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North Dakota officials brief businesses on how to respond to coronavirus

North Dakota officials brief businesses on how to respond to coronavirus

Hundreds of people from North Dakota's business community dialed in for a Thursday call on handling the coronavirus pandemic, listening to information provided by the Greater North Dakota Chamber, Gov. Doug Burgum and other state officials.

“While we have a health crisis going on that we haven’t faced before, that health crisis is also creating an economic crisis,” Burgum said. “There’s a third battle that we’re facing ... and that’s the battle of information. As much information as there is about this, there is enormous amounts of misinformation that’s available online.”

Disaster loans

The state Department of Commerce is encouraging businesses experiencing or expecting financial problems to apply for a disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. SBA is making $7 billion available to assist small businesses and private nonprofits affected by the pandemic. The federal agency will provide up to $2 million in low-interest loans.

“These ones can be used to pay debt, make payroll, pay accounts payable and other bills that would have been paid had the disaster not occurred,” said Al Haut, director of the SBA district office in North Dakota. “These loans are not intended for expansion or to cover profits.”

The loan application is not yet available in North Dakota, but the commerce department recommends setting up an account and gathering documents necessary for the application. More information can be found on the SBA website, at: www.sba.gov/

Resources for businesses affected by COVID-19 also can be found on the commerce department's website, at https://commerce.nd.gov/.

Child care providers

About 10% of child care centers in North Dakota received government support and were "at or near capacity before COVID-19,” Deputy Commerce Commissioner Shawn Kessel said.

“We anticipate that if the COVID-19 virus is found in a child care setting, some of them may close,” he said. “If that does happen, the North Dakota Department of Human Services, DHS, should be notified within 24 hours.”

Government-mandated school closures in North Dakota have impacted child care providers “by pushing some of those younger students into child care,” Kessel said. “So we are working with the K-12 system to provide options.”

He said the Otto Bremer Trust, a private charitable organization, has $50 million available in the North Dakota region for community organizations, including child care facilities, affected by COVID-19.

Layoffs loom

The prospect of layoffs looms, with many businesses closing or reducing hours.

People who are laid off might qualify for unemployment benefits, but workers who quit on their own are not eligible, according to state Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer.

If an employee has to stay home to care for a child who is not attending school, he or she would not be eligible for unemployment benefits if they are not laid off by an employer.

Job Service North Dakota Executive Director Bryan Klipfel says disaster relief coming out of Congress includes an expansion of unemployment insurance.

“The extended benefit program changes are important. But it will take a significant amount of time before a state will be eligible to have extended benefit programs,” Klipfel said. “Under the normal employment insurance programs, individuals can receive between 12 and 26 weeks of benefits, and this is an act that could be extended.”

Miscellaneous moves

Employers requiring workers to get tested for the coronavirus are responsible for covering the costs, North Dakota Labor Commissioner Erica Thunder said.

Employers have “full discretion” in deciding which employees are “essential” or “nonessential,” and “may treat them differently in regard to their (paid time off) policies so long as the differing treatment is not related to any protected class,” including race, religion, sex or national origin, Thunder said.

On March 11, President Trump announced most individuals and corporations affected by the coronavirus outbreak to delay paying federal income taxes for up to 90 days. The deadline to file federal tax forms remains on April 15.

“There’s a little disconnect there, but you can actually delay your payments up to 90 days,” Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said. “The federal extension is only the payment of the tax, the April 15 deadline to file the forms is still in place.”

Late Thursday, Hoeven announced he had co-sponsored legislation to extend the tax filing deadline to July 15.

The commerce department on Thursday launched a page on its website providing information to businesses and employers affected by the coronavirus. The page is “designed to provide real-time updates pertaining to both state and federal resources available to businesses impacted economically as a result of the current public health threat,” according to a statement.

Reach Andy Tsubasa Field at 701-250-8264 or andy.field@bismarcktribune.com.

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