Nat Kerman

As life in New Haven has ground to a halt, so has revenue for local businesses, many of which have been compelled to shutter their doors, whether by Gov. Ned Lamont’s orders or by practical considerations. To help Elm City establishments weather the crisis, city and state partners have established an economic resiliency program with loans, grants and programming.

Lamont’s partial shutdown order went into effect on Monday, forcing non-essential businesses — broadly defined as those not providing food, gasoline or medical supplies and services — to close. But even prior to this order, many New Haven businesses had already scaled back or shut down operations altogether, pleading with the public for support to keep owners and employees afloat. In response to the growing crisis for small and midsized businesses, emergency provisions have appeared at the federal, state and now local levels. On Thursday, a coalition of Elm City actors announced an umbrella organization, Together New Haven, dedicated to helping local business owners navigate the new resource apparatus and offering relief of its own.

“It’s been pretty clear that we’re all going through some serious challenges,” Mayor Justin Elicker said in a press conference about the program. “It’s all about supporting one another, buying local where possible and also staying connected … The goal is to share resources [and] expertise and create effective strategies that will bolster the ability of businesses and workers to adapt to the very unique, challenging situations that they’re facing.”

Of the 300,000 jobs in Greater New Haven, around 31,000 — over 10 percent — are directly related to higher education, with many more in associated industries such as hospitality and events programming, as well as some brick and mortar stores. As colleges and universities across the region have suspended operations for the remainder of the academic year, tens of thousands of employees have found themselves in economic duress, New Haven Economic Development Administrator Mike Piscitelli said on Thursday.

According to Department of Economic Community Development Commissioner David Lehman, statewide applications for unemployment benefits have spiked to 20 to 25 times their normal rate in the past two weeks. This is in keeping with a national trend: a record 3.3 million Americans applied for benefits last week. Individuals in the gig economy have been particularly hard-hit, with dried-up income sources and a lack of social protections for self-employed workers

To help individual workers and families in the immediate term, federal and state authorities have extended tax filings by two months. Connecticut has issued a moratorium on utility shut offs at the residential and commercial levels, in addition to an eviction moratorium through May 1.

For its part, New Haven is offering $1,000 grants to low-income creatives in the gig economy and small nonprofits with operating budgets of $500,000 or less. The $60,000 fund comes from New Haven Festivals; the nonprofit arm of the Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism; and the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. This funding mechanism puts New Haven on par with larger cities like Boston and New York, which have established arts relief programs, Arts Council Executive Director Daniel Fitzmaurice said.

The Arts Council has also partnered with the city to launch social media campaigns promoting local creatives and encouraging residents to support workers by taking online master classes or purchasing gift cards.

For businesses without an online presence, the Town Green Special Services District offers programming to set up online gift card sales and a digital marketplace. The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce is hosting a webinar series to help members and non-members alike navigate a variety of new state and federal resources

One of these resources is the Connecticut Department of Labor’s shared work program, which allows employers to temporarily reduce employees’ hours and supplement lost wages with partial unemployment benefits. Vespoli USA, a racing shell manufacturer in New Haven, has already taken advantage of the program to keep its 37 employees above water

The federal government is similarly slated to offer payroll relief as part of a $2 trillion package that passed the Senate on Wednesday. If small businesses maintain their Feb. 15 payroll, they are eligible for forgivable loans up to 2.5 times their monthly payroll expenditures. After two months, these loans will become grants, making the federal provision “the biggest tool in the tool kit” for small businesses, according to Lehman. Connecticut banks, he said, will serve as “conduits” for loan distribution, but will not incur any costs themselves, as the loans are federally guaranteed.

Other loans are available from federal and state authorities. The federal Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans of up to $2 million. The state DECD and Connecticut Innovations, a lending fund, are scheduled to offer zero-interest loans of up to $75,000 to businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Lehman estimates that the state will issue between 500 and 700 loans in the coming weeks from its $25 million fund.

 

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu