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The Sunshine Economy

The Sunshine Economy: COVID-19 And Federal Stimulus

irs_covid-19_stimulus_payment.png
IRS
A screenshot of the IRS website to check on COVID-19 stimulus payments. The federal government has passed $2.2 trillion so far to help save the U.S. economy.

Stimulus payments are going out. Small businesses have applied for emergency loans.

 

There is more than $2 trillion the federal government has OK'd to help save the U.S. economy. And more is likely to be approved as communities debate when and how to reopen parts of the economy shut down in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

 

In these uncertain times, you can rely on WLRN to keep you current on local news and information. Your support is what keeps WLRN strong. Please become a member today. Donate Now. Thank you.

 

WLRN's Sunshine Economy spoke with two members of Florida's Congressional delegation, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and Rep. John Rutherford, R-Jacksonville, about the federal government economic stimulus efforts and took listener questions.

 
Below are highlights of the program. 

REOPENING

South Florida is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Florida. More than half of the infections confirmed by the state are in the region while there were only about 1,000 confirmed cases in the three northeast Florida counties, including Duval County where Jacksonville is located. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry reopened beaches over the weekend for the first time in a month. In South Florida, beaches remain closed.

Rutherford: I think (citizens) really appreciate the opportunity to get out and exercise on the beach.

Wasserman Schultz: In the rare places where you do see openings, some of them ill advised, in my opinion, you still see strict calls for social distancing. We need a massive, massive ramp up of testing.

Rutherford: The key to (reopening), I think, is going to be testing and tracing.

Wasserman Schultz: The federal coordination of testing has been lax and states who can muster their own supplies have to be able to phase out stay-at-home orders as we make sure that we ramp up our testing. But the federal government's gotta coordinate this.

Rutherford: I think the states are fully capable of handling this as long as they have the resources.

Wasserman Schultz: We have states and local governments competing with one another right now for supplies. That all needs to be coordinated and quarterbacked by the federal government.

STIMULUS PAYMENTS

"My husband and I are going to donate our stimulus money to non-profits." — Marcia Brod, Miami
"I would use the Trump virus check to purchase groceries." — Robin, The Redland
"I have already given my money to my niece who is out of work. — Mark in Miami

Wasserman Schultz: The IRS has already begun sending out the first wave of payments. That was from individuals who they had direct deposit information on file from their 2018 or 2019 tax returns. After the first round of payments the IRS plans to make a second payment run within the remainder of the month. The second round of payments is going to be made to Social Security beneficiaries and those who receive VA benefits, who did not file tax returns in '18 or '19. They'll get those rebates by direct deposit. They plan to start sending out paper checks in the first week in May, and those checks will be issued in reverse adjusted gross income order starting with the lowest incomes first. The checks will be issued at a rate of about five million per week, which means it might take up to 20 weeks to get all the checks out.

What do we know about the IRS processing 2019 tax returns?

Rutherford: The filing deadline has been pushed back to July 15. Those who have submitted (tax returns) already, their refund should come in the normal time.

Wasserman Schultz: You can check your refund status on the website for the IRS. If you've filed your your 2019 recently, our understanding is that it could hold up your stimulus rebate until the IRS processes that. We've gotten advice that if you have not yet filed your 2019 return you may want to wait till you get your rebate check because that way you're not having the filing of your 2019 return potentially slow down the processing of your stimulus check.

Wasserman Schultz: Depending on where he is in the system, the IRS is still in the process of sending those rebates out. 

Is the stimulus payment taxable income for 2020?  — Jonathon in Wilton Manors

Rutherford: No, it's not.

I am a non filer. I had been receiving disability benefits from Social Security up until January 2020. I received these payments through direct deposit. I was terminated as of January. Is my payment information in there? Do I qualify?  — Debbie in Boca Raton

Wasserman Schultz: According to the IRS, the SSDI recipients will get direct deposits. So filing the tax return is not necessary. 

If you owed taxes for 2018 and you haven't paid them, are they going to deduct it  from this stimulus?  — Mario in Fort Lauderdale 

Wasserman Schultz: No, it is not subject to the deductions for other debts that you owe.

PAYCHECK PAYMENT PROGRAM LOANS

I'm worried. I'm worried about seeing my friends going out of business in the next months. What happens to them? How does unemployment look for us then? Some of these people own businesses now who are going to be unemployed. This domino (effect) going on right now is really hard.  — Miramar Pembroke Pines Chamber of Commerce CEO Robert Goltz
We are not fully operational, but we're trying to keep as many people working as possible.  — Ward's Marine Electric COO Kristina Hebert

Small companies are big business in South Florida. The average company in the region has 14 employees according to FIU’s Jorge Peréz Metropolitan Center.

It took less than two weeks for a $349 billion pool of federal money called the Paycheck Protection Program to be emptied. Its loan money to be used to keep workers on payrolls and pay overhead like rent and utilities. If a company keeps people employed, its loan can be forgiven. Construction firms received the largest share of the loans. Accommodations and food service companies — which have been especially hard hit in Florida — received less than 10 percent of the money.

Congress is negotiating a second round of funding for these loans.

Wasserman Schultz: We have to get money in this program to truly small businesses.

Rutherford: I think the program has been directed toward mainly small businesses. Seventy four percent of the loans went to companies who were asking for a $150,000 or less Those are your small companies. 

Wasserman Schultz: That's misleading. For example, you had a hotel chain that because they could apply for every one of their individual hotels, got 26 loans approved. And so a massive hotel chain, whose individual hotels could get an individual loan, that loan size might be $150.000 or less, but that's certainly not meeting the definition of what actually small businesses. 

"I'm not a retailer. I'm not a manufacturer. I'm different than than most most businesses. W hat type (of program) applies to my type of situation? — Gary in Palm Beach Gardens, who owns apartment buildings

SBA South Florida District Director Victoria Guerrero: He can definitely apply for a Paycheck Protection Program. I believe (he) can also apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

I am trying to find out what happened to the $10,000 grant that was announced by the SBA in the latter part of March. On April 2, I filed for the grant online. EBay sellers could use their Social Security number. I received an email on April 14 outlining the adjusted program, which did not include a grant. I'm trying to find out what has happened.  — Linda in West Palm Beach

Guerrero: If you received an application number when you applied for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance, which is up to $10,000, I suggest you email disastercustomerservice@SBA.gov. You can also give them a call at 1-800- 659-2955.

We have a small business with seven full-time employees. We received PPP funding one in the accounts this morning. We're still working at 80 percent capacity right now. When do I need to bring full-time employees back by in order to meet the (forgiveness) requirements?  — Rob in Coral Springs

Guerrero: Once you receive the funding, you need to be able to use 75 percent for payroll for the following eight weeks. If you calculated payroll with employees that are not on your payroll right now because you furloughed them, you do need to bring them back so we can utilize that funding for those eight weeks.

 

 

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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN.  He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.