Business

Elissa Gargone

Jefferson’s Ferry, a not-for-profit Life Plan Community in South Setauket, has promoted Elissa Gargone to Vice President of Sales and Marketing. In her new position the Miller Place resident will be responsible for developing and implementing marketing programs, touring and counseling potential residents, and tracking occupancy in independent and assisted living. Jefferson’s Ferry President and Chief Executive Officer Robert E. Caulfield made the announcement.

“Elissa is an integral part of the Jefferson’s Ferry community and a valuable resource to our senior management team,” said Caulfield. “She consistently demonstrates an outstanding level of commitment and care to our residents, and to those who are considering Jefferson’s Ferry.  We are especially fortunate to have her in this position during a time of significant expansion that is our Journey to Renewal.”   

Journey to Renewal is an ambitious, multi-year expansion and renovation of the Jefferson’s Ferry campus that will enhance the lifestyle and experience for current residents while anticipating the desires and needs of a whole new generation of Long Islanders who are planning for retirement.  

The expansion calls for the construction of additional independent living apartments, a new assisted living building specially designed for memory care, a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center, along with expanded homelike common spaces in assisted living and skilled nursing. Amenities including dining and fitness options will also be given an upgrade during the Journey to Renewal.

Gargone first joined Jefferson’s Ferry in 2010 and in that time has grown with the community as it has matured and evolved in an ever changing marketplace.  She most recently served as Director of Sales & Marketing.

“Over the years that I’ve been here, I’ve not only learned from the example of my outstanding colleagues; I’ve seen firsthand what this community does for our residents. They thrive in an environment that provides stimulating companionship and activities while freeing them from many of the tasks and stresses of daily living. I’m excited for the challenges and rewards that my new position will offer during this exciting transition.”

When the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic truly hit home back in March, after businesses were forced closed from state mandates, many turned to their insurance providers and filed for business interruption insurance, which they expected would be used for just this sort of occasion.

Only many received notifications back that their claims were denied. The reason: Insurance companies put in provisions within their policies that excluded coverage due to damages “caused by or resulting from any virus, bacterium or other microorganism that induced or is capable of including physical distress, illness or disease,” according to the Insurance Services Office, an insurance advisory organization.

Though business owners and small business advocates such as The Ward Melville Heritage Organization President Gloria Rocchio pay the premiums year after year, she said they and so many others were denied coverage despite the fact that small businesses didn’t close because they or their shops were confirmed with the virus, but government orders forced them to close. 

“Very simplistically, [business owners] buy themselves a job for the community, and now they’re made to lay off people, keep their business closed, pay all fixed overheads and maybe they don’t have a reserve at home,” Rocchio said. “Everything the government is putting forth is not helping the small businessman — the one who doesn’t have a million in the bank and is paying fixed expenses.”

Efforts on Local and State Levels

The provision in many insurance policies was instituted little less than two decades ago after the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic of the early 2000s. It is only now, almost 20 years later, that owners filing claims learn of the provision despite them having paid premiums for years.

There is a combined bill in the New York State Assembly and Senate to require companies to accept current interruption claims. 

WMHO submitted a public letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) April 22 requesting he supports the Assembly and Senate bill. 

“What we’re saying is to do business in our state, we in the state government do have the power to make sure contracts are fair and equitable.”

— Steve Englebright

“An insurance policy is a contract between the insured and the insurer that clearly spells out those conditions covered and excluded,” the letter reads. “In recent years, because of severe losses, insurers have added exclusions to their policies, slowly diminishing the very purpose of insurance.”

The state Assembly bill is being sponsored in part by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), and there is a concurrent bill in the state Senate. It would require insurance agencies to cover businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and would renew any policy that would have covered businesses during shutdown if they expired in the meantime. New York is just one state of seven which is proposing bills to mandate coverage.

“Insurance is controlling risk, that’s what insurance companies do,” Englebright said. “What we’re saying is risk transfer needs to occur with this type of policy in a more predictable manner and a more eligible manner than the fine print currently allows.”

The bill is still in the Assembly Insurance Committee, but Englebright, a ranking assemblyman, said it is picking up widespread support in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. 

He added he does not believe what insurance companies say when they argue accepting businesses claims would bankrupt their agencies.

“What we’re saying is to do business in our state, we in the state government do have the power to make sure contracts are fair and equitable,” Englebright said. 

Multiple local government and industry groups have come out in support of such a bill. The Long Island Builders Institute released a letter supporting the legislation, saying that if a business has been paying for its insurance, it should honor the claims. 

