coronavirus infection.

“Anyone who has been laid off is eligible to apply for unemployment immediately,” Patrick Ellis, president and CEO of Murrieta/Wildomar Chamber of Commerce, said. “They do have to reference that they were laid off due to the Covid-19 outbreak.”

That eligibility could include business closures and reduced workforces.

“They can do it through their county office,” Ellis said.

An unemployment office is on State Street in Hemet, and there are also Riverside County offices in Riverside and in Indio.

“Right now, people can file for unemployment, but I can tell you that’s backed up for three or four weeks,” Lila MacDonald, CEO of Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce, said.

Normally unemployment insurance is for those whose jobs were eliminated, but those whose jobs will return once the quarantine is over are eligible for unemployment.

“It’s going to take a week before you can file,” MacDonald said. “The hard thing is going to be to float those three or four weeks.”

Although MacDonald has not experienced a shutdown in her Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce capacity, the Fallbrook High School graduate moved to Hollywood before returning to Fallbrook in 1994. She experienced the 1992 Los Angeles riots after the acquittal of the Los Angeles Police Department officers accused of assaulting motorist Rodney King, and she was living in a second-floor apartment in the Fairfax District during the January 1994 earthquake.

MacDonald was the front-end manager of a Red Lobster in Ventura when the Los Angeles riots broke out and travel restrictions were put in place.

“I was kind of quarantined to that area during the riots,” she said. “I couldn’t drive back down.”

That separated MacDonald from her oldest child, who was born in April 1991. MacDonald stayed in Camarillo while her daughter stayed with her maternal grandparents who lived in Los Angeles.

“It was a scary time,” MacDonald said.

In terms of disruption of business and travel, the coronavirus epidemic is similar to what MacDonald experienced in the early 1990s.

“The difference is city compared to rural. I would much rather go through this in a small town where people support each other,” she said. “People take care of our elderly population; our kids get fed.”

At the community level that includes finding jobs for those not working as well as providing assistance.

“We’re doing our best to try to connect people with employment opportunities that are arising now,” Ellis said.

Reduced grocery store and warehouse store hours and longer lines in those stores have led to some of those stores hiring additional staff.

MacDonald said that local employers can work together with employees to ensure that the employees do not sustain irreversible consequences due to the loss of income.

“Small towns are different from those large cities,” she said. “They’re really trying to take care of their employees.”

The availability of non-governmental community resources is complemented by government programs. Those who self-quarantine are eligible for paid sick leave.

“There is coverage as well for that. There has been an extension of the paid sick leave on a statewide level,” Ellis said. “They have emergency coverage under the state for the two weeks of sick pay.”

The business rather than the government pays for that sick leave.

“The employer pays for it, and the employer is eligible for a tax credit,” Ellis said.

It is the opposite of the financial transaction flow for emergency loans from the federal government’s Small Business Administration.

“The SBA is offering business loans,” MacDonald said. “They’re really hard to get, and all you’re doing is deferring that.”

The self-employed will likely be better off seeking relief as a business rather than as an income earner.

“Unemployment, that’s hard,” MacDonald said. “They don’t have an employer. Those are going to be: how can FEMA or larger federal and state help them out?”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and may be able to provide some relief from payment obligations.

“The county’s trying to figure out how to help small businesses,” MacDonald said.

San Diego County grants cannot be given to for-profit businesses but can be given to nonprofit organizations.

“They have to funnel it through,” MacDonald said.

Some businesses may still pay their workers when the facility is closed.

“If they’re larger, they’ll be able to make allowances,” MacDonald said.

“We’re just working with local businesses to do everything we can to help them through things,” Ellis said.

Some business are utilizing online disc jockey, concert or exercise class services.

“People are getting creative,” MacDonald said. “People thinking outside the box like that is a cool thing as well.”

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at jnaiman@reedermedia.com.