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Photo courtesy of Metro Creative 

California’s COVID-19 shelter-in-place order has hit local businesses hard.

But East County leaders stress that state and federal aid is available and additional help is likely to materialize.

“There are a number of programs being put together by the state and federal government, and we are staying attuned to that,” said Brentwood Assistant City Manager Terrence Grindall. “My advice is get information and get help and let the city help you get information on what programs are there to help you. Try not to get despondent and make rash decisions.”

The greater Bay Area stay-at-home directive on March 16, and subsequent statewide edict days later, temporarily closed nonessential businesses and forced restaurants to accept only takeout and delivery orders.

For many, the changes are hard to swallow.

“Unfortunately, like all other restaurants out there, we were forced to lay off the majority of our employees,” said Tim Augustine, owner of Oakley’s Black Bear Diner. “They are like family, so everyone is struggling right now, trying to make ends meet and survive this period.”

Contra Costa County and the cities of Brentwood and Oakley have jumped in to offer help, posting online resources for business owners, their suddenly furloughed or laid-off employees and those immediately afflicted with the new virus.

“The direct assistance will primarily come from the state and federal governments, and more information will come from them in the coming days and weeks as legislation and programs get approved,” said Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery.

The available programs include the state’s Unemployment Insurance Work Sharing Program, which allows employers to seek an alternative to layoffs: retaining their trained workers by reducing their hours and wages, partially offset with available benefits.

State rapid-response teams are also available to meet with business owners to discuss measures to avert layoffs.

On the federal level, the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program offers loans of up to $2 million for small businesses, private or nonprofit organizations with amounts dependent upon applicants’ economic injury.

Unemployed workers or those who have seen their hours cut can garner between $40 and $450 a week, and quarantined workers, those afflicted by the virus, and their associated caretakers are eligible for $50 to $1,300 weekly.

Individuals and businesses may also extend their tax filing and payments to July 15, and related state payroll tax assistance is also available.

“Currently, the statewide shelter-in-place order has no end date,” said Brentwood Councilmember Karen Rarey. “Because of this, both residents and small business owners affected by this unprecedented crisis should take advantage of applying for every type of resource they might need or think they might need.”

As for the future, economic leaders say it’s hard to predict the virus’s long-term financial burn on small businesses, but local leaders are hopeful that landlords and businesses can form mutual partnerships that outlive the sudden changes.

Hopes are heightened since most individuals are still being paid, leading some to believe the economy can bounce back quickly once normalcy returns, with an array of deferred purchases leading the way.

“When the shelter-in-place is lifted, we encourage you to do something that will help ensure the long-term stability of Oakley’s small business community,” Oakley Mayor Kevin Romick said.

For now, East County leaders suggest that residents continue patronizing open businesses. Many restaurants are offering curb-side or delivery options, featuring little to no face-to-face contact.

“If I can just break even with my staff, I will keep it open for the community as long as I can,” said Jimmy Karadais, owner of Cap’s Oak Street Bar & Grill in Brentwood.

Contra Costa County-suggested programs: www.contracosta.ca.gov/7778/COVID-19-Economic-Resources

Brentwood resources:https://www.brentwoodca.gov/about/covid19.asp

Oakley resources:https://www.ci.oakley.ca.us/departments/economic-development/news-events/ 

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