By Tom Bostock

A recent report in the Miami Herald noted that Florida health officials had confirmed “at least 170 Covid-19 patients reporting symptoms between December 31, 2019, and February 29.” Today, Florida is the veritable epicenter for the second wave of this virulent threat. 

What began as two isolated cases, one in Hillsborough County and the other in Manatee, has burgeoned into a growing number of confirmed cases and virus-related deaths. Besides the devastating medical impact on Florida’s residents, the economic impact of Covid-19 is just as great, if not more so.

The unavoidable closure of many of Florida’s small business communities, entertainment, and tourist attractions, the backbone of the state’s economy, because of recently enacted emergency Covid-19 related restrictions, leaves many residents unable to make a living for their families. Fortunately, local, city, county, state, and Federal agencies have stepped into the breech, offering a variety of resources for our effected residents. 

Emmy Award-winning journalist, Amy Viteri of Local 10 News reported that there is hope for small businesses suffering from clientele losses. “In response, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest loans to those businesses and entities now running thin on cash.” 

The program she refers to, the Economic Injury Disaster Fund program, provides up to $2 million in loss, subsidy loans. Amy’s report noted that your local Small Business Administration administers the program. Visit sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance for  further information.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently announced that he had activated Florida’s Business Damage Assessment for businesses, believing that they are being economically impacted by Covid-19. The purpose of the analysis is to assess the impact of the coronavirus and determine the scale of the need. Visit floridadisaster.biz to take part.

At a recent press conference, DeSantis noted, “We recognize the consequences of coronavirus on the economy and especially on small business.” He added that “the objective is that they (small business) can count on a source of funds to maintain their ability to function.”

Individuals who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus can apply for Reemployment Assistance benefits (unemployment compensation). The paper forms are available in English, Spanish and Haitian-Creole. To make the process more convenient for Florida’s unemployed, Governor DeSantis waived work search requirements, online work registration and waiting week provisions for Reemployment Assistance applications. 

A provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Acts of 2020, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, (PUA) extends payment benefits, not only to hourly and salaried employees, but individuals previously excluded from regular unemployment compensation benefits. 

This includes independent contractors, self-employed workers, and gig workers. To qualify for this 39-week benefit, individuals must: be able to work and available to work “within the meaning of applicable state laws except that they are unemployed, partially unemployed or unable to work due to Covid-19 related reasons as defined in the CARES Act.” 

The act specifies that benefits under PUA are retroactive to January 27, 2020 and do not pay any weeks of unemployment, after December 31, 2020. 

If you are a homeowner, it provides an option for homeowners who are having difficulty making their monthly mortgage payments. They can apply for an initial temporary postponement of the mortgage payments for 180 days, with an additional allowance of 180 more days, for a maximum of 360 days. It is a repayment relief that a creditor can grant a homeowner instead of forcing the property into foreclosure.

Many credit card businesses and personal loan providers offer special options for their customer. Call them directly if you are having problems with your payments because of coronavirus-related issues. Utility companies are also offering alternatives for coronavirus-impacted customers.  

Local city and county governments have implemented programs to assist people who have lost their jobs or have reduced wages because of the coronavirus and need help in paying their bills. In Hillsborough County that organization is the Rapid Response Assistance Call Center, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. 813 274 6710.

The Pinellas Opportunity Council Inc. is a non-profit Community Action Agency helps individuals and families in St. Petersburg and Clearwater “become self-sufficient and get short-term assistance for paying bills.”  727 823 4101.

The Pasco County Human Services is another of the resources for coronavirus-related unemployed and underemployed worker assistance.  727 834 3297.

These are just a few of the many resources available locally. Contact your local government information center for many more. If there are needs, there will always be programs available to meet them. You just need to ask. Florida is a resilient state. We have dealt with devastating disasters like tropical storms and hurricanes and always come back strong. 

The coronavirus is one more challenge that we Floridians will overcome. Be sure to follow the simple, commonsense rules of washing your hands frequently, maintaining social distance, and wearing a protective mask when necessary, and this too shall pass.