COVID-19

Expanded unemployment benefits help small businesses, too

Justin Ho Jul 27, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A hostess at a Miami restaurant waits for customers behind a partition. The expanded unemployment benefits helped small businesses make decisions early in the pandemic. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

Expanded unemployment benefits help small businesses, too

Justin Ho Jul 27, 2020
A hostess at a Miami restaurant waits for customers behind a partition. The expanded unemployment benefits helped small businesses make decisions early in the pandemic. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

When Sophie Blake closed her jewelry store in Virginia at the beginning of the pandemic, she said she had some difficult conversations with her four employees. Two she furloughed, and the other two she cut to part time.

When she first heard about the expanded unemployment benefits from the federal government, she encouraged her employees to apply.

“My first initial response was, go ahead and take it because this is extra support for you,” Blake said. “Because I don’t know when I will be able to rehire you back.”

Blake had applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan at the time but wasn’t sure whether she’d get one. She also knew that one of her employees was asthmatic and expecting a child, and should probably stay away from work.

“For her, the decision was very clear,” Blake said.

The clarity of the expanded benefits helped businesses make decisions about their own futures early in the pandemic.

“Initially it was a lifesaver,” said Mark Frier, who owns three restaurants in Vermont and had to lay off about 130 employees when COVID hit.

Frier said the expanded unemployment benefits, which included an additional payment of $600 a week, let him focus on making plans to stay in business while ensuring that his employees would be taken care of in the meantime.

“We want them to succeed, and we want to help them grow their careers, and we hope to continue to employ them well into the future,” Frier said.

Small businesses, whether they’re restaurants or jewelry stores, also need to know that their customers can afford to come in and spend money, said Nathan Tankus, research director for the Modern Money Network and the author of Notes on the Crises.

“That’s the whole idea around these kinds of programs, that are supposed to sustain demand,” Tankus said. “That they have all these indirect, knock-on positive effects.”

The resurgence of infections in parts of the country is having a negative effect on demand. Blake reopened her jewelry store, but sales have fallen this month. Frier has brought back about 100 of the employees he laid off but said he wants that more robust safety net to be there if he has to close again.

“That’s the elephant in the room constantly with other restaurant owners that I talk to,” Frier said. “That fear that we’re going to have to re-close come fall, and then what happens?”

Frier got a PPP loan but said it’ll likely run out soon. And of his three restaurants, the one that’s doing the best is the one with the most outdoor seating. But in the fall, it’s going to get cold. Frier said he’s worried that then, he won’t be able to make enough money to keep his doors open.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

The latest: President Donald Trump signed an executive action directing $400 extra a week in unemployment benefits. But will that aid actually reach people? It’s still unclear. Trump directed federal agencies to send $300 dollars in weekly aid, taken from the federal disaster relief fund, and called on states to provide an additional $100. But states’ budgets are stretched thin as it is.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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