Mitch Pally, CEO of LIBI, said the insurance companies denying these claims will only create a deeper hole in the economy, which will be an even greater burden to the insurance companies if they go under and no longer can pay their premiums. He also predicted dire consequences to many businesses if claims continue to be denied by June 30 “because the people who bought them didn’t assume their business can be interrupted by something that doesn’t apply [to the insurance].” 

The Brookhaven Town Board and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also signed a letter asking Cuomo to throw his support behind the bills.

Federal Efforts

There is a bill currently lingering in the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) that would require insurance companies in the future from denying company’s claims based on a pandemic, but even that has seen “tremendous pushback from the insurance industry,” he said during a Zoom call hosted by Discover Long Island May 19. “It’s very controversial — I’m getting the crap kicked out of me by certain people.”

Suozzi, who was appointed by President Donald Trump (R) to the economic reopening task force, said he did not believe anything regarding interruption insurance will see the light of day in some of the large stimulus bills Congress is currently working on.

Some policyholders nationwide have sued their insurance companies for denying their claims. A barbershop owner in San Diego has created a class action lawsuit against his policyholder, Farmers Insurance Group, for denying his claim under such virus damages provisions. Several other class-action lawsuits have been filed in the past month and a half against several other insurance companies.

Though such lawsuits take months if not years to get going, and especially with many court systems largely shut down from the pandemic, it will be a while before any cases see a judge.

“By the time those lawsuits get done, those businesses will be out of business,” Pally said.

Insurance Providers Respond

The American Property Casualty Insurance Association has said if governments required the companies process these claims, it would mean companies would have to process over 30 million businesses suffering from COVID-19-related losses. APCIA President David Sampson was quoted on Twitter saying requiring so would “significantly undermine” their abilities to cover such things as wind damage, fire or other losses.

The industry as a whole currently sits on an $800 billion surplus, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. That business group released a report May 15 with statements from 50 experts from the Wisconsin School of Business insurance panel that if local governments force insurance companies to accept the claims, it will “threaten the solvency of the insurance industry.” Though the report is sponsored by the association through its independent research division, most experts on the panel largely agreed the private marketplace could not handle all the losses with the current surplus in the industry. 

“By the time those lawsuits get done, those businesses will be out of business.”

— Mitch Pally

Though in that same study, some experts, 13 percent of the 50, argued the industry could be able to handle the claims, depending on how federal legislation was enacted. 

Industry lobbyists have said the federal government should be providing help, but one example of small business aid, the Paycheck Protection Program, which was supposed to help keep many small shops in business, has been mired in problems since its inception, and many owners are simply refusing to use the funds fearing they will have to pay back the money long term as a loan. 

The Washington Post reported last month that insurance associations and business groups are hiring lobbyists specifically to play out this fight in Washington, D.C.

What some are hoping for is some kind of middle ground, a place where insurers and the federal government’s interests meet. One suggested draft bill, the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020, would pay agencies losses when those exceed $250 million and capped at $500 billion over the calendar year, though that bill would only cover future pandemics, and more insurance companies have come out saying it should be the federal government which needs to handle such calls for aid, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Suozzi said he agreed most insurance companies would be “wiped out” trying to cover interruption claims during the pandemic, but also put stock in a public-private partnership, including the possibility of using the infrastructure of the insurance industries to funnel money back into these businesses.

“The bottom line is there’s no relief right now — it’s not going to solve anybody’s problems right now — and I don’t want anybody to get their hopes up,” the congressman said. “But it’s something I’m conscious of and other people are working on it — we just don’t know what the right answer is yet to get it done, because there is so much incredible pushback from the other side.”

In the meantime, Pally said it’s best for businesses to continue writing their state and federal officials. Rocchio suggested that owners, despite the fact some agencies are advising not to bother to file a claim, should apply anyway should anything change in the near future.

With No Indication of a Reopening Date, Businesses Try to Survive

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A federal program meant to help keep businesses afloat during the pandemic has caused more headaches than relief. Business owners are concerned they will be saddled with more debt and unclear guidelines have left them with more questions than answers. 

James Luciano, the owner of the Port Jeff Lobster House and the Port Jefferson BID secretary, has received PPP loan funds, but expressed concern of how the federal government will handle the forgiveness process. 

“It [the PPP restrictions] has been so loosely written, it’s like reading a different language,” he said. “They have also changed the applications for loans two or three times.”

“There are some things that the current guidance doesn’t answer.”

