March 23, 2020
NJGCA March 23rd
Coronavirus Shutdown Update
CORRECTION: Please note this version includes an updated link to the letter to give to employees of essential businesses below
We want to reinforce the fact that you are free to close your business if you desire. Yes, we've been successful in convincing all government entities that all three sectors that NJGCA represents are essential businesses and should not be required to close. However, because you are deemed an essential business does not mean that you are required to remain open for business. There are several factors that you may want to consider in order to make a business decision about remaining open to serve customers in any capacity:
1. Health and Safety- If you are not comfortable with interacting with customers in the capacity that you need to serve them, or that you feel you are compromising the health and safety of yourself or your family, your employees or their families, or your customer, and you think it is best to close your business or reduce hours then you are free to do so.
2. Economic Factors - At the moment, it is more than likely that 50% or more of your customers are now working remotely from home. That means that your gas volume is down at least 50% or more because not only are people not going to work, but they are not going anywhere else either.
It also means that you are selling at least 50% fewer cups of coffee, bags of chips, and sandwiches.
Although I don't have any concrete numbers, the indication I have from many of you is that customers are not bringing their cars in for oil changes, tires, or brake jobs.
You can click here to print an appropriate letter on to your letterhead. For those who are still operating, since there is a stay-at-home order in place in New Jersey and your businesses remain open, we advise our members to create a letter for your employees should they be pulled over for violating the stay-at-home rule, notifying officers that your employees are employed at a designated essential business and traveling to and from their employer.
From a personal point of view I can attest to this: I usually use three to four tanks of gas a week traveling around the state and I have only purchased gas once in the last two weeks and still have half a tank. So economically, even though the margin on a gallon of gas right now is at an unprecedented level, due to a coincidental perfect storm of circumstances, including a price war among oil producing nations, you are likely to be experiencing huge losses of revenue at the pump. It is not unreasonable for each of you to take out your calculator and make a calculation about whether to remain open.
It is also not unreasonable to take into consideration when making this decision: What happens to all of my employees? Our employees and their families are important to us, and we have genuine concern for their well-being. As of right now, this is what has passed that you can count on and what is on the table being discussed and, in fact, had anticipated would have been passed over the weekend but didn’t yet:
So far Governor Murphy has signed into law two pieces of legislation relevant to your business:
- A-3845 authorizes the NJ Economic Development Authority (EDA) to provide grants and loans during this period of emergency, including for working capital and meeting payroll. It will still take some time for these grants to be designed by the EDA.
- A-3848 prohibits any employer from terminating, penalizing, or refusing to reinstate an employee who requests or takes time off from work they have COVID-19 or are likely to have it. The employee does need to provide a note from a medical professional. This took effect immediately upon signature, which was March 20.
Also, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R.6201) on March 18th, its provisions take effect April 2nd. This law mandates that all businesses with fewer than 500 employees provide their employees with paid sick leave and paid family leave, the cost of which will be reimbursed quarterly by the federal government in the form of refundable tax credits. You can read our full breakdown of what is required by the law.
Congress is currently considering what the next piece of legislation will be. It will be a massive economic aid bill that will include some form of direct cash to almost all Americans, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in economic aid. How this will work and how much it will be is still being determined, current projections are as high as $1.8 trillion, more than twice the stimulus package from 2009. Hopefully, Congress will come to a final agreement within the week.
Currently under chief consideration is the CARES Act (S. 3548) which was introduced in the U.S. Senate. As currently drafted, the proposed legislation is aimed at providing sweeping relief to both individuals and companies, including providing for cash payments of up to $1,200 per individual to help lower and middle income families. Of particular importance to small and mid-sized businesses, the bill provides loans of up to $10 million for employers with under 500 employees to help them cover payroll, mortgages, rent and other specified expenses. As currently drafted, the bill would further allow businesses that retain their employees and payroll levels between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020 to have any part of such loan that was used to cover payroll through that period forgiven entirely (to the extent that employees or payroll levels are reduced, loan forgiveness would be proportionately reduced). The exception to this would be that anything paid to a single employee over $33,333 during the three month period or any payments for leave established by the FFCRA, for which the employer would be receiving a tax refund, would not be eligible for loan forgiveness.
Negotiations on the bill were hoped to be completed yesterday. However, there remain open issues that the Republican and Democratic leadership are trying to work out. Negotiations will continue with the stated objective of having an agreement and vote by soon.
Presently, without any further relief from either the state or Congress, if you choose to close your business, even for a short period of time on a temporary basis, the only option available to your employees is to file for unemployment. It is likely that either the State or federal government will pass a relief package that will assist you should you continue paying employees. I know many of you would like to do this, despite how burdensome it will be, this relief will be geared towards assisting you to do that. As soon as government relief is announced, we will notify you immediately.
One form of relief that we have already mentioned are the Coronavirus Small Business Assistance loans. You can find guidance on how to apply for this HERE. An important reminder if you apply for this loan: The federal and State governments are actively discussing more generous programs and plan to announce these efforts soon. If you can last a week or two without needing a loan, you might want to hold off applying. You will not qualify for any grants that become available if you apply for an SBA loan.
Additionally, margins on gasoline right now are at an unprecedented level. It is more important than ever that you maintain this margin for several reasons.
1. You surely have a significant loss of volume and the margin is going to be needed to make up the difference.
2. If you are fortunate enough to maintain a decent percentage of volume at this higher margin, you will surely need it in the future as we come out of this health crisis and will be confronted with the full effects of a possible long-term economic crisis.
Obviously, interaction between customers and attendants at the pumps is a concern for both your attendants and the customer. As part of a protocol for any business, you should be wiping and sanitizing every hard surface that an employee or customer may touch. This includes all services of the gas pump, especially the nozzle handles and buttons on the face of the pump. Your attendant should wear gloves, and even if your attendant is wearing gloves, your attendant should still continue to wash and sanitize their hands. It makes sense that there is an issue accepting both cash and credit cards, which we have brought to the attention of Governor Murphy. Unless we notify you otherwise while we are working on this issue: it remains illegal not to accept cash. You should triple down on the amount of wiping and sanitizing all surfaces inside your convenience store, restrooms, and customer waiting areas at your repair shops. As noted earlier, there are far fewer customers entering our stores right now, but all sanitizing should be done with the assumption that a customer came into your store that may be infected with the Coronavirus.
We continue to urge Governor Murphy to suspend the prohibition in NJ allowing customers to pump their own gas. However, our representations that gas stations will be forced to close because employees are unable to work, or won’t work for safety reasons, or our customers don’t feel safe have not been backed up by our members. Members have not forwarded to us the info that would identify their personal situation of being unable to have attendants at the pumps, or customers who do not wish to have interaction with gas attendants. Until locations are actually closed up that can be identified, our message is being dismissed in the Governor’s office. We sent several email requests in the last week with very little response, yet many members have called or emailed to say that we should pursuit this policy. Not even those who have called or emailed have responded with the info we have requested.
As mentioned earlier in this communication, Congress is considering relief measures for small business. Knowing that Congress is having this debate is why we sent this action alert the other day. It is imperative that you participate in this action alert and communicate with your member of Congress to let them know how important relief is to you and your business. Thank you to our members who have sent messages using our Voter Voice System.
Also, please continue to regularly check our Coronavirus page so you can keep up to date and informed on new resources and information that we are adding every day.
I know you are all going through a difficult time, and everyone is trying to do their part to assist in some way. We received a message that Fulfill NJ, the Monmouth and Ocean county food bank, is assembling volunteer opportunities to help the community if you are inclined to do so. You can apply to become a volunteer HERE. Reach out to Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on volunteering at Fulfill.