Coronavirus: State Launches Small Business Grant, Unemployment Claims Trend Lower

Jun 2, 2020

Students from Emmerich Manuel High School in Indianapolis received their diplomas and gifts during a drive-thru ceremony on Saturday, May 30.
Credit Lauren Chapman / IPB News

The Indiana State Department of Health reported nine additional confirmed deaths Monday, bringing the state’s total to 1,976. The state announced nearly 35,000 total confirmed cases, with nearly 266,000 Hoosiers tested.

State Launches Grant Fund To Help Small Businesses That Didn't Secure PPP Money

The state announced a grant program to help small businesses that weren’t able to secure funding from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. 

The Small Business Restart Fund is supported by $30 million of federal CARES Act funding sent to Indiana.

Secretary of Commerce Jim Schellinger says small businesses with fewer than 50 people, that generate less than $5 million in revenue, are eligible for grants depending on how much revenue has been lost due to COVID-19.

"Of the $30 million that’s allocated for this back start-up fund, $5 million of it will be dedicated and reserved for certified minority businesses and women-owned businesses," he says.

HIPAA Doesn't Prevent Employers From Sharing COVID-19 Information, Experts Say

John Suher Sr. has worked at Honeywell in South Bend for 23 years and is president of the UAW union for the plant. He told the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus in a virtual press conference workers have been having "some major issues here with the company."

One of the biggest is that workers aren’t being given even basic information about COVID-19 cases in their plant.

“That’s all we’re asking," Suher says. "Just give us a number of how many people were infected or are infected at this point. We just want a number – we don’t want names. They refuse to give us this information.”

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He says Honeywell defended their stance by pointing to privacy laws in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. We reached out to Honeywell’s corporate office to confirm this, but got no response. 

As more Hoosiers are called back to work in Indiana’s “Back on Track” plan, many people want information about whether they’re working alongside coworkers with COVID-19. Many employers are equally concerned about sharing information out of fear it could violate a federal medical privacy law commonly called HIPAA. 

Is The Paycheck Protection Program Enough To Save Some Small Businesses From COVID-19?

Dan Thystrup is the owner of Adventureglass and has been making paddle boats for about 25 years. They’re used in recreational parks all over the world.

“We have some in London, England, and in Malaysia. Philadelphia Zoo has had our boats for many, many years. They have a bunch of our swans,” says Thystrup.

Earlier this year, he expected to be on track for one of his most profitable years with completed orders ready to ship out this spring. Now, those boats just sit in his Fort Wayne shop.

“All these, let’s call them amusement places or recreational things, they are staying closed longer than the regular factories and stores and things like that,” says Thystrup. “So they are suffering big time. And because they are suffering, they can't do business with us.”

Businesses in Indiana lost billions of dollars to the pandemic. Federal support helped, but for many small businesses, owners say it isn't nearly enough. With tight profit margins even before COVID-19, some are worried for the future of their businesses.

IEDC Announces Three New Initiatives To Invest In Indiana Manufacturing

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation announced three new initiatives to support Hoosier manufacturing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $10 million program will focus on startup investment and technology modernization in the industry. 

The Economic Activity Stabilization and Enhancement, or EASE, program consists of three different initiatives. The first – the Smart & Advanced Manufacturing Focus Fund – creates a $3 million fund to make early investments in companies developing or integrating smart technologies like 3D printing, data analytics and augmented or virtual reality. That program launches immediately.

The second – Manufacturing Readiness Grants – is a $4 million fund to provide matching grants to modernize manufacturing operations to improve capacity and speed. 

The third initiative creates a Smart Manufacturing Studio Lab to provide companies space to train employees and test technologies for their businesses. That studio would launch in early 2021.

New Unemployment Claims Trend Slightly Lower, But Many Still Wait For Payment

The number of Hoosiers filing new applications for unemployment benefits dropped slightly last week, to 26,000. But since mid-March, over 700,000 workers have now applied for unemployment.

Department of Workforce Development Commissioner Fred Payne says the department paid about $1 billion of unemployment benefits in May. He also estimates 80 to 85 percent of people applying for unemployment benefits are getting payment within a few weeks.

“Those claims that go beyond 21 days require more experienced adjudicators to work through the process,” he says.

Monroe County Officials Caution Church-Goers About Forming Large Crowds

Phase three of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s “Back On Track Indiana” plan goes into effect May 30 at midnight and lifts crowd restrictions for religious services, although Monroe County officials are urging caution.

Monroe County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Sharp issued a health order deviating from the state's guidance on group gatherings. 

The state's plan allows for gatherings of up to 100 people, but the health order for Monroe County will limit gatherings to 50 people through June 15. Churches and religious services are exempt from these gathering limits. 

“We would encourage them not to do that. Hold off, use streaming or whatever other services you’ve been able to do as long you possibly can,” said Monroe County Health administrator Penny Caudill.

Activists Working To Save South Bend YMCA Location From Closure

A crowd rallied at the South Bend YMCA Monday hoping to stop the location from shutting down. Officials announced last month the branch would be closed permanently due to financial trouble caused by the pandemic. 

Tom Cooper is a longtime South Bend YMCA Board Member. He’s the face of the movement to save the South Bend YMCA.

“To all of a sudden have a facility that’s closed without any real consideration of its members, I, at the time thought it was very unfair,” Cooper says.

YMCA of Greater Michiana officials say the South Bend facility was old and the cost to keep it running became too great with the added financial stress of COVID-19.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.