With the uncertainty of COVID-19, many businesses have implemented working-from-home policies or made the difficult decision to lay off employees, adding to the economic turmoil facing Hoosiers for the foreseeable future.
“We’re going to do everything in our power… to bridge where we are now to that day when we completely bounce back,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said. “More help is coming from the state and from our federal partners.”
Both the federal and state governments are scrambling to provide relief to Hoosiers, but Holcomb said unemployment applications had increased over seven times compared to last year at a press conference Thursday.
In the same week of 2019, approximately 3,100 Hoosiers applied for unemployment benefits. In the first three business days this week, 22,583 Hoosiers had applied for those same benefits.
“This underscores how important it is for Hoosiers, any Hoosier, to apply (so) we can start answering your individual questions,” Holcomb said.
Just Monday, the Department of Workforce Development announced that Indiana had an unemployment rate of just 3.1% for January, demonstrating how quickly the crisis hit Hoosier businesses.
“This is an unprecedented time we find ourselves in,” Holcomb said.
In a press release, Holcomb clarified that “the state will interpret Indiana’s unemployment laws to the broadest extent possible to cover Hoosiers who are out of work because of COVID-19.”
in Washington, D.C.
On the federal level, U.S. Sen. Todd Young spoke to reporters on a conference Thursday about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides free testing for the virus, food aid and unemployment assistance.
“Republicans and Democrats are coming up with solutions for small businesses and larger enterprises,” Young said. “We want to make sure that there are jobs for people once everyone is able to return to work.”
Young said he wanted to prioritize liquidity so businesses could remain open and meet their financial obligations, especially payroll, despite having no incoming revenue. The bill provides for some businesses to provide sick leave to employees so they can stay home.
“We began by focusing on the health care needs of individual people. Now we’re focusing on people who are out of work, at home, who have emergent needs,” Young said.
The bill followed discussions on a bill for direct aid to residents, but the qualifications for this cash infusion have yet to be determined but could cost an estimated trillion dollars. Young said he anticipated several, smaller payments over time so people could get support over time.
“First and foremost, (some see) it as a health care measure. If you can reassure people they’re going to meet their basic household expenditures, then they’re likely to stay home if they’re feeling a bit unwell as opposed to going to work,” Young said.
Some critics have said that the pandemic exposes America’s health system weaknesses, such as having no paid or family leave policy for all employees. Young said that he focused his time in the Senate on making things more affordable to Americans, including child care and transportation, and had a model for paid family leave.
“I think (it) can earn bipartisan support… and if states want to go bolder, say the state of Washington, they can,” Young said. “I do hope that it stokes a broader conversation about affordability and some of the other things families need – not only in the times of pandemic but in more placid times as well.”
Back in Indiana
In conjunction with the above changes, Holcomb announced that the Small Business Administration had approved low-interest disaster relief loans up to $2 million for more than 512,000 Hoosier businesses. Loan interest rates for small business and nonprofits are 3.75% and 2.75%, respectively, with terms up to 30 years.
To learn more about SBA loans, visit SBA.gov/disaster. The deadline to apply is Dec. 18.
During the 2020 legislative session, lawmakers filed to spend nearly $300 million in reserves on one-time cash payments for infrastructure improvement projects at secondary education campuses around the state.
Cris Johnston, the director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, said they would suspend that cash to give more flexibility in the state coffers.
Johnston also said that no residential evictions or foreclosures would move forward, that the job search requirement for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) would be suspended and Indiana would extend tax filing as well as waive the late payment penalty for property taxes.“April is our largest collection month,” Johnston said. “This will make a significant dent in those collections.”
Other states have postponed their primary elections but Holcomb said no decision had been made for Indiana’s May 5 primary though Holcomb said he “personally supported” postponing the election.
The press conference also announced that schools would continue to be closed until May 1 at the earliest, possibly later.
If students returned to the classroom, Holcomb said that time would be spent on instruction and state testing would be cancelled.
“I know this is taxing on a lot of people but I think it’s the right thing to do,” Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said.
She added that her office would work with school districts to evaluate the availability of e-learning and distributing devices to students. She said that 94 percent of school districts were providing some type of food to students in their communities.