Business groups watching closely as state decision on COVID-19 restrictions looms – MiBiz: West Michigan Business News

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The Whitmer administration is expected to announce in the coming days whether to extend, alter or allow state-imposed restrictions on business activity to expire.

A Department of Health and Human Services emergency order closing in-person dining and various entertainment and meeting facilities is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. The initial three-week “pause” started late last month and was later extended 12 days through Dec. 20.

Gov. Whitmer
COURTESY PHOTO

In a Thursday briefing for members, Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley expects the existing public health order “will be extended.”

“The question is will it include business closures as part of it?” Calley said.

SBAM this week urged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer “to allow businesses for safe re-opening,” presuming the existing order gets extended in some fashion.

“It’s making the case that we really do need the re-opening to happen if the affected small businesses are going to survive,” Calley said.

Calley as well expects that an extension will retain face masks and other requirements that “are not going to just end on Sunday.”

The surge in COVID-19 cases and resulting state restrictions has taken a toll on businesses in a variety of ways, Calley said, including a “pretty big jump” in Michigan’s unemployment rate in a single month. The state reported Wednesday that the unemployment rate increased to 6.9 percent from an adjusted 6.1 percent in October.

“We hear about it,” Calley said. “We hear about it from bars and restaurants, and movie theaters and bowling alleys. There’s so many people that have had to be laid off for this, and we are hopeful that as we see the declining cases accelerate, that we can perhaps get these restrictions lifted.

“We must allow small businesses to open and I know our members are up to the challenge of doing so safely.”

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. earlier this week opened applications for a $10 million grant program for small businesses affected by the restrictions.

In an interview this week with MiBiz, MEDC CEO Mark Burton said the Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Initiative that opened applications Tuesday morning went quick and that the $10 million is not near enough to meet the demand.

“With the latest program, in 12 hours we had 7,997 completed applications submitted. We had another 14,000 still in the queue at 9 p.m. There’s going to be about 670 successful awards across the state,” Burton said in an interview for MiBiz’s annual Crystal Ball edition that publishes on Monday next week. “The demand is astronomical, which is why we continue to believe the state Legislature needs to come to some agreement over relief efforts before they leave for the holidays, as well as Congress. The ability to meet the needs of small businesses across the state is much bigger than the MEDC can handle and what the state can handle.”

Media reports Thursday indicated an agreement in Congress could come soon. Whitmer also has been urging lawmakers to appropriate $100 million, part of which would go to further assistance for small businesses.

A report this week from the National Restaurant Association said that in a November survey, 33 percent of Michigan restaurant operators say it is “unlikely” their restaurant will still be in business in six months without additional relief from the federal government. The survey was conducted Nov. 17-30 and included 6,000 restaurants across the country. A statewide trade group localized survey data for Michigan.

One small bit of relief could come through a bill lawmakers may soon enact to forgive fees, penalties and interest on businesses that defer summer property tax payments until Feb. 16, 2021.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce this week urged the state House to support the bill that has already cleared the Senate.

Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker called it “one of the most targeted and impactful actions Lansing can take now to give the worst-hurt businesses needed relief to keep their doors open.”

“These businesses, events and sports venues, restaurants and theaters, are essential to our economies and communities. With a vaccine being deployed, we need to do everything we can now to keep them from closing for good,” Baker said.

As of Thursday, the state had recorded 450,775 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 11,208 deaths. The totals increased by 4,024 cases and 190 deaths from the day before.

MiBiz Managing Editor Andy Balaskovitz contributed reporting to this story.

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