Gov. Lee: Help for small businesses, unemployed on the way; Tennessee hospitals in great shape

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Gov. Bill Lee

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is urging people to stay home in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

During a press conference, he confirmed there are 4,138 cases across the state; 466 people recovered from the virus while 72 people have died.

“There are indications that the spread of the virus, may in fact, be slowing,” Lee said. “Not only in our state but in other places around the country.”

As more and more people file for unemployment as businesses across the state shutdown, Lee stressed the pandemic is having an impact on the working class across the state.

“On average, we typically see over a three-week period, about 10,000 initial employment claims,” Lee said. “Over the last three week period, we’re on track to be about 25 times higher that.”

State officials report they are dealing with 250,000 unemployment claims across the volunteer state.

As the virus began to spread across the country just a few weeks ago, state officials expanded unemployment benefits to those were told to quarantine by a doctor.

Typically, unemployment claims take an extra week to distribute as information is verified through the state.

“We suspended that additional week, the regulations around that additional week to help people get paid faster,” Lee said.

As the rate of unemployment continues to rise, the Department of Labor is expected to pay more than 100,000 claims this week.

Jeff McCord, Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, said his department is working to expand resources in order to get ahead on the mounting unemployment claims.

According to McCord, two-and-a-half weeks ago, 20 people were working to process claims and that number is now over 200 people.

“Within the week, we’ll be adding another 50 so that we can fully cover seven days a week for those of you looking to file claims,” McCord said.

He said the state’s unemployment claiming system will be undergoing another update in a week to deal with the number of claims coming in.

CARES ACT & ‘PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM’

Last week, lawmakers on Capitol Hill passed the CARES Act to help with the rising unemployment rates across the country.

According to Lee, this specific act provides more provisions and flexibility for Tennesseans. Some of the provisions in the legislation are set to go into effect, across Tennessee, next week.

One of the major provisions is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. According to McCord, it covers sole proprietors and 1099 employees.

Another major one, instrumental to Tennesseans, is Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation which adds an extra $600 on top of any claim that is filed.

McCord says the amount of the initial claim does not matter to get the extra $600.

“We want to ensure that small business owners have awareness of and access to the funds that could help curve the economic losses in our small businesses all over the state,” Lee said.

The state filed a request with the SBA in March to officially pursue statewide relief opportunities.

“Loan assistance is available for small businesses in Tennessee,” Lee said.

Tennessee’s approved declaration, from the SBA, ensures loan assistance is available for small businesses as well as private and non-profit organizations across the state.

Lee said loan interest loans, up to $2 million dollars per entity. Non-profit organizations also can apply for these loans.

He expressed that loans for small businesses will be crucial to help maintain the state’s economy.

The federal government launched the Paycheck Protection Program on Friday.

According to the SBA’s website, this program provides loans to small businesses to keep their employees on the payroll.

SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and if the money is used for rent, mortgage interest or utilites.

“It’s an unprecedented government initiative to provide financial assistance to the small business community and others,” Lee said.

The program authorized $350 billion in forgivable loans to help small businesses maintain payroll during the pandemic.

In Tennessee, the program is being run through local banks and credit unions in order to help process claims and operate the program.

Greg Gonzalez, Commissioner of Tennessee’s Financial Institutions, said small business owners should reach out to their bankers to find solutions for their circumstances.

If the business wants to file for the Paycheck Protection Program, the business will need to verify who they are and provide payroll information.

COVID-19 CASES & HOSPITALS

Dr. Lisa Piercey, Commissioner for the Department of Health, echoed Gov. Lee’s report of the COVID-19 cases rising by more than 300 from Monday’s reported numbers.

She continued to say this was due to more testing being done.

“That’s in the face of adding 5,500 tests in a day. That brings our total test amount to almost 53,000. Quite frankly that is remarkable,” Piercey said.

According to health officials, hospitals are still in good shape as the cases continue to rise.

Piercey says 36% of inpatient beds are open, 35% intensive unit beds are open and 75% of the state’s ventilators are not being used.

Later this week, state officials should be releasing more statistics on the virus.

“Perhaps as early as tomorrow, we’ll be able to release race and ethnicity data on our positive cases,” Piercey said. Later this week, she expects the state health department to report deaths by age range.

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