COVID-19 Small Business Resources
September 21-27, 2020
U.S. Department of Education extends student loan payment freeze through end of 2020
In conjunction with an executive order approved by President Donald Trump in early August, the U.S. Department of Education’s has extended student loan relief under the previous approved CARES Act to borrowers from March through Dec. 31.
Under the department’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) program, all borrowers with federally held student loans will have their payments automatically suspended until 2021 without penalty. In addition, the interest rate on all federally held student loans will be set to 0% through the end of the calendar year. Borrowers will continue to have the option to make payments if they so choose. Doing so will allow borrowers to pay off their loans more quickly and at a lower cost.
The student loan freeze extends the early moratorium at the start of the pandemic and maintained under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that allows borrowers to temporarily defer their payments without accruing interest. The earlier moratorium, which expired at end of July, provided relief for an estimated 40 million Americans that have amassed nearly three-quarters of the nation’s student loan debt.
According to the New York Federal Reserve, the nation’s student loan debt topped $1.54 trillion in the second quarter. Approximately 6.48% of aggregate student debt was 90-plus days delinquent or in default in second quarter, down from 8.87% in the first quarter. The sharp decline reflects a Department of Education decision to report current status on loans eligible for CARES forbearances, officials said.
“We want everyone to be focused on a safe return to full-time learning,” said U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos.
During this extended time frame for the payment suspension, collections on defaulted, federally held loans are still halted, and any borrower with defaulted federally held loans whose employer continues to garnish their wages will receive a refund of those garnishments. Non-payments by borrowers working full-time for qualifying employers will count toward the 120 payments required by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and as payments that are required to receive forgiveness under an income-driven repayment plan.
Department of Education officials said FSA is working in partnership with its student loan servicers to notify borrowers of this extension of loan relief measures, and this outreach effort will continue through the fall and toward an eventual return to repayment. FSA’s servicers are working to make these changes, and borrowers can expect to see this extension reflected in their accounts over the next several weeks.
Nearly 100,000 restaurants across U.S. have closed during pandemic, industry trade group says
The U.S. restaurant industry is on track to lose $240 billion in sales in 2020 as nearly 100,000 food operators have closed permanently or long-term since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic six months ago, according to a new survey released Sept. 14 by the National Restaurant Association.
The survey, which asked restaurant operators about the six-month impact of the pandemic on their businesses, found that overwhelmingly, most restaurants are still struggling to survive and do not expect their position to improve over the next six months. Overall, more than 3 million industry employees are still out of work, the survey notes. Other findings include:
• Consumer spending in restaurants remained well below normal levels in August. Overall, sales were down 34% on average.
• Association analysis shows that the foodservice industry has lost $165 billion in revenue March–July and is on track to lose $240 billion this year.
• Our research estimates that for 2020, at least one out of six, or 100,000 restaurants will close, but the initial scope of closures will not be known until government statistics are released in the months ahead.
• 60% of operators say their restaurant’s total operational costs (as a percent of sales) are higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
On average, restaurant operators say their current staffing levels are only 71% of what they would typically be in the absence of COVID-19.
• In a recent consumer survey, 56% of adults said they are aware of a restaurant in their community that permanently closed during the pandemic.
“For an industry built on service and hospitality, the last six months have challenged the core understanding of our business,” said Tom Bené, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “Our survival for this comes down to the creativity and entrepreneurship of owners, operators, and employees. Across the board, from independent owners to multi-unit franchise operators, restaurants are losing money every month, and they continue to struggle to serve their communities and support their employees.”
The survey also found that 40% of operators think it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government. The Association highlighted this for Congress and the Trump Administration in a letter sent today, asking them to use bipartisan support to pass small business programs in stand-alone bills.
“This survey reminds us that independent owners and small franchisees don’t have time on their side,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of Public Affairs for the Association. “The ongoing disruptions and uncertainty make it impossible for these owners to plan for next week, much less next year. Congress is about to leave Washington for the elections – we need them to focus on the short-term, basic solutions that have secured bipartisan support and passed one or both chambers.”
“The foodservice industry was the nation’s second largest private sector employer and pumped more than $2 trillion into the economy right up until our sudden shutdown,” Kennedy continued. “Making an investment in an industry that consumers love and that powers the economy is a good business and economic move for Congress as they search for the biggest bang for their recovery buck.”
Walmart to offer flu shots at all stores; also announces plan to vaccinate entire workforce amid pandemic
As researchers continue to look for a COVID-19 vaccine this fall, Walmart Stores Inc. is launching a digital scheduler so customers can book an appointment for a flu shot at any one of Walmart’s 4,700-plus nationwide.
“Flu shots are more important than ever in light of COVID-19. With our health care system facing the strain of the pandemic on top of the annual flu season, getting a flu shot can help lessen the burden on the health care industry while also protecting against at least one of the viruses affecting our well-being,” said Walmart Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Van Gilder. “We’re all anxiously awaiting the COVID-19 vaccine, but by getting a flu shot now, we can do our ‘immunity service’ to help keep our communities safe and healthy this fall.”
