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Checks are almost in the mail

A sweeping $2 trillion federal economic stimulus package could provide $1,200 checks for Jackson County adults and offer financial support to keep struggling small businesses afloat during the pandemic.

“The small businesses and workers feel like they’ve been hit by an economic wrecking ball,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.

The Senate and Trump administration hammered out a deal Wednesday on the economic stimulus plan, the largest in U.S. history, but it’s still up for review by the House.

Wyden, reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, said Oregon’s economy is largely fueled by small businesses, and he said $350 billion in small business loans would be made available under the proposal. And he said small businesses in Jackson County would be able to apply for emergency grants of up to $10,000.

A pandemic employment insurance package, similar to disaster relief, would set aside $250 billion to help the self-employed, independent contractors and those in the gig economy, workers who typically don’t receive unemployment insurance. Many of these workers could receive up to $600 a week.

Wyden, who is on the Senate Finance Committee, said 2 million workers have lost their jobs overnight in the U.S. because of the pandemic, with millions more expected to be unemployed in the weeks ahead.

Regular workers who have lost their jobs and who are seeking unemployment insurance will qualify for an additional 13 weeks of compensation.

“This proposal has been acceptable to Senate Republicans and the Trump administration to supercharge unemployment coverage,” Wyden said.

The proposed bill also provides funding to states so that workers don’t have a week to wait before their unemployment benefits kick in, he said.

The plan attempts to provide families who are struggling economically through the recession to get enough assistance to continue to pay bills and put food on the table, Wyden said.

Under the proposal, single Americans would receive $1,200, married couples would get $2,400, and parents would see $500 for each child younger than 17.

The one-time payments would apply to those with adjusted gross incomes of less than $75,000, with lesser amounts up to $99,000, after which they wouldn’t receive a check.

While there is still some hope that checks would be disbursed in early April, federal officials have signaled that they might not be available until May. Those who had IRS refunds deposited into their bank accounts last year might be some of the first to get their payments delivered electronically.

Another piece of the proposed legislation is a work-share program that would provide an incentive to keep workers on the payroll using unemployment compensation to make up for wages lost through reduced hours. Throughout Oregon, many workers have had hours reduced as businesses take steps to cut costs.

Under the program, states such as Oregon that already have a work-share program in place would be entitled to 100% federal funding, while other states that work with the U.S. Department of Labor to develop a new program would get 50% federal funding.

Businesses could receive a 50% payroll tax credit during the COVID-19 emergency. The credit would be available to any business or nonprofit that has furloughed or reduced its workforce due to government directives or as a result of quarantining employees. The credit, limited to $10,000 per employee for payroll taxes, would also be available to any business that has seen a 50% drop in gross receipts.

A special rule applies to small businesses with 100 or fewer employees that provides a 50% credit for all wages paid, regardless of whether employees are furloughed.

The credit would apply to businesses that do not receive Small Business Administration loans.

Wyden introduced The Small Business Debt Relief Act that would relieve business of their SBA loan payment requirements for the next six months. He estimated this program could help over 4,000 Oregon small businesses.

With many states postponing primary elections because of the pandemic, Wyden said he’s also pushing for a nationwide vote-by-mail system similar to Oregon’s.

Guy Tauer, regional economist with Worksource Oregon in Medford, said there isn’t enough data yet to determine how much Jackson County’s economy will be hit by businesses closing, but the local unemployment rate had dropped to a historic low of under 4% earlier this year before the pandemic struck.

“There are so many businesses closing left and right,” he said.

The employment base for the hard-hit food services industry is 8,000 workers, and retail trade is 11,000 workers. Some of these businesses are struggling to stay open as many restaurants in the area are offering only take-out deliveries.

Rogue Valley Mall closed, and Tauer said his calculation of the number of workers there is about 1,000, though some of them may be working in an industry that is not retail.

In Jackson County, 14,000 people are self employed, and in Josephine County another 5,200. Tauer said he doesn’t have all the details yet how the new unemployment benefit program would be administered locally, saying it would likely be through a different agency.

While some unemployment numbers might be available soon, the full impact will probably not be reflected until April or even May, Tauer said.

“The Great Recession, as bad as it was, didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “The magnitude of this is too early to tell.”

Businesses and individuals are encouraged to go to http://worksourceoregon.org for the latest on COVID-19 information as it relates to employment issues.

No matter what sector of the economy you may have worked for, Tauer recommends filing a claim.

“We would encourage everyone to apply, and it will be determined on case-by-case basis,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.