— Bernie Ryba

Luciano has begun to use the money for rent, other remaining bills, paying vendors and some payroll expenses. Though until he and other business owners receive the approval to fully reopen its businesses, he said he may struggle to comply with the forgiveness guidelines.  

For the loan to be forgiven, 75 percent of funds must be used for payroll, keeping staff to pre-pandemic levels for eight weeks after the money is disbursed. 

“The clock starts ticking once the money hits your account,” Luciano said. 

The Port Jeff Lobster House owner reiterated the difficulty of bringing all employees back without the doors being open. Another obstacle is that some employees may opt to continue on unemployment as they are receiving considerably more money than at the restaurant, according to Luciano.  

Bernie Ryba, director of the Stony Brook Small Business Development Center, said there has been a lack of clarity on the forgiveness guidelines. 

“Clients have expressed some concerns to us, we are looking to the [federal Small Business Administration] for guidance on the forgiveness provisions,” he said. “It has caused many questions from us, CPA firms and law firms. We are hoping this is cleared up as soon as possible.”

Ryba said the center advises hundreds of clients and has received dozens of calls and emails from business owners on this topic. 

“As a business center we try to do research and address their questions the best we can, but right now there is very little to refer to,” he said. “There are some things that the current guidance doesn’t answer.”

Ryba pointed to one of the provisions of PPP that requires 25 percent of funds must be used on utilities. 

“Can it be used for heat, power, internet and transportation expenses? No one knows because there are no specifics,” he said. “There are lenders who have already spent some of their funds.”

The director of the business center said that the federal government didn’t have much time to react and the SBA was not staffed to handle the influx of applications from the onset. 

A recent report from SBA Inspector General Hannibal Wared detailed that many small businesses could struggle to meet the 75 percent payroll requirement. 

Ware called on the association to evaluate the potential negative impact to borrowers regarding the percentage of loan proceeds eligible for forgiveness and update requirements. 

With uncertainty over the current criteria of PPP, local municipalities have stepped in to offer alternatives to businesses. 

Brookhaven Town is offering $10,000 grants to small businesses as part of its Emergency Microenterprise Business Relief Program. It is aimed at microenterprise businesses within the town that have five employees or less. The town received a special allocation of funds provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the CARES Act. 

The new norm for businesses could include being six feet apart and the use of protective dividers. Sean Hanley of LB Fabrication & Automation LLC., has begun making plexiglass social distancing dividers in an attempt to help his own business survive and also to allow any business to open up to full capacity. He has already installed dividers at Salon Blonde in Port Jeff, which is run by his wife. 

Many who first applied for the PPP loans after the initial April launch did not receive funds before the first set of $349 billion ran out by April 16.

Hanley’s Smithtown-based business was shut down following Governor Cuomo’s executive order. A good portion of its business comes from work on construction and other job sites where its metal fabricator and masonry services are sought after. 

“The clock starts ticking once the money hits your account.”

— James Luciano

He and his wife both missed out on the first round of the PPP loan applications but were able to get through in the second batch of applications. 

“We’re still waiting to hear back, but we would look at paying the rent first,” he said. 

Hanley is hoping the state will begin to relax restrictions so he and his wife can reopen their businesses and bring back their respective employees. 

While owners are anxious to reopen, there has yet to be any indication in what capacity businesses will be able operate. Social distancing guidelines will also play a factor. 

Luciano said it would not help his restaurant at all if he is potentially forced to reopen with significantly fewer customers. 

“We’re used to filling the place up, it would be hard for us with less capacity,” he said. 

In addition, Luciano expressed concerns on how social distancing could affect the day to day operation of the restaurant and impact the customer experience. 

“I think right now it is better to do the takeout services, we have been taking full advantage of the village’s delivery program,” he said. 

He said this is time when many businesses reap the benefits of increased foot traffic in the village and use funds to pay bills from the offseason in the winter. 

“We start to break even during May and in the summer is where we make a lot of our money, Luciano said. 

Close to two months into the pandemic, Ryba said they are still “early in the game}” and even as the crisis ultimately ends it could have wide-ranging effects. 

“There are a lot of difficult things that need to be sorted out, you could have millions of individuals who will be without a job,” the director of the business center said. 

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Margot Garant Speaks with Mike Philbrick, Owner of Port Jeff Brewing, during one of the zooming with the mayor series. Screencap from video

Thinking of ways to help promote the struggling Port Jeff village businesses, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District came up with the idea to host online video meetings between the mayor and owners to talk about what services they offer and how they’re getting by.

