City, SBA working to help businesses impacted by COVID-19

Published: Mar. 12, 2020 at 7:39 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - As businesses in the local hospitality industry begin feeling some impact from the drop in international and national travel, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced that it will provide disaster assistance loans to small businesses impacted by COVID-19, commonly called the novel coronavirus.

Tourists are critical to the city’s economy.

A group of friends from New York decided to travel to New Orleans despite growing fears about the virus and air travel.

"Not going to stop living life,” said Joanne Ercolano.

Frank Abbatantuono said he appreciates the more laid-back culture in the city.

"The people here act like there is no coronavirus, it's not like home everywhere there's panic, everywhere,” said Abbatantuono.

The local hospitality industry is grateful for the tourists who are in the city given the growing travel fears.

Khater Salomon, is a manager at New Orleans Creole Cookery in the French Quarter.

"We are concerned,” he said.

Customers at the restaurant took advantage of the great weather and outdoor seating. Salomon believes locals will continue to patronize restaurants.

“The impact on business from the tourists, yes, we are seeing that a lot from the conventions, we’re seeing that a lot. From those that are just out and about, spring breakers are here,” said Salomon. “People in New Orleans are going to come out, you’re not going to lock them up, those that are not sick.”

Some restaurants like Drago's said it's too early to say whether the virus is impacting the number of customers coming into its locations, but added that on top of its normal protocols for cleanliness and sanitizing, it now mandates that all workers stop whatever they are doing at least four to 10 times a day to do additional washing of their hands.

Hotels are feeling the impact of the virus, as well.

Mavis Early, Executive Director of the GNO Hotel & Lodging Association issue the following statement:

“Due to the corona virus and communications from national, state & local governments and health organizations, hotels, are, of course, experiencing a large amount of cancellations of reservations and meetings. Most hotels are working with event planners to reschedule these meetings at a later date. We are optimistic that those meetings as well as citywide events that have been and may be cancelled can also be rescheduled to a future date."

And federal help will be made available to small businesses through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Michael Ricks is a district director with SBA.

"It's recognition that this is, fits in the same category as any other natural disaster that we might have, but the governor's offices and the local authorities still have to make the application to get it approved for a particular local market,” he said.

Ricks said the interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses without credit available elsewhere and 2.75 percent for non-profits.

"This can be paid off over time to minimize the negative impacts that this might have on a business and the money can be used for anything related, any business related payroll, you know, controlling inventory,” he said.

Salomon calls the new loan program a good move.

"Hopefully, we will get all the help we need,” he said.

Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s administration says it has asked Gov. John Bel Edwards to advocate for a major disaster declaration which would trigger the Stafford Act. Also, city hall says the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and the Office of Economic Development are working with local businesses to identify COVID-19-related impacts with uninsured losses, which would be the basis for a request for assistance to the State of Louisiana and the Small Business Administration.

Additionally, a spokeswoman said the administration has requested technical assistance for worker-based training to prevent and reduce exposure for employees; Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery dollars to mitigate local economic impacts with loss of hospitality revenues and immediate assistance through the federal Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act which goes directly to states to provide funding for laboratory testing, contact tracing, infection control, and other public health preparedness and response activities.

For more information on the SBA loans, call 1-800-659-2955 or email: disastercustomerservice@sba.gov

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