At the same time, Walmart said it is also making sure its 1.5 million associates have access to flu shots with no out-of-pocket costs, regardless of their insurance status, so the country’s largest workforce can stay healthy and continue to serve communities throughout flu season.
“We are so proud of our associates for their incredible work serving communities throughout the pandemic, and we are proud to provide access to flu shots with no out-of-pocket costs for them to help everyone stays safe and healthy this flu season,” Van Gilder said. “Walmart associates are being encouraged to do their ‘immunity service’ by getting flu shots, and we hope our neighbors will join us to protect our communities as well.”
Walmart’s flu shots are administered by our pharmacy staff with no out-of-pocket costs from most major insurance plans. Walmart also offers a variety of initiatives in place to make it easy for customers and associates to get safely vaccinated while following COVID-19 protocols, including:
• Flu shot events: Beginning on Sept. 10, Walmart stores will host in-store events on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons to encourage customers to get their flu shots during their regularly scheduled shopping trips. In addition, on Saturday, Sept. 26, Walmart will host a flu shot Wellness Day from 10am to 2pm. For more information, visit Walmart.com/Flu.
• Digital appointment scheduler: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Walmart is launching a digital scheduler that reserves flu shot appointments directly via the Walmart mobile app. This allows customers to schedule their flu shot appointment prior to heading to the store for their regular grocery shopping trip. Customers will fill out their patient questionnaire online to setup an appointment and make the in-store vaccination process as efficient as possible. Walk-in appointments are also available. Once at the store, customers will have a COVID-19 screening prior to receiving their flu shot.
• Special pharmacy hours and safety precautions: Walmart is working closely with national and local public health officials, as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to help customers and associates stay safe during the pandemic. Stores nationwide have enacted safety precautions including a mask mandate, single-direction aisles to promote social distancing in-stores and health screenings for pharmacists and associates. Additionally, Walmart is offering a special pharmacy hour for seniors and at-risk customers from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Tuesday mornings with flu shots available during this timeframe.
NIH continues to boost national COVID-19 testing capacity
The National Institutes of Health on Sept. 2 announced $129.3 million in scale-up and manufacturing support for a new set of COVID-19 testing technologies as part of its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative. NIH is awarding contracts to nine companies for technologies that include portable point-of-care tests for immediate results and high-throughput laboratories that can return results within 24 hours. These tests add to initial awards made to seven companies on July 31, 2020.
“Diagnostic testing is a critical component of the nation’s strategy to meet the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins. “Just started at the end of April, the RADx initiative has moved swiftly to speed innovation and later-stage development in the biomedical technology sector. The results thus far have been outstanding.”
In addition to NIH support, aspects of some of the testing technologies have been supported by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), also in the Department of Health and Human Services, and by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in the Department of Defense.
“One of the many facets of our testing strategy is to support and enable innovation,” said Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health. “The new technologies being funded today have the potential to transform the diagnostics landscape if their promise is proven in clinical studies. This all-of-government approach to testing innovation including DARPA, BARDA, NIH, HHS, and the private sector will yield benefits not only for the current pandemic, but for diverse acute and chronic diseases Americans fight every day.”
Today’s contracts support several novel technologies, some that use RT-PCR, a sensitive way to qualitatively detect nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2. Included is a portable, battery-powered RT-PCR device that gives accurate results in 15 minutes, and a portable mini-lab with reagent flexibility that can perform RT-PCR assays in community hospitals and clinics in underserved, rural populations.
Additional technologies include a lateral-flow immunoassay test strip that can be read without specialized equipment and a sample concentrating method that significantly improves the sensitivity and performance of many different types of tests. Five high-throughput laboratories will provide an expanded network of coverage for fast-turnaround laboratory tests in regions of national need. Each of these labs will manage the collection, analysis, and reporting of tens of thousands of tests per day at each site, significantly expanding national testing in September.
“Many of these tests incorporate innovations that have moved from research labs to the point of care with unprecedented speed,” said Bruce Tromberg, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and lead for RADx Tech, one of four programs of the NIH RADx initiative. “That process normally takes years, but RADx has brought together key experts in technology, medicine and commercialization to bring new tests to market in only five to six months.”
NIH is developing and supporting this diverse group of tests to meet the needs of different communities. Factors such as speed, cost, accessibility and technical performance are key considerations for RADx support. These new technologies collectively will significantly increase the number, type and availability of tests by millions per week by this fall.
“The opportunity to scale up high-throughput laboratories and rapid point-of-care tests to meet the needs of communities all around the country is critical,” said Rick Bright, Ph.D., senior advisor to the NIH director and lead for the RADx-Advanced Technology Platforms program. “The RADx initiative reflects the scientific ingenuity, technical diversity and logistical capabilities of the private sector at its finest.”