Mayor Margot Garant speaks with Debra Bowling, the owner of Pasta Pasta in Port Jeff. Photo from Zooming with the Mayor

But what surprised Mayor Margot Garant, she said, was just how much the business community has worked not just to support themselves, but support fellow businesses and the wider community during a time of crisis. 

“I’m just hearing all these wonderful stories,” Garant said. “Everybody’s trying to help each other … everybody’s finding their way to give back.”

As part of the village’s Open Today portion of their website, which displays which businesses are open and what services they offer during the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown, the videos have offered a candid glimpse into the minds of local business owners. 

Many stores are offering curbside pickup, not just eateries. 

Marianne Ketcham, the owner of Home Kingdom which has been a near 16-year village staple, is offering curbside pickup of its stock, with people able to look at items through the shop’s website and Facebook page. 

Joey Zangrillo of Joey Z’s on Main Street said they have been doing curbside pickup as well as home delivery. While they were inspecting different locations on Long Island for pizza shops, the pandemic put a squash to that, though now that he’s making and selling pizzas in house, which have been “flying out the door.”

The Amazing Olive on Main Street has focused more on its online shop, shipping to anywhere in the country, but owner Steve Munoz and his family has also taken to doing home delivery of products from nearly anywhere on the Island to save on shipping. They have been sharing customized bottles and labels, such as one for Mother’s Day.  

In a time where many businesses are threatened with huge drops in revenue, the desire to give back is proving an even greater incentive.

Kristine and Brian Viscount, the owners of the Kilwins shop on Main Street, talked about their curbside pickup. Though their preordered Easter Baskets were a success, they partnered with community members to help ship around 60 baskets full of chocolate to the Infant Jesus R.C. Church food pantry for them to hand out to people who needed it.

It has worked both ways as well. Locals who know their favorite shops are struggling have been making sure they get some business, desperately trying to make sure they stay solvent.

Debra Bowling, who owns Pasta Pasta along with her husband, has been serving their full menu seven days a week. Though she has been in her position for about 15 months, the restaurant is coming up on its 30-year anniversary. Bowling said one customer bought all the products they would have for the couple’s 50th anniversary, and each who would have gone to the party had the same meal at their own house. 

“They just say thank you for being here,” she said. “It is the most amazing town with the most amazing loyal customers.”

To look at the full breadth of Port Jeff Open Today, visit portjeff.com/zoomingwiththemayor/. Businesses can email [email protected] to schedule a slot.

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One number is a dot. Two numbers form a line. Three data points, all moving in the same direction is a trend. The description is a journalistic axiom, which isn’t always true even with three numbers, but it’s one County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was hoping he wouldn’t see.

After two days of small increases in hospitalizations, with a rise of four on Monday and a gain of 18 on Tuesday, Bellone was looking for the numbers would change direction.

He got his wish, and then some, as the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 fell by 62 to 773.

The downward trend “has returned” and is a “great result today,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

Officials at Suffolk County have been hoping to meet a number of metrics that are necessary to consider a phased reopening of the economy.

Helping to lower the number of hospitalizations was a return to the trend among patients discharged, with 85 people leaving the hospital in the last day, which is well above the numbers who returned home in the previous two days to continue their recoveries.

The county is hovering near the hospital capacity of 70 percent for overall beds and for Intensive Care Unit beds.

Hospitals admitted 43 new patients in the last day due to DOVID-19, which is above the 30 the county or lower the county is hoping to hit.

Simon Properties, the owners of locations like SmithHaven Mall in Lake Grove, had originally said in a memo dated May 6 it planned to open its New York locations, including the two listed, only a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) New York Pause order expires. The company has since stated online it does not intend to open up its properties, and will comply with state and local guidelines.

Businesses like the malls will “follow executive orders, which are lawful orders,” Bellone added.

While downstate regions have not met the U.S. Centers For Disease Control requirements to open their economies, Brookhaven town is set to reopen some marinas, following limited opening of beaches last week. Marinas include Port Jefferson Harbor and Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai, amidst several others on the South Shore.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to increase in the county, with 733 additional people testing positive for the virus over the last day, bringing the total to 38,985.

As of press time, Governor Cuomo’s office hadn’t updated the fatality data connected to the virus.

Testing in hotspots such as Wyananch and Huntington Station continues, with 1,097 positive tests coming back from 2,651 results, for a 41 percent positive rate, which is still above the 34.6 percent rate for the county.

Separately, Bellone, along with Suffolk County Police Department Commissioner Geraldine Hart, announced a dedicated line for phone scams, 631-852-SCAM (or 7226). Residents can report any scam attempts to this line. The phones will be staffed from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.

