Coronavirus Resources for Employers

Updated 9/20/2021 at 11:30 a.m. Updates in bold

We appreciate the ongoing support of all of our members, including our Visionary Members: Bloomsburg University, First Columbia Bank & Trust, First Keystone Community Bank, Geisinger, Kawneer, PPL Electric Utilities, USG, & SEKISUI KYDEX
 

Business Operations

On Thursday, September 9, President Biden issued executive orders regarding new policies to combat COVID-19. The White House has released a document summarizing the orders, which can be found here.

The orders include the following:
• Department of Labor Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring employers with more than 100 people to require vaccination or weekly testing
• Department of Labor rule requiring employers with more than 100 people to provide paid time off for vaccinations
• Require federal employees to get vaccinated within 75 days or risk termination (which would remove the option for weekly testing in lieu of vaccination)
• Extend the federal employee vaccination requirement to federal contractors
• Require Medicare and Medicaid funding recipients to fully vaccinate their staff
• Urge schools to set up regular testing based on community spread
• Expand free COVID testing

On Friday, September 10th, Seema Nanda, Solicitor for the U.S. Department of Labor, explained that these orders will be implemented via an OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard expected “in weeks.” Details on how employers will have to report information, what employees will be included in the requirement, and who bears the cost of testing, were not available. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is compiling employer questions and we will be providing answers as the information becomes available.

– Restaurants, bars, stores, salons, gyms, theaters, event venues, nightclubs, and other businesses can operate at 100% capacity, and crowd-size limits are lifted on all indoor and outdoor gatherings.

– While Pennsylvania’s face covering order was lifted on June 28th, the PA Department of Health continues to urge individuals to follow CDC guidance for wearing a mask where required by law, rule, and regulations, including healthcare, local business, and workplace guidance. For the protection of themselves and others, individuals who have not yet been vaccinated or are partially vaccinated are still encouraged to wear a mask when in public. The CDC requires individuals to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs, such as airports and stations. Masks are also recommended, regardless of vaccination status, while indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission. As of August 30th, Columbia and Montour counties are at a high transmission rate.

The latest CDC guidance regarding masking indoors is not an OSHA regulation. However, an employer could be cited for creating an unsafe working condition if a claim is filed, according to OSHA’s Wilkes Barre office.


Vaccination and Testing

 

Vaccination

The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Geisinger in encouraging eligible individuals to get vaccinated. Resources to help employers communicate with their employees about vaccination are available from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, provides recommendations for developing a workplace vaccination strategy.

Vaccine Distribution

Geisinger is offering vaccines to anyone age 12 or older either by appointment or through a walk-in clinic. Click here for information. 

Click here to find vaccination sites statewide. 

Columbia County EMA is assisting Susquehanna Valley Medical Specialties with COVID-19 vaccination appointments.  Those eligible should call 570-389-5735, Monday through Friday only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Provide name, date of birth, address and phone number.  Someone from Susquehanna Valley Medical Specialties will call back to schedule an appointment. The clinic expects to experience a large volume of inquiries and asks callers to allow ample time for a call back. Callers who are not contacted within 72 hours are asked to call again. Another way to schedule an appointment time for their vaccination, patients simply need to log on to our website at svmedspec.com and click on our Covid-19 vaccination link to enter their contact information.

Individuals needing a ride to a vaccination appointment can call 1-800-632-9063 to schedule a free ride with rabbittransit.

Testing

Geisinger offers both symptomatic testing and testing for travel.  Visit here for details.

If you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, contact your physician for a referral to a testing site.


Financial Assistance

 
Federal programs

– The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) included a tax credit for small employers that offered paid time off for receiving and recovering from the COVID-19 vaccine. This tax credit makes it easier for businesses to incentivize their workforce to get vaccinated, as well as give employees the proper time they need to get vaccinated and recover from it if they experience side effects. In July, the program was expanded to provide tax credits for employees who need time to take care of family members. 

The original employer tax credit for COVID-19 vaccine paid time off was announced in April 2021. It allowed eligible businesses and nonprofits to be reimbursed for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave or family leave (10 days or two work weeks) given to any employee to get vaccinated or recover from vaccination side effects. The reimbursement of $511 per day or $5,110 in total is deducted from the employer-portion of Medicare taxes and applies to paid time off taken between April 1 and September 30, 2021.

