Cherokee Nation Commerce Services advising on CARES benefits
TAHLEQUAH – Like many people across the country, Cherokee Nation citizens are having difficulties making ends meet within their households and businesses because of measures to limit the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the federal CARES Act, and other aid legislation, CN Commerce Services is working to connect Cherokees with federal relief programs.
“Commerce Services sends weekly emails to small businesses informing them about resource programs, including federal stimulus products and unemployment for the self-employed and independent contractors,” Commerce Services Executive Director Anna Knight said. “We are also responding to the hundreds of inquiries we receive weekly with specific questions. We provide businesses with direct links to resources and, when necessary, step-by-step instructions to apply for resources.”
A big item has been the $1,200 stimulus payments to much of the public. Many taxpayers have received their stimulus aid, but some may be waiting or unaware of other factors.
“We are assisting citizens with making any needed changes online with the IRS to ensure more timely receipt of benefits,” Knight said. “Although most people do not have to do anything to receive their stimulus payments, various groups who may not have filed tax returns in 2018 and 2019 may have a few extra steps to ensure they receive all the benefits to which they are entitled. Social Security recipients will receive payment automatically, but may need to take extra steps if they have dependents 17 years or younger.”
There are additional unemployment benefits in the CARES Act but they can be confusing, and with more than 25 million Americans filing for unemployment within the past month, there have been delays.
The CN Small Business Assistance Center offers information to artists, other self-employed Cherokees and small businesses.
Knight offered synopses on several programs, but warned that regulations have changed in the short time since the passage of CARES. She said Commerce Services will track changes implemented by Congress.
• Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Assistance Program: COVID-19 Economic Injury loans are available to many small businesses to help pay fixed costs. It includes an advance grant for businesses three days after a successful application. The cap for the program is $2 million per loan, with the advance being $10,000. Visit https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/coronavirus-covid-19
• Paycheck Protection Program: Full guidelines had not been released, but a loan program is anticipated to be administered by banks and capped at $10 million or 2.5 times average monthly payroll, whichever is less. Some of the loan will be forgivable and the remainder will be amortized for up to 10 years with the first 12 months deferred. More information is expected from the SBA. Those interested should contact their banking partners to determine the program’s availability.
• Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program: This program is being rolled out to lenders and businesses that have established relationships with SBA Express lenders. It will be capped at $25,000 and help businesses as they wait for approval of disaster assistance loans. A guide is at www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/2020-03/Express-Bridge-Loan-Pilot-Program-Guide-FINAL-3.25.20.pdf
• SBA Debt Relief: SBA 7(a) loan clients will have six months of the loan’s principal and interest paid by the SBA. Those with a 7(a) loan or applying for one can contact their lenders for information.
• For self-employed and laid off workers: Unemployment regulations have been changed to respond to COVID-19. This includes a suspension of mandatory job searches and the waiting period that is normally applicable when filing for unemployment, inclusion of self-employed and independent contractors, and an increase to normal unemployment benefits. The process can be completed online. The first step is to file a claim by going to unemployment.state.ok.us. Register and prepare a resume on OKJobMatch.com
. Email a copy of two forms of identification – one must be a photo ID – to IDVerification@oesc.state.ok.us
. The claim will be effective the Sunday during the week in which the claim is filed. Claims must be filed each week to claim benefits, starting immediately. The weekly claim is a series of questions to determine if an applicant meets the eligibility requirements for the week filed. A claim’s progress can be followed via the Claimant Access portal at unemployment.state.ok.us/W2.aspx
. The portal is used throughout the period of unemployment to file weekly claims and to update information.
• New Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave Act benefits: Some businesses under 500 employees will be required to give paid sick leave and extended FMLA benefits. Paid sick leave benefits for those suffering from COVID-19 or those required by law or advised by a doctor to quarantine will be equal to the current rate of pay up to a maximum of $511 a day. Those caring for children enrolled at a closed school, or for someone required or advised to quarantine can receive up to $200 a day. The extended benefit is capped at 10 days. After the initial two weeks, applicants can qualify for 10 weeks of FMLA if caring for a child whose school or day care is closed due to COVID-19 at two-thirds of the regular rate of pay. Information is at www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-questions
For information, or if other help is needed from Commerce Services, call Brian Wagnon at 918-506-9168 or email firstname.lastname@example.org