“If someone is asking you to send them money, check with relatives or authorities before you do that,” Bellone cautioned.

In response to concerns raised about the potential rise in child abuse amid the lockdown, Bellone said the Department of Social Services is “aware” that situations in families that had issues before are “not going to get better in crisis situations.” He said there had been increased staffing at DSS to handle any future reports or increases.

Finally, as of yesterday, the number of police officers who have tested positive for COVID-19 was 87, with 77 of them returning to work.

*Update: Simon Properties has since said they are not reopen its New York malls come May 16. The following is what was originally included in the article.

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) New York Pause set to expire on May 15, Simon Properties indicated today that it planned to reopen the Walt Whitman Shops in South Huntington and the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove.

Those high traffic malls have been mostly vacant since the start of the pandemic, while Simon Properties list multiple COVID safety protocols, including preemptive employee screening, occupancy limitations and monitoring while encouraging social distancing, officials were not ready to give the malls the green light.

“All indications are that there will be some extension” in New York Pause, at least for Suffolk County, Bellone said. He anticipates a phased reopening may start sooner in upstate New York, which hasn’t been hit as hard as New York City and Long Island.

Businesses like the malls will “follow executive orders, which are lawful orders,” Bellone added.*

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said there is need to increase the PPP loan funding, but he and Republicans have disagreed how. File photo by Kevin Redding

The federal Small Business Administration announced the government’s Payment Protection Program, which initially put up $349 billion in funds for small businesses across the country, has run out of funding in just eight days since it came online.

Thousands of loans are still being processed, and both government and small business owners are calling for more funds to be added to the bill, which was meant to stimulate small businesses and help keep more from filing for unemployment.

Around 41,000 loans have been approved for New York State out of 1.7 million. However, many businesses were left short of approval or didn’t manage to file in time. Others, who filed early as possible, found their early attempts confused with both misinformation and lack of clarity from banks and federal agencies.

Bernie Ryba, the regional director of the Stony Brook Small Business Development Center , said during a live stream with the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce April 16 there are growing signs of the economy deteriorating “faster than anticipated,” and the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, passed at the end of March, may not be enough.

He added banks have already been ordered to not accept any more applications.

“It demonstrates the extent of the damage small businesses have experienced over the past three weeks,” he said. 

Ryba said the SBA was not staffed to handle the number of applications. From acceptance of application to approval was going to be 30 days, but he said that number has gone out the window due to the incredible number of applications.

Some have also criticized who have been able to apply for loans, and how quickly they received it. Politico reported that a number of large chain restaurants ate up millions of dollars in loans meant for small businesses. Such chains as the companies behind Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, each received $20 million and $10 million in loans respectively. While the loans were meant for companies with 500 or less employees, this rule was expanded to allow companies to apply as long as they didn’t have more than 500 employees in a single location.

While both Republicans and Democrats agree more funds need to be added, the parties are bickering back and forth about how much. The GOP has proposed an additional $250 billion to the PPP program, but Dems stymied that, arguing the bill, which U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) called CARE 3.5, should also include $100 billion for hospitals, $150 billion for state and local governments and a boost to food assistance. Republicans have blocked that effort in return.

Schumer, the senate minority leader, said in a live streamed conference with Long Island Association President and CEO Kevin Law April 17 that there could be two additional COVID-related bills in the near future.

Meanwhile, Ryba said his small business center, which also has offices in SUNY Farmingdale, will be receiving around $1.1 million in federal assistance so they can hire additional staff in order to handle a larger number of business owners looking for advice.

Law said the thing of biggest importance isn’t the long term of the whole U.S. economy, but making sure that these small businesses and average people have money in their pockets to deal with the short term. He also questioned whether the government may allow some different types of nonprofits to apply for aid through PPP, as currently only 501c3’s are applicable. Schumer said they would look into allowing 501c6’s and others to also apply for any further aid in the future.

Schumer agreed, saying the government’s focus should be twofold, adding the government needs to approve the PPP extension “so their money gets out there faster, it is job number one. Testing — if we don’t get it done we’re not going to recover. Those are the two biggest things.”

More from Schumer and Law’s Conversation

People are facing multiple hurdles during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, but Law said those people need help from the federal government.

With people’s $1,200 checks for people making under $75,000 a year finally going out, Schumer said that should not be the end of such funds to everyday Americans. He added he thought the wage limit should be raised to people making around $99,000 a year.

“If you have a wife who is a hospital worker, you’re making more than [the $75K] but you still need help,” he said.