The July 2021 update to the ARP’s paid sick leave and family tax credits now allows employers to claim tax credits for paid time off given to employees to get vaccinated themselves or to accompany a family or household member to get vaccinated. It also includes paid time off for employees who need to take care of a family or household member that is recovering from vaccine side effects.

Click here for additional information from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about the Small Business Vaccine Tax Credit.

– The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced significant enhancements to the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, a federal disaster relief loan designed to support small business communities dealing with the pandemic, especially hard-hit sectors such as restaurants, gyms, and hotels. The SBA is ready to receive new applications immediately from small businesses looking to take advantage of these new policy changes.

Key changes being announced by the SBA include:

  • Increasing the COVID EIDL Cap. The SBA has increased the COVID EIDL cap from $500,000 to $2 million. Loan funds can be used for any normal operating expenses and working capital, including payroll, purchasing equipment, and paying debt.
  • Implementation of a Deferred Payment Period. The SBA will ensure small business owners will not have to begin COVID EIDL repayment until two years after loan origination so that they can get through the pandemic.
  • Establishment of a 30-Day Exclusivity Window. To ensure Main Street businesses have additional time to access these funds, the SBA will implement a 30-day exclusivity window of approving and disbursing funds for loans of $500,000 or less. Approval and disbursement of loans over $500,000 will begin after the 30-day period.
  • Expansion of Eligible Use of Funds. COVID EIDL funds will now be eligible to prepay commercial debt and make payments on federal business debt.
  • Simplification of affiliation requirements. To ease the COVID EIDL application process for small businesses, the SBA has established more simplified affiliation requirements to model those of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

Businesses can apply directly with the SBA for EIDL loans.

Businesses needing assistance in applying for an SBA loan can contact the Small Business Development Center network.

Columbia & Luzerne County businesses – wilkes.edu/sbdc
Montour County businesses – bucknell.edu/sbdc

The Employee Retention Credit is extended through December 31, 2021. The new credit, beginning January 1, is 70% on $10,000 in wages per quarter (or a maximum $28,000 per employee through December 31, 2021).

The new law expands eligibility to include employers who experienced a decline of more than 20% in a qualifying quarter.

Employers can also apply to the PPP program and take advantage of the tax credit program, provided the same wages are not used.

The IRS has issued updated guidance on utilizing ERC.

The Shuttered Venue Operators (SVO) grant program provides assistance to live venues that were harmed by COVID-19 restrictions. The SVO grant program will distribute $16 billion in funds to live venue operators, including eligible movie theaters, concert spaces, museums and performing arts organizations.

SVO grants are being administered directly by the SBA. Click here for program details and to apply. 

Local programs

– A grant program for small businesses in Columbia County impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is still accepting applications. The Columbia County Commissioners are providing qualifying small businesses funding to assist in covering the business’ operating expenses incurred in 2021. Grants are being awarded on a first come, first served basis. The program is expected to close in October.

Eligible businesses must have fewer than 500 full-time employees, be privately owned, and have experienced a net reduction in revenue of at least 25% in calendar year 2020 compared to calendar year 2019. Grants are to be awarded in $4,000 increments up to a maximum of $40,000. Eligible operating expenses include, but are not limited to: payroll, rent, mortgage, utilities, costs of goods, supplies, raw materials, etc.

Additional details and the application link are available at csgiving.org/cccsbg.

A program for non-profit organizations in Columbia County will follow the small business program.

– SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) has created a loan program with funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. For-profit businesses can apply for loans of at least $10,000 with an interest rate of 3.25%. Funds can be used for working capital and can be disbursed based on past working capital expenses. No payments are due in the first six months. 

There is a $500 underwriting fee and a $100 filing fee.

For more information, visit https://seda-cog.org/covid-19/ or contact SEDA-COG’s Business Finance Department at cwca@seda-cog.org.

– The Chamber’s low-interest loan program is offering loans of up to $10,000 for members at 3% interest for 30 months, with interest only payments for the first 12 months. If you are interested in the Chamber’s loan program, contact Fred Gaffney at the Chamber of Commerce at 570-784-2522 as funds are limited.


