Tri-Citians asked to step up to adopt a small business, plus other updates

A Leadership Tri-Cities graduate is calling on his fellow grads to adopt a small business to help them survive the coronavirus outbreak and mandatory business closures.

John Roach, a member of the 17th class, proposed that each of the program’s previous classes regroup to adopt a business that’s struggling to stay open in the face of widespread closures to prevent the spread of the virus that causes the deadly COVID-19 illness.

“Donate money, raise money, help them pivot their business model, help them create alliances that will sustain them during this time,” he proposed, suggesting people connect by phone and through social media to formulate plans.

It is difficult to describe the disruption businesses face in the battle to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Schools are closed. In-person dining is prohibited in restaurants. Events with more than 50 people are prohibited and those with fewer face restrictions to preserve safety buffers between attendees.

Everything from weddings and funerals to paying utility bills has shifted almost overnight. Business that do not comply with the state directives could even be subject to legal consequences, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said March 17.

Here are some coronavirus-related news for – and about – business.

Loss of job or income

The governor said Washington is open to all possible solutions to help displaced workers, including universal basic income. The state is using its own mechanisms, including unemployment and the new sick and family leave policy to help.

Inslee supports the federal government redefining a pandemic as a disaster to open the door to federal unemployment benefits.

The governor’s office was considering policies to suspend rent and mortgage payments during the crisis on March 17.

Stimulus package

The U.S. Senate is expected to take up the Family First Coronavirus Response Act, which passed in the House.

The act guarantees free coronavirus testing, establishes paid leave for all employees, enhanced unemployment insurance, expanded food security initiatives and increased federal Medicaid funding, among other steps.

The Senate also is crafting a stimulus package that reportedly has support from President Donald Trump’s proposal to send direct payments to Americans.

Access to loans

Benton, Franklin and most counties in Washington are eligible for low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Go to sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance for information.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which insures deposits in federally supervised financial institutions, also took steps to allow banks to continue lending to households and businesses during the crisis.

The FDIC notes banks more than doubled their capital and liquidity levels since the Great Recession and are safer and stronger.

“As a result, the agencies are encouraging banks to use that strength to support households and businesses,” it said.

The FDIC previously encouraged institutions it supervises to be flexible about debt, hinting at the recession-era practice of  “extend and pretend” in some cases when loans are past due.

In the Tri-Cities and beyond

Before launching into the positive steps people and businesses are taking to manage the crisis, a warning from the state Department of Financial Institutions: Con artists will seek to capitalize on fear. Invest and purchase through trusted resources only.

  • Visit Tri-Cities is hosting an online spot where local businesses can post information about how they are operating during the outbreak at visittri-cities.com. Email your company’s information to Bethany@visittri-cities.com for inclusion.
  • Energy Northwest reports it is producing power at normal levels while monitoring COVID-19 developments in Richland. Non-essential employees are able to voluntarily telecommute when possible. A corporate employee was sent home March 16 along with coworkers after being notified that an individual they encountered in Spokane last week experienced coronavirus-like symptoms.
  • Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland banned visitors as of March 17. Patients are encouraged to communicate with loved ones through phone and video calls.
  • The city of Kennewick closed all offices to the public through March 31. Staff will conduct public business chiefly by phone and email. City council, board and commission meetings are canceled through the end of May except to conduct mandatory business. The city council will meet April 21 to schedule special sessions for essential operations. The public is encouraged to attend via the web at https://www.go2kennewick.com.
  • Cascade Natural Gas in Kennewick announced it will not disconnect customers for nonpayment during the crisis and has asked its regulators for a waiver to waive late fees.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction recovery meetings have been interrupted but there are many virtual options. http://aaintergroup.org/ offers links to online meetings. The Los Angeles Times reports Spanish speakers in rural areas can access voice-only meetings through Skype. Three’s a March 18 Text Chat through Zoom for those who are hard of hearing. Go to grupoaaskype.es.tl and aachats.org for details.
  • Baker Boyer closed its bank branch lobbies and meeting rooms to the general public on Tuesday. Drive-thrus and ATMs remain open. Videoconferencing will be used for face-to-face meetings.
  • Grant PUD, which previously closed its offices to the public, closed its campgrounds at Crescent Bar, Rocky Coulee, San Hollow, Priest Rapids Recreation area and the Jackson Creek Fish Camp until further notice.
  • Richland schools are providing sack lunches between 10:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. at pick-up points at Badger Mountain, Jason Lee, Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, Marcus Whitman, Orchard, Sacajawea, Tapteal, White Bluffs and William Wiley elementaries and at Chief Joseph, Enterprise and Leona Libby middle schools and at Hanford and Richland high schools. Richland school buses will deliver bagged meals at 11 a.m. to apartment complexes throughout the district. Go to rsd.org for details.
  • Kennewick schools are providing free drive-up or walk-up “grab-and-go” meals to children weekdays through at least April 24 (including April 6-10, the week of spring break). Children 18 years and younger must be present to receive a bag. Meals will be served from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the following school sites: Amistad, Amon Creek, Canyon View, Eastgate, Lincoln, Park, Ridge View, Southgate, and Vista. If more sites are added, the list will be updated at ksd.org.
  • Pasco schools are providing free “grab and go” lunch and breakfast outside each school. Distribution is between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. Social distancing protocols will be followed by staff.
  • Mid-Columbia Libraries are closed until April 24. The closure affects 12 branches as well as the bookmobile. Patrons should keep books and materials until the system reopens. Returns are discouraged.
  • Cash hoarding – STCU encourages people to avoid withdrawing cash, noting that money in banks is safe, insured and easily accessed through debit and credit cards and through online banking and mobile apps. It notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people to wash hands thoroughly after handling cash.
  • Comments on a draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the Columbia River System and lower Snake River dams will be accepted by teleconference instead of at a physical meeting. Teleconferences will be held from 3:45-5 p.m. March 18, 19, 25 and 31. Call 844-721-7241 to participate.
  • Ben Franklin Transit intends to provide regular service levels but has closed its lobby and directed non-essential employees to telecommute when possible. Go to bft.org/fares for information about purchasing tickets online.
  • The HAPO Community Credit Union postponed its IMPOWER Women in Leadership series.

Additions, deletions or corrections? Contact us at info@tcjournal.biz.

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