In terms of mortgages, Law said while there was something being done for those with federally backed mortgages, he asked if there was anything being done for those with more locally or commercially backed mortgages.

“We need some kind of commercial forbearance for both commercial and tenants,” Schumer said. “I pushed for this in CARE 3.” (The bill called the CARES Act passed March 30.)

The LIRR is currently asking for an additional bailout, with ridership now down by 97 percent, but services are continuing for essential workers, especially those working in health care. Schumer said he wants to provide more assistance to both the LIRR and to the Suffolk and Nassau bus systems.

For other municipalities, he said bills he called CARE 4 and 5, the first of which he expected to come up in the first few weeks of May, will also include more money for townships who have also experienced revenue shortfalls from the coronavirus.

Law also suggested the federal government look into creating some kind of public works program in the vein of President Franklin Roosevelt’s post-Great Depression programs in the 1930s and 40s, specifically for public and infrastructure works such as roads, bridges and sewers. Schumer agreed with the idea for when things finally start to open up.

“We’re going to have to stimulate the economy, and the best way to do that is through infrastructure,” the senator said.

 

All businesses with under 500 employees can apply for the federal loan to rehire employees, but some have experienced issues. Stock photo

Businesses are looking for sanctuary during the absolute tumult caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, some say even with the federal government’s attempt to help keep employees on payroll and businesses running, some question when their submissions will be processed, while others question how much it would help.

The $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which passed congress in March as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act relief bill, was made to offer businesses with 500 employees or less loans up to $10 million specifically to keep on or rehire employees. This is partly to keep those shops afloat while revenues have plummeted and to keep people from being forced to go on unemployment. New York’s unemployment system, in particular, has been overwhelmed, with over 600,000 claims processes and another 200,000 still in partial status. Many people report having to call the unemployment offices dozens or even 100s of times and not getting a response. 

“How can you expect us to bring employees back full force if you’re not allowing us to open the doors?”

— James Luciano

But as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and other states are starting to meet to discuss a timeline for bringing everything back online, businesses still await the loans that will essentially enable them to rehire those employees. 

For others, the loans may be too late. Bernie Ryba, the director of the Stony Brook Small Business Development Center, said by the center’s estimates there could be as many as 25 percent of restaurants across the country saying they have likely closed permanently. Another 25 percent, he said, could be also looking at shutting their doors.

“If you have, in the restaurant industry, 12 million that are employed, you’re looking at 6 million that will never go back to work,” he said.

That’s why applying for the PPP loans early is so important, not to mention that the money could eventually run out, though congress is in talks of supplementing the program with additional funds.

The PPP loans of up to $10 million would normally have to be paid off with a 1 percent interest rate over two years, but if 75 percent of funds are used for payroll, keeping staff to pre-pandemic levels for eight weeks after the loan is disbursed, then the loans will be forgiven.

Ryba said it is incredibly important for businesses to apply as soon as possible, adding there have been some businesses who reported to him receiving funds already. However, for businesses who have applied and haven’t heard anything back about their applications, some owners are left with a bad taste in their mouths.

Several have complained the rules of the loan were not well explained, and the timeline for when money can and will be disbursed is hanging in the air, all the while business owners can only sit around in the anxiety of not knowing.

Roger Rutherford, the general manager of Roger’s Frigate in Port Jeff and the president of the PJ Business Improvement District, related it to the disaster loans after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when he said it took him two years and multiple meetings before he ever saw a dime from the federal government. Though he said the timeline for these loans should be much shorter than that disaster, he said his daily calls have not yet resulted in word on the loan.

James Luciano, the owner of the Port Jeff Lobster House and BID secretary, said he, along with most business owners he knows, have applied for the PPP loan. However, he said it could be weeks before he even hears his application was processed, and the guidelines were not clear on what he would get or have to repay. 

“They’re keeping up this thing to bring employees back, but how can you expect us to bring employees back full force if you’re not allowing us to open the doors?” he said.

The government has clarified that employees would have to be rehired to levels as of Feb. 15 by June 30.

Such need for clarifications has been constant from the federal government. Problems with the program started on day one, according to the Wall Street Journal which wrote that the nation’s largest banks were unable to take loan applications when it launched April 3 because the government did not send them application documentation until the previous night. Ryba said the institution of the program “took lenders by surprise,” with many having only one week to prepare top accept applicants. 