Unemployment, Benefits & HR Issues

 

 

The PA Department of Labor and Industry provides UC guidance for employers with impacted employees.

Member News – September 22, 2021

Bloomsburg Fair Returns September 24 through October 2

The 166th Annual Bloomsburg Fair is finally here, beginning this Friday on September 24. The highly anticipated week-long event will conclude on Saturday, October 2. The full schedule of events and ticket information are available at bloomsburgfair.com. Brochures are also available at The Chamber of Commerce, 238 Market Street, Bloomsburg, and the Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau, 121 Papermill Road, Bloomsburg. 


Talen Energy Hosting Town Hall Meeting to Discuss Data Center and Bitcoin Mining Developments

Hear more about the project and its impact from a panel of local experts, and participate in a Q&A session. Talen Energy will have its town hall meeting in the West Side Ballroom in Berwick on Thursday, October 14 from 5:30-6:30 p.m.


McBride Memorial Library Hosts Scarecrows on Market Street

For the second consecutive year, the McBride Memorial Library is having its Scarecrows on Market Street event. The event is free and open to all family/friend groups, scouting groups, businesses, church organizations, etc… Build a scarecrow of your choice and design to place on their front lawn. The scarecrows will be proudly displayed for four weeks along with a sign advertising your business, organization, or family/friend group name. Scarecrows have to be ready to be placed on the lawn by October 1. Please call 570-752-2241 or send an email to hollis@mcbridelibrary.org to reserve your spot on their front lawn. 

 

 

 

 

FORECASTING COVID-19 IMPACTS ON HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS

As the 2022 open enrollment season is quickly approaching, many business owners are beginning to turn their attention to forecasting insurance premium adjustments for budgeting purposes.  Of course, the question mark this year is how much Although the severity and extent of the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in modern times, there are safeguards built into the structure of the insurance industry that are designed to maintain stability during significant loss events.  Two key elements provide protection against large financial loss for insurance companies and provide some stability in premiums:

Additionally, the severity of the virus has varied in different regions of the country.  As a result, insurance carriers will be affected differently based on the specific demographics of their insured populations.  Carriers with large numbers of insureds in some of the country’s hotspots will experience greater claim expenses than carriers insuring greater numbers of insureds in minimally impacted regions.

IMPACTS FROM EMPLOYER-RELATED EXPENSES:

Insurance carriers are also employers and as such, have experienced some of the same pandemic-related business costs as any other business.  Added cybersecurity costs, outlays for equipment and software to facilitate their employees alternative work arrangements, etc. will impact their financial bottom line during this event.  Even the downturn in equity markets will affect the expected level of return on their investment portfolio.

POSITIVE IMPACTS:

There is also the potential that some recent virus-related development will positively impact insurance costs, such as the more widespread use of tele-health services.  In addition to providing access to care with lower costs, on a long-term basis this development could allow healthcare providers to extend their reach to more remote or less affluent groups of people to expand access to care and improve overall population well-being.

Considering all of these pandemic influences, it is likely that future health insurance premiums will be affected, although the expected range of impact probably won’t be clear until later this year. 

 

By creating a differentiated, unique benefit package that addresses a specific employee need, employers benefit by boosting employee engagement, increasing productivity levels, and improving employee retention rates.

 

The Columbia-Montour Chamber of Commerce offers its members access to My Benefit Advisor as a solution for employee benefits, including voluntary offerings.  For more information about My Benefit Advisor, visit our website at cmcc.mybenefitadvisor.com or contact Glynis Roberts at (800) 377-3539.

Happy Mug Drive Thru Celebrates Grand Opening

The Chamber helped celebrate the grand opening of Happy Mug Drive Thru on Friday, September 17th, with a ribbon-cutting. The new coffee establishment can be found at 1140 Mill Street in Danville. Happy Mug brings the same great coffee, service and fresh baked goods that customers are accustomed to finding at Bason Coffee’s downtown Danville shop. Located near Weis Market, the drive through entrance is located off of Center Street. Happy Mug is open Monday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.

“Happy Mug is something that we started not only to serve coffee, but we want this place to be something where we can have personal interactions with our customers,” said owner Brad Bason. “Hopefully, we can make their day a little better and put a smile on their face.

