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Your Tewksbury Today

OP-ED: Reopening Phase 2 -- Changes for Us, and Changes for Business

David Robertson

Phase 2 is officially here, another positive step for all of us as our continued efforts further cement falling hospital occupancy rates and infection spread.
As of June 8th, 1,415 cases are currently hospitalized to a degree, meaning that over three-quarters of our hospitals are leaving their surge capacity usage.
 This does not mean we are back to complete normal in terms of our medical system, as many hospitals are still near 100% of their pre-surge capacity, but we are moving in the right direction with momentum. With this good news, I will explain below the reopenings that you may expect, any changes, and continued plans. I also will cover an important change in the Paycheck Protection Program the federal government made - a critical change that small business owners should make note of.

Phase 2 is arguably the "largest" step back towards recovery. As many of you may have seen with the Governors daily updates, hotels, retail, outdoor table restaurant service, outdoor recreation, and warehouse distribution are to begin reopening, returning a sense of normalcy. Another key facility to reopen are preschools and child-care centers, with protection plans in place. While your child's individual facility may require more, they are at minimum required to perform temperature checks on all children and staff before admission, and will meet parents at the doors to the facility to transfer attendees. Masks will be encouraged, except for during naps or other risky activities, and the facilities will not allow more than 10 children in any one space at a time. In order to further guard against transmission, staff should stay with your children not just during the day, but from day-to-day as well.

In a short time many other reopenings will be added in Phase 2 as a subset, likely to be announced in the next week or so. This includes indoor dining, body care, and personal training. I would also like to emphasize that hospitals are accepting urgent medical cases, so I highly encourage anyone with medical conditions to not put off contacting their physician. Once you discuss with your primary care physician they will help schedule your appointment in a manner that keeps you safe and healthy.

As small business owners know, the Paycheck Protection Program required a certain ratio of the loan to be apportioned to salary and retention of total "employee units" - a formula that calculated full and part time employees to create a minimum number retained to qualified for forgiveness. There was also a stringent time period that required dispersion of these funds. Many small business owners reached out with issues on this topic, which I relayed to our federal offices. Because of your, and your small-business colleagues around the nation, the federal government passed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act. The largest change with the passing of this legislation is a change in the ratio of what needs to be apportioned to payroll, from 75% to 60%, allowing the 40% remained to go towards non-payroll expenses. The PPP changes also extend the requirement to utilize the PPP funds within 6 months, rather than 8 weeks.

In addition to the change in the payroll expenditure ratio and the time extension, the federal changes also greatly improve on forgiveness for employees who refuse to return to their position. If an employer encounters an uncooperative employee who does not have a valid medical reason they should offer the position in writing, and document the refusal. The employee will need to report to unemployment that they are no longer laid off for COVID-reasons, and the employer is free to hire a replacement who is similarly qualified for the same position, pay, and benefits as before. Several businesses have reached out to us with questions about this, as well as what to do to report false claims to unemployment. I encourage you to call my office as we will ensure that unemployment is aware of any false claims and will happily speak to any employees notifying them of what they may and may not do as we reopen. In the event the employee still refuses to return we can also provide a third party letter of our mutual efforts, so that you may submit the letter in support of loan forgiveness upon application for it.

Other important changes to this program includes increasing loan forgiveness applications up to ten months, and allows employers to defer payment of Social Security and federal payroll tax. Tax deferment will require an employer to pay fifty percent of the due amount by December 31st of 2021, and the remainder by December 31st 2022. Previously deferment was not allowed if the loan was accepted, but you may not retroactively request deferment of these taxes.
Lastly, the federal government extended the deadline for the loan application until December 31st of this year. You cannot apply twice, but those who have not should strongly consider this as the loan is a tremendous fiscal stimulus, even as we reopen.

I look forward to updating you each and every week as your community representative, and I wish each and every one of you the very best health as we continue down the path towards normalcy.

Dave Robertson
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