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Elisha Norman, a busser at the downtown Baton Rouge Christina's restaurant, cleans an area with sanitizer and bleach in the entryway for pick up of to-go orders, March 17, the first day that coronavirus precautions prevented restaurants from doing their normal sit-down business. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber says it will focus its efforts on business recovery from the impact of business restrictions.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber is putting its strategic plan on hold to focus all its efforts on business recovery during the coronavirus pandemic. 

BRAC has been collecting survey data from business owners about the economic impact of business disruption due to the coronavirus and has collected 247 responses so far that reflect the need for a focus on guiding businesses through the recovery. There's a $2 trillion federal aid package to wade through that's on track to target in part troubled businesses and laid-off workers.

Adam Knapp, BRAC's president and chief executive officer, said the most important thing about the package is it provides funding to companies that have lost all or a significant amount of their business. The bailout package also includes $350 billion of soft loans for small businesses through the Small Business Administration.

As of March 24, about 38% of respondents to BRAC's survey said they are not familiar with U.S. Small Business Administration recovery loan assistance programs, while 43% are not familiar with disaster unemployment benefits. 

About 62% of businesses surveyed said they expected both first-quarter and second-quarter revenue or sales to drop significantly as a result of coronavirus restrictions and the economic slowdown.

Instead of businesses having to go to the SBA to get 7(a) loans, which now provide up to $10 million in funding, they will be able to go to local banks for the money in a streamlined process to get cash in just a few days, Knapp said. And businesses that have already applied for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan will be eligible to get additional funding.

“Businesses can apply for a loan and the portion that deals with payroll expenses is forgivable,” he said. That alleviates the fears of businesses who are wary of taking on additional debt, but want to help employees.

Another benefit is that $10 billion has been set aside for the SBA to make $10,000 emergency grants to cover operating costs for companies.

Businesses with independent contractors, such as hair salons and other parts of the so-called gig economy, are also addressed in the forgivable loan portion.

The increase and extension of unemployment benefits; direct payments of $1,200 for individuals and $3,400 for families of four below certain income thresholds; plus support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, and to cover utility bills, are among the measures aimed at staving off a deep slump in consumer spending as the unemployment lines grow.

BRAC will be holding webinars for businesses, found at brac.org, and has started a displaced worker database in an effort to be a matchmaker between companies looking to hire and those who are furloughed temporarily or laid off. It has reached out to its 1,500 members to offer resources and advice.

Separately, the Louisiana Economic Development department has set up a hotline at (833) 457-0531 to help businesses figure out what's contained in the federal aid package.

BRAC's upcoming business webinars are: 

If you have questions about coronavirus, please email our newsroom at online@theadvocate.com.


Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.