Happy Mug will soon be offering online ordering for pick-up at the window or inside. Indoor walk-in counter ordering is also planned for the near future. For more information visit Happy Mug’s website or Facebook page.

Member News – September 15, 2021

Bloomsburg Fair Returns September 24 through October 2 

The Bloomsburg Fair Association’s Board of Directors previewed the return of the Fair at its annual media luncheon held September 8th. This year’s event runs September 24th through October 2nd. The full schedule of events and ticket information are available at bloomsburgfair.com. Brochures are also available at The Chamber of Commerce, 238 Market Street, Bloomsburg, and the Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau, 121 Papermill Road, Bloomsburg.


Boy Scouts Sponsoring Community Day this Saturday

The Columbia Montour Council BSA is sponsoring Columbia Montour Community Day this Saturday, September 18th from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Bloomsburg Airport. Meet first responders, pilots, and enjoy activities, games and great food. The event is free to attend.


Community Giving Foundation Breakfast Celebrates Giving Stories

The Community Giving Foundation: Bloomsburg held its annual grant breakfast on September 8th to celebrate the impact of grant recipients and share stories of community giving from Foundation board, staff, and donors. The breakfast, held at Monty’s at Bloomsburg University, was a wonderful time of reflection on the Foundation’s presence in the Bloomsburg community and the many dedicated individuals, families, and organizations that make this work possible.

During the event, Bloomsburg Board member Tom Kapelewski spoke on the giving spirit that is evident through Foundation stakeholders and the philanthropic commitment of donors to Bloomsburg funds. Holly Morrison, Foundation president/CEO, shared Bloomsburg’s journey to affiliate with the Foundation and the excitement behind last year’s re-branding at the Foundation. Karri Harter, Foundation program associate, celebrated the good work accomplished in the Bloomsburg community through the dedication of area nonprofit organizations. Grant recipients from Bloomsburg’s 2021 competitive grant round were also recognized. Becky Stender, case manager with Central Susquehanna Opportunities, shared her organization’s experience with the Foundation and the services provided across our region because of local grants and donor support. Representing the BHS Class of ’86 Scholarship Fund, Leslie Temple spoke on creating a fund with the Foundation as a philanthropic partner to benefit future BHS graduates.

Click here to watch a video from the grant recipients as they say “thank you” to the donors that make these grants possible.

SBA Enhances EIDL Program to Aid Small Businesses

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced significant enhancements to the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, a federal disaster relief loan designed to support small business communities dealing with the pandemic, especially hard-hit sectors such as restaurants, gyms, and hotels. The SBA is ready to receive new applications immediately from small businesses looking to take advantage of these new policy changes.

Key changes being announced by the SBA include:

· Increasing the COVID EIDL Cap. The SBA has increased the COVID EIDL cap from $500,000 to $2 million. Loan funds can be used for any normal operating expenses and working capital, including payroll, purchasing equipment, and paying debt.
· Implementation of a Deferred Payment Period. The SBA will ensure small business owners will not have to begin COVID EIDL repayment until two years after loan origination so that they can get through the pandemic.
· Establishment of a 30-Day Exclusivity Window. To ensure Main Street businesses have additional time to access these funds, the SBA will implement a 30-day exclusivity window of approving and disbursing funds for loans of $500,000 or less. Approval and disbursement of loans over $500,000 will begin after the 30-day period.
· Expansion of Eligible Use of Funds. COVID EIDL funds will now be eligible to prepay commercial debt and make payments on federal business debt.
· Simplification of affiliation requirements. To ease the COVID EIDL application process for small businesses, the SBA has established more simplified affiliation requirements to model those of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

How to apply

Eligible small businesses, nonprofits, and agricultural businesses in all U.S. states and territories can apply. Visit www.sba.gov/eidl to learn more about eligibility and application requirements. The last day that applications may be received is December 31, 2021. All applicants should file their applications as soon as possible.

For additional information on COVID EIDL and other recovery programs please visit www.sba.gov/relief. Small business owners may call SBA’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (1-800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard of hearing) or email DisasterCustomerService@sba.gov for additional assistance. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. Multilingual representatives are available.