Some businesses have also had issues applying for the loan, especially if they were affiliated with smaller community banks that are not certified with the federal Small Business Administration as an approved lender. Other larger regional and national banks, Ryba said, have focused more on their own customers who do business with them, not even those who may only use the bank to deposit.

“This is very different from 2008 — now you see banks and borrowers working together.”

— Charlie Lefkowitz

In such cases, applying for the loan requires different documentation.

The PPP is just one of several loan systems businesses have been applying to in this time of crisis. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance is supposed to loan businesses up to $10,000 in economic relief. The loan wouldn’t have to be repaid, though. Nationally, businesses have told outlets like The New York Times that such funding has all but dried up.

Luciano said he has received an email saying his PPP loan was approved and to expect paperwork in the next five business days. However, he added he has heard nothing about his disaster loan application, and his accountant told him he “did not expect anyone to see that money.”

In a conference call with businesses March 26, before the final bill was signed, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) held a conference call with local businesses along with the Long Island branch manager of the Small Business Administration Robert Piechota. Piechota said at the time while the bill had yet to be signed, in normal times such loans would take around 21 days for the application to be processed, and another five for the money to be released. 

“In good times you’re looking at a month,” he said.

Jennifer Dzvonar, the owner of Bass Electric in Port Jefferson Station and president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, said there is much misinformation out there on the internet, and the best choice for anyone looking to get the loan is to go to the SBA website.

Despite not yet hearing of a single business that has yet received any funds from the loans, Charlie Lefkowitz, the president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said there has been a general effort on all levels, whether its regional government down to the community level, to help these businesses in their time of need.

“This is very different from 2008 — now you see banks and borrowers working together,” he said. “This is unprecedented, and across our community … you’re seeing cooperation on all levels.”

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From left to right across the top, Rich Klefsky, the senior vp of retail and banking for SFCU, Micah Schlendore, the assistant vp for retail member experience at SFCU, John Urbinati, the owner of Fifth Season; bottom row, left to right, Mayor Margot Garant, Community Outreach Manager for St. Charles Hospital John Perkins, SFCU President Ralph Spencer, Port Jeff chamber president Mary Joy Pipe, BID President Roger Rutherford, Manager of the Steam Room Vincent Seiter. Photo by Kyle Barr

With close to $9,000 raised online, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District and chamber’s program to donate food to hospitals just got another big boost in funds.

On April 14, Suffolk Federal Credit Union donated a $7,500 check to the BIDand Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce’s program that takes food made by local restaurants to the two hospitals in Port Jeff, St. Charles and Mather.

The funds come on top of another $5,000 check donated last week by Teachers Federal Credit Union. The program’s Gofundme, which can be found at gofundme.com/f/help-port-jeff-restaurants-feed-hospital-workers, has so far raised just over $8,500 as well.

The program is twofold —one helps restaurants stay active and keep staff on payroll, and other is aiding the hospital workers who are burdened under the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“We were trying to coordinate this ourselves, but we were ecstatic when we found out the chamber was doing something, so it worked out very well.” said SCFU President Ralph Spencer.

Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the chamber, said she was “thankful for your participation and community involvement,” of SCFU, calling the credit, which has an office at St. Charles, a good partner to the business community.

Participating restaurants include Slurp Ramen, Nantuckets, Prohibition Kitchen, Wave Seafood & Steak, Pasta Pasta, The Steam Room, Fifth Season, C’est Cheese, SaGhar, The Pie, PJ Lobster House and Salsa Salsa.

Ed Romaine. Photo by Kyle Barr

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is optimistic about the financial future of the town despite the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. He said he is already thinking of ideas to help small businesses in the future.

Romaine called into a phone conference with members of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce April 6.

He told participants the town board is meeting virtually every day, and he is also connecting with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and other town supervisors on a regular basis.

On the agenda for town board April 6 was whether to keep town beaches open, he said, as health experts were saying the current week could be the worst so far for new coronavirus cases. Later that day the decision was made to close Brookhaven beaches.

Romaine said a few Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department deputies have been working with the town to deliver meals to more than 200 seniors in Brookhaven.

Charlie Lefkowitz, chamber president, asked if the town foresees any financial problems due to the pandemic.

Romaine said while landfill revenues are going down and a shortfall is anticipated, he said the town will not need to raise taxes.

“The town will continue to function,” he said.  “We have reserves. We will make it through this. And we do not anticipate … it’s a problem but it’s not going to be a big problem. It’s resolvable, and we’re not going to take it out on the taxpayers.”

The town board voted at a special meeting April 7 to create a post-COVID-19 task force for economic recovery that will aim to revitalize the downtown areas and help small businesses affected by the pandemic, many of which are receiving no income at all during this time.

“Many of these small businesses are mom and pop businesses,” the supervisor said.

Lisa Mulligan, the town director of economic development has been appointed chairwoman. Three individuals will be appointed by the supervisor, and each councilperson will be able to appoint two more. As of press time, no other persons have yet to be nominated to the task force.

On Monday, Lefkowitz said the chamber is willing to be part of a task force, and Romaine said he will take recommendations from the chamber seriously.

“Believe me we will work shoulder to shoulder with you to bring back our local businesses and do everything that we can do legally to help you guys out,” he said. “I know what this means. This is something that no one could have predicted in their lifetime.”

Romaine said business owners and residents can find updates on COVID-19 related issues on the town’s website, www.brookhavenny.gov.

Slurp Ramen in Port Jefferson has set up a unique means of serving customers, with a large screen in between workers and patrons. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local business owners are looking at an uncertain future due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis here on Long Island.

Due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order that shut down nonessential businesses last Saturday in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, entrepreneurs and others are worried if they will be able to survive the financial blow. With bills due at the beginning of the month and with no new income coming in, many are calling on the state and the federal government for help.

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club, looks at blueprints of new the building in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Tuesday, Congress and the President Donald Trump (R) administration finally reached a $2 trillion agreement to assist people during the ongoing crisis. The new bill includes one-time direct payments to residents of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year or $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child. It also includes a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. Meanwhile, for larger industries the bill includes $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to bail them out as revenue has severely dropped.

Still, the question remains of how small local businesses will remain intact or even be able to open their doors again as the crisis ebbs.

Indu Kaur, director of operations of The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station, said, “This is a burden my father and I are trying to figure out, just like everyone else,”

A family of restaurateurs who recently took over The Harbor Grill had plans to open their third restaurant this month. In addition, The Meadow Club was set to reopen after being closed due to a fire in 2018. Kaur said the ongoing health crisis has put both openings on hold.

In the meantime, she said, The Curry Club in East Setauket is taking take-out and delivery orders.

“We had to lay off our staff,” she said. “There are still things like rent, insurance and utility bills that we have to worry about.”

When asked about the recent virus rescue bil from the federal government, Kaur said “it was great news and a good first step. “Many of us are suffering financially right now.”

She also said she is hopefully that Suffolk County can eventually do something similar to help business owners.

Currently, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering economic injury disaster loans to affected businesses. Funds come directly from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the maximum unsecured loan amount is $25,000.

Kaur said she doesn’t think that is a viable option for her and other business owners.

“I’m not sure we can take out one more loan on what we already have,” she said. “For others there might be no other option.”

Last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the launch of the Business Recovery Unit, a component of the county’s Business Response Plan, to address concerns and questions that businesses have amid the coronavirus outbreak. Businesses are asked to complete a comprehensive survey on the county’s website (www.suffolkcountyny.gov).

In a conference call March 23, Bellone said that, with several hundred surveys completed, over 4,000 workers were indicated as laid off or furloughed.

“We keep getting calls and the numbers are going up; we are getting calls from workers who are self-employed who are in the same boat,” Bellone said.

In the new federal relief package, furloughed workers will have their salaries replaced for four months, getting whatever amount the state provides in unemployment plus a $600 add-on per week. Gig workers such as Uber drivers are included in that as well.

“There are still things like rent, insurance and utility bills that we have to worry about.”

Indu Kaur

In an effort to help business owners, New York State Republicans sent Cuomo a COVID-19 action plan that includes extending the payments of monthly sales tax by 90 days, making available no-interest loans immediately to entities that face a dramatic decrease in business and eliminating penalties for late payments of business and property taxes, among other things.

Similarly, over 17,600  people signed a Change.org petition titled Save Small Business Before It’s Too Late. It also called on the city, state and federal governments to take the necessary steps to save local businesses.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, creating jobs, generating tax revenue and providing valuable services,” said New York City Councilman Mark Gjonaj (D), who started the petition.

Lenore Paprocky, president of the Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce, said, while a lot of businesses are hurting, she is grateful how everyone is willing to come together and help fellow entrepreneurs.

“It’s difficult right now but we want to keep these businesses afloat,” she said.

The chamber has come up with a list of local businesses that are offering catering/takeout and automotive services.

Paprocky said they are trying to stay optimistic amid the ongoing shutdown, and she hopes elected officials can hash something out to help them.

“The future is uncertain, but we need to stay positive and work together to get through this,” the president of the chamber said.