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Newsletter: Here come more stimulus checks, plus help for small businesses

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California’s economic recovery package includes $600 stimulus checks for low-income residents and more than $2 billion in grants and fee waivers for small businesses.
(Lauren Raab / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Rachel Schnalzer, the L.A. Times Business section’s audience engagement editor, and here comes a grab bag of financial relief for people and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

California’s Legislature approved a big chunk of an economic recovery package Monday afternoon, including $600 stimulus checks for low-income residents and a bundle of grants and fee waivers for small businesses.

The Biden administration is giving the nation’s smallest businesses a special shot at Paycheck Protection Program loans. And a recent change in mortgage forbearance rules extends how long homeowners can postpone payments, though there’s an application deadline coming up soon.

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Let’s start by getting into the California effort, as explained by my colleague Patrick McGreevy.

The one-time $600 “Golden State Stimulus” payments approved by legislators Monday are for low-income Californians. The bulk of recipients will be people who get the state’s earned income tax credit for 2020, which is granted to people making less than $30,000 a year. The payments are separate from, and would not replace, federal stimulus checks.

For small businesses, the package includes $2.1 billion in grants of $5,000 to $25,000 to be distributed through a program administered by California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate.

Businesses with an annual gross revenue of up to $2.5 million are eligible. Not every applicant will be awarded a grant, though. Requests are ranked and judged on criteria including whether the business is in an industry sector most affected by the pandemic.

Additionally, two years of fees will be waived for roughly 59,000 restaurants and bars licensed through the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. More than 550,000 barbering and cosmetology licenses will also have fees waived.

Later this week, the Legislature is slated to vote on whether to start letting businesses take a tax deduction for the first $150,000 of expenses covered by loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

The package passed Monday also includes:

◆ $100 million in emergency financial aid for qualifying low-income students carrying six or more units at California Community Colleges

◆ $24 million for financial aid and services through Housing for the Harvest, which supports agricultural workers who have to quarantine because of COVID-19

◆ $35 million for food banks and diapers

◆ $6 million for outreach and application assistance targeting University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges students made newly eligible for CalFresh, the food assistance program

◆ Stipends for state-subsidized child-care and preschool providers

There’s more good news for the smallest-business owners

President Biden is giving the nation’s smallest businesses — those with fewer than 20 employees — a special chance to land some federal aid, the Associated Press reports.

In the two-week period that begins tomorrow, only businesses with fewer than 20 employees can apply for forgivable loans as part of the Paycheck Protection Program. $1 billion will be specifically directed at sole proprietorships, such as hairstylists. The idea behind this exclusive window is to give these smallest businesses a chance to apply for the loans without competition from larger ones.

In addition, the administration has removed a ban on lending to a business with at least 20% ownership by a person arrested or convicted of a non-fraud felony in the prior year, the AP article says. Legal U.S. residents who are not citizens may also apply to the program. Business owners who are behind on repaying their federal student loans are not ruled out either.

For more information on applying for PPP loans, visit the Small Business Administration website.

Attention, homeowners with a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac

If you have a pandemic-related hardship, a recent change in forbearance rules allows you to delay up to 15 months of mortgage payments rather than the previous maximum of 12 months, my colleague Andrew Khouri reports.

For a shot at the 15-month delay, you need to be enrolled in a forbearance program by Feb. 28. To enroll, contact your mortgage servicer and declare you have a financial hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can still enroll after Feb. 28, but the maximum forbearance period would be 12 months.

More information on forbearance, including for homeowners who have loans not backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, will be included in next week’s newsletter.

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◆ California has launched a COVID-19 compliance portal for businesses, Kevin Smith of the Southern California News Group reports. The portal is designed to serve as a road map for businesses looking to understand safety regulations.

◆ What do the blackouts in Texas tell us about our power grid? Sammy Roth breaks down the crisis and what we can learn.

◆ Your car insurer may be using pre-pandemic mileage to set 2021 rates — so challenge any estimate or rate hike that seems suspicious, columnist David Lazarus writes.

◆ Speaking of cars, are extended vehicle warranties worth it? Lazarus explains what to consider.

How much debt can you afford to pay down each month? Certified financial planner Liz Weston offers guidance.

◆ During the pandemic, California has been slower to address appeals from people who believe their unemployment benefit claims have been wrongly denied, Patrick McGreevy reports. The average wait for assistance: 92 days.

◆ Goodbye to those “stupid, useless and biased” Medicaid work requirements, columnist Michael Hiltzik writes. He reports that the Biden administration has “consigned work requirements to the trash heap.”

One more thing

Millions of front-line workers are falling through the cracks of California’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution system, Suhauna Hussain and Andrea Castillo reported last week.

Who counts as “essential,” and who gets to decide? That’s a question many high-risk workers at farms, restaurants, grocery stores and garment factories have been left asking.

It’s a race against time for those who come into contact with others at work. As grocery worker Kathleen Scott explained, every customer interaction brings a risk of infection that adds up. “We’re locking ourselves in the bathroom and crying,” she said. Read the full story.

Have a question about work, business or finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, or tips for coping that you’d like to share? Send us an email at californiainc@latimes.com, and we may include it in a future newsletter.


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