State provides laid-off workers, small businesses assistance amid pandemic

Business in Missoula was good before the virus hit. Montana workers and small businesses effected by reductions caused by the virus may be eligible for unemployment insurance or emergency loans. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Montana workers and small businesses effected by reductions caused by the COVD-19 pandemic got some support on Tuesday evening through two new initiatives, including easier access to unemployment insurance and emergency loans.

Gov. Steve Bullock said the new emergency rules will make unemployment benefits accessible to workers laid off due to the virus, including a waiver of the typical one-week period before unemployment benefits kick in.

“The emergency rules waive the typical one week waiting period to access unemployment benefits to limit the gap Montanans have between pay checks during these challenging times,” Bullock said in an afternoon briefing. “Individual claims won’t be charged to a specific employer’s account.”

The new rules allow an individual who was directed by their employer to leave work or not report to work due to the virus to qualify as being temporarily laid off, making them eligible for benefits.

Workers who must quarantine or who need to take care of a family member due to coronavirus will also be considered temporarily laid off and eligible for benefits under the new rules.

“The rules we’ve implemented today will ensure that workers impacted by COVID-19, whether it’s because they’ve been laid off, are quarantined, or need to take care of a family member, can do so without worrying about how they will make ends meet during these difficult times,” Bullock said. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to support workers and businesses as we begin to fully understand the impacts of COVID-19 in Montana.”

Over the past few days, bars and restaurants in Montana’s urban counties have been ordered to close, less take-out orders, and small businesses have seen customer traffic dwindle.

Small businesses in all Montana counties are now illegible to apply for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration. The loans are intended to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that could have been paid had the disaster not occurred.

They are not intended to replace lost sales or profits.

“Ensuring small businesses in Montana have access to capital and resources that allow them to weather temporary closures and bounce back from some of the critical quarantine efforts is certainly paramount to all of us,” Bullock said.

Under the program, businesses are eligible to apply for up to $2 million in 30-year loans with an interest rate of 3.75%. Bullock said the SBA will determine eligibility based on the size of the business, the type of activity and its financial resources.

“We are monitoring the impacts of coronavirus in real time – both from a public health perspective and an economic health perspective,” Bullock said. “Ensuring that small businesses in Montana have access to capital and resources that will allow them to weather temporary closures and bounce back from critical quarantine efforts is paramount to my administration.”