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State measures to help small businesses: Don’t wait

An unprecedented amount of state and federal financial assistance is within reach for Connecticut businesses and nonprofits crippled by the public safety measures put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was the message to about 700 business owners, concerned workers, chambers of commerce and the self-employed who tuned in to a virtual town hall meeting Thursday evening, March 26. A similar informational session, targeting not-for-profit groups, was held the following day.

The March 26 discussion, moderated by Fran Pastore, founder and CEO of the Women’s Business Development Council, featured Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-3).

Also during the one-hour forum, questions from attendees were fielded by Kurt Westby, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Labor, Glendowlyn Thames, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), and Mark Hayward, interim district of the U.S. Small Business Association. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also spoke.

“We need to get some really hard answers in front of people because they’re starting to panic,” moderator Pastore told the panel.

The main topics of discussion centered on the Connecticut Recovery Bridge Loan Program and the expansion of unemployment insurance aimed at putting money directly into the pockets of laid-off workers. “This is about pushing liquidity into the system and getting people back into work,” said Hayward.

Officials outlined details of the bridge loan program, which makes available $25 million to businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 100 employees, to assist with cash flow. Loan amounts are up to the lesser of either three months operating expenses and/or $75,000, according to Lamont. The loans, which carry 12-month terms, with a 6-month extension option, require a personal guarantee and credit score.

“We structured it in a way that this was a bridge to an SBA loan or private lender. It’s for the most vulnerable of small businesses out there,” said the EDC’s  Thames.

“Absolutely,” added Bysiewicz. “We want our loans to be available as fast as possible so people can survive until the federal dollars come.”

In order to be eligible, employers must be in good standing with the state Department of Revenue Services and DECD, have been profitable prior to March 10, 2020, with no adverse personal credit reports 60 days past due in the last 6 months.

State officials urged businesses to apply quickly for the bridge loan, as it is available on a first-come, first-served basis, with 500 businesses already signed up, noted Bysiewicz. The hotline number for businesses or nonprofits to call is 860-500-2333. Eligibility and application details are also available on the state’s COVID-19 website at www.ct.gov\coronavirus under the business recovery section.

Westby of the state Department of Labor also outlined a “supersized” unemployment package to help the jobless, including giving unemployed workers an additional $600 weekly in benefits above what they would normally receive for the next four months.

“This is a significantly broadened program. It’s not a giveaway, and it’s not benevolence. It’s insurance,” said Blumenthal.

“I know we are in a health-care crisis, but not a recession,” Lamont said. “We want to make sure each and every one of you is ready to hit the ground running when we get to the back side of this crisis.”

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