INFORMATION ON RESOURCES DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
By: Laurie Biggs and Landon Van Winkle
As North Carolina continues to reel from the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, small businesses and consumers are faced with substantial and lingering financial uncertainty. These past few weeks have seen nearly unprecedented spikes in unemployment claims as hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians have lost their jobs due to the state-ordered closure of bars, restaurants, gyms, salons, retail establishments, and other hospitality businesses, often with little notice. Ongoing shelter-in-place orders continue to put pressure on small businesses to generate enough revenue to continue operating.
To date, the focus appears to be on providing immediate relief to individuals and businesses who have lost income on a short-term basis. To date, little guidance has been offered as to how long these deferrals and other benefits will remain in place, the manner for which missed payments will be addressed once the deadline for payment deferrals has expired, or how businesses will shoulder the increased costs associated with non-payment by their customers. In addition, many of the remedies offered appear to merely postpone the financial impact without offering any lasting relief.
We will continue to update this page with additional resources and information as it becomes available. Our offices remain open to answer any questions that you may have about how this financial crisis may affect your business or personal life.
Information for Businesses and Business Owners:
- Disaster Loans from the SBA. The U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”) is offering disaster loans to businesses that have suffered economic injury as a result of the pandemic, and North Carolina has secured a disaster declaration to provide access to these low-interest loans to North Carolina small businesses. Additional details, as well as online applications, are available here: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance
- Payment of Employees. Small businesses with less than 500 employees are now required to provide paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for their employees for certain COVID-19 related reasons. Further information on the requirements and eligible employees can be found at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave. It appears that employers will be offered a tax credit in the 2020 tax year to offset this increased cost.
- Rapid Recovery Loan Program. The Golden Leaf Foundation has set aside $15 million in funds to assist local small businesses in obtaining loans up to $50,000, with 0% interest and no payment requirements for six months. While this initial earmark has been allocated, Golden Leaf reports that it is actively pursuing additional funding for this program. Small business owners can learn more, or apply for loans when additional funds become available, at https://ncrapidrecovery.org
- Business Interruption Insurance. Unfortunately, many business owners are learning that their business interruption insurance policies do not cover them for lost income related to the COVID-19 pandemic or are being denied coverage under their policies. However, you should consult a licensed attorney to determine whether your policy provides coverage for these interruptions.
- Extension of Tax Deadlines. The IRS is extending the deadline for self-employed individuals to make their estimated tax payments due on April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020, with no accrued interest or penalties. The deadline for filing and paying corporate income taxes has also been extended to July 15, 2020. Additional information is available at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/payment-deadline-extended-to-july-15-2020 Importantly, the State of North Carolina has extended the deadline for corporations to file their tax returns, BUT HAS NOT waived interest on any tax owed and paid after April 15, 2020.
- IRS Collection Activities. For taxpayers who are behind on their tax payments, the IRS has announced that they are suspending most collection activities and suspending payments on installment agreements. More information can be found at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-unveils-new-people-first-initiative-covid-19-effort-temporarily-adjusts-suspends-key-compliance-program?fbclid=IwAR1dJFeqTFxD0x9gYMreKsacZpgCjD4epvUxC-YuE8WNj4_GphC43nmObUU
- On a smaller scale, businesses seeking financial support from the communities they serve can start a GoFundMe page, and, as part of its Small Business Relief Initiative, GoFundMe will issue a $500 matching grant to a qualifying business that raises at least $500 through its GoFundMe page. Additional details are available here: https://www.gofundme.com/c/small-business-relief-initiative-and-fund-faqs
Information for Landlords and Property Owners:
- The North Carolina court system has suspended all evictions for at least 60 days. Eviction orders already entered may still be enforced by the sheriff’s office; however, many sheriff’s offices have indicated that they will not be enforcing these orders during this time.
- The North Carolina court system has suspended all foreclosures for a period of 60 days, or all foreclosure sales that had not been completed on or before March 16, 2020. A sale that had been completed prior to March 16, 2020, but in the upset bid period will still be allowed to be completed.
- Force Majeure Lease Clauses. Lease clauses will need to be reviewed closely to determine whether tenants may enforce these clauses.
- Failure to Pay Mortgages. Landlords facing an inability to pay their mortgages because of a tenant’s failure to pay rent have received minimal protections to date. The State of North Carolina has suspended all foreclosures through April 16, 2020; however, most lenders also require assignment of rents clauses as part of any loan, and to date, nothing has been done to prevent landlords from exercising these clauses, to the extent they can notify tenants who have the ability to pay rent to pay them directly. The ability to obtain the appointment of a receiver does not appear to be within the court systems suspension of services.
Information for Individuals:
- Unemployment Benefits. North Carolina has waived the requirement that workers actively search for work while receiving unemployment benefits, if the unemployment claim is a result of the pandemic. Additionally, the new federal stimulus bill is expected to allow for increased unemployment benefits and a longer payment period, although the details of the new bill has not yet been released. Additional details, as well as the unemployment benefits application, can be found here: https://des.nc.gov/apply-unemployment/
- Suspension of foreclosures. North Carolina has suspended all foreclosures through April 16. On a national level, loans backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA loans, and USDA loans have imposed their own guidelines, with longer moratoriums. For more information about the individual suspensions and to see which entity holds your mortgage loan, go to https://library.nclc.org/major-consumer-protections-announced-response-covid-19#content-0 Please note that none of these entities or the major mortgage servicers have announced plans to waive interest during this time, or established any guidelines for how to address any mortgage payments that are not made as a result of COVID-19’s economic impact.
- Extension of Tax Deadlines. Both the IRS and State of North Carolina have extended the deadline to file and pay 2019 income taxes from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. While the IRS is waiving all penalties and interest on the taxes owed, the State of North Carolina HAS NOT WAIVED interest owed on any tax owed as of April 15, 2020 that is paid after April 15, 2020. Additional details can be found here for the IRS https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/payment-deadline-extended-to-july-15-2020 and here for North Carolina https://www.ncdor.gov/home/ncdor-actions-covid-19/department-revenue-extends-time-file-income-and-franchise-tax-returns-july-15-2020
- Federal Student Loans. All federal student loans are currently interest free, meaning all payments are being applied against principal. In addition, borrowers can request a 60 day payment deferral during this time as well. The interest only provision applies only to federal student loans, not private student loans.
- Utility Services. Many utility services are suspending disconnections for a period of time.
- Lender Accommodations. Many lenders are offering relief to their business and consumer debtors on a case-by-case basis, which may include forbearance, waiver of service fees or certain penalties, or lower interest rates on short-term loans. These accommodations may vary based on your lender and your situation, and you should contact your lender directly to see what options may be available to you.
- Many trustees are allowing payment deferrals and other accommodations for debtors who cannot make chapter 13 plan payments.
The National Consumer Law Center has compiled a state by state listing of COVID-19 consumer protections, which can be accessed at https://library.nclc.org/major-consumer-protections-announced-response-covid-19#author-bottom.
This article provides general information only; it is not intended to provide legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Transmission of this article does not create, nor is it intended to create, an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with a licensed attorney before taking any action in reliance on information provided in this article.