This could be a long post so buckle up. There are several things that need to be consolidated into one place and I will attempt to do that here.
As of this writing there have been three phases of assistance that has been put together by the Federal Government to help businesses get through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 emergency. The three were the original declaration and availability of some SBA loans. The second was the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) and the third is the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES). The latter two of these have some things that most gins will need to pay attention to. Additionally, we intend to explore the ability for gins to stay open and gin workers to travel to and from work each day even under a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order.
Under the FFCRA, there were two pieces that have been covered in this blog but there have been some slight clarifications. Under the Emergency Sick Leave provisions employees can take up to two weeks off paid by the employer for a number of reasons. Those reasons are explained on the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour page that can be found here. One confusing piece of that is reason #1 on the list. It states that the individual Is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19. This does not mean that the business shut down due to a shelter in place order but that the EMPLOYEE cannot leave their home for any reason because of a lock-down quarantine as we’ve seen on a very limited basis. Under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act provisions of the FFCRA, an employee can take an additional 10 weeks (total of 12) off if they have to take care of a child due to a coronavirus related school or daycare closing.
Reimbursement for these mandated leave categories will be through tax credits. I have not seen guidance from the Commerce department or IRS on how that will be filed or credited so please work closely with your accountant so that you will know how this works if needed. There are also provisions that will exempt employers with under 50 employees if granting the leave will cause an extreme hardship on the business but how the application of the exemption will be made is yet to be developed by Wage and Hour.
The CARES Act gives small businesses the ability to borrow enough money to cover certain expenses for a defined period of time. The loans are made through local lenders rather than through SBA directly. There’s 340+Billion available for this. At the end of a set time, covered expenses will be forgiven. This program has a LOT of details as to the dates, and expenses and how the will be handled. I recommend either the article I posted over this past weekend or THIS ARTICLE. Since it is a limited amount of money, applications have been flying in to lenders. If you want to get some of these funds, please work with your lenders NOW regarding the Payroll Protection Provisions of the CARES act under SBA.
By far the most calls and emails we’ve received this week so far have dealt with shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders. The first time I wrote about this, there were only two states that had issued such orders. Now there are dozens with more coming in all likelihood. They come in all different shapes and sizes with variations of who can stay open and what activities are allowed and under what circumstances.
Agriculture in general is considered critical infrastructure. In all the orders we’ve seen so far, critical infrastructure has been exempted and travel for those jobs allowed. The Department of Homeland Security has updated their Critical Infrastructure list and guidance. That updated (2.0) guidance can be found here. I have highlighted the portions we feel most gin work falls under in the guidance. The highlighted version can be found here.
Texas Cotton Ginners drafted a letter for gins to modify, put on letterhead and give to employees regarding how gin employees fit and why they should be allowed to work. In North Carolina, the Commissioner of Agriculture has drafted a letter that agriculture workers can carry with them and has reached out to law enforcement regarding ag’s roll in keeping the country sound.
All of this is noted with the caveat that we must all be safe. Farm and rural populations tend to be older. This virus really seems to take the worst toll on the older populations. Additionally gins run very lean on employees. We cannot afford to have one sick employee make the whole workforce sick as well. That being said it’s time to get creative and develop policies and procedures to deal with Covid-19 at your business for both the public exposure and the inter-employee exposure as well.
Most gins are shipping right now. They are shipping both seed and bales. Cotton is a key component in many medical supplies. It must be shipped. Additionally USDA has not relaxed the 4.5% shipping standard as far as we know today so if you have orders, you must meet the standard. Dealing with truck drivers needs to be looked at. Most gin/warehouse operations eliminating or minimizing face to face and distancing where necessary. Closing to vendors and sales people and limiting where truck drivers can go in an office and sanitizing all surfaces where they may have touched… door handles, clipboards counters etc. regularly if not after every interaction. Religious hand-washing, use of hand sanitizer and monitoring and maintaining distance while on break or lunch is critical.
We’re doing our best to keep gins open even under these shelter in place orders and have used the ability for gins to limit exposure as an assurance that it would be okay to exempt our operations.
As always give us a call if you have questions.