Day: April 28, 2020

Associated Press: Russian businesses plead for help from Kremlin to outlast coronavirus pandemic

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MOSCOW (AP) — Desperate business owners in Russia have been pleading with the Kremlin for help in the pandemic shutdown. The response, however, has been slow and largely focused on big industries, leaving most smaller companies to fend for themselves and raising the prospect of massive unemployment and social unrest.

The Kremlin’s anti-crisis measures reflect both its long-held emphasis on state-controlled companies and a fear of opening state coffers at a time when government revenue is drying up due to a plunge in oil prices and economic slump.

Opinion:Russia is the world’s biggest loser from oil’s crash, and that’s reason to worry

When President Vladimir Putin ordered most Russians to stay home through April 30 to contain the coronavirus, he said employees must continue to be paid. A joke soon went viral online: “Putin walks into a bar and declares, to the owner’s surprise: ‘Beer for everyone. It’s on the house!’ ”

See:Putin says coronavirus infections have not peaked, extends partial shutdown of Russian economy

Weeks later, the president promised subsidies and loans for private-sector companies to help them pay wages. But businesses paralyzed by the lockdowns imposed by the majority of Russia’s 85 regions see the Kremlin’s support as sorely insufficient.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said Dmitry Nesvetov, the owner of a dry cleaning chain and a leading member at the Opora Russia business association. “The measures that have been announced are not enough to deal with it.”

Nesvetov said the state subsidies — about $160 per employee per month, the equivalent of minimum wage — are too small and deferments on taxes and social-security payments don’t address the underlying problems. “It’s a ‘die another day’ logic,” he said, adding that the inefficient state bureaucracy can’t properly manage even those limited support measures.

Retail shops, restaurants and cafés, gyms, beauty parlors and other small and midsize companies in the services sector, which employs about a third of the nation’s workforce, have been shut, and a great number of them may not outlive the pandemic. According to one forecast, over 40% of restaurants won’t reopen.

Experts say the number of unemployed could rise from about 3.5 million in 2019 to 9 million, or a 12% jobless rate.

Moscow’s legendary GUM State Department Store, seen here on April 23, is emptied and closed to visitors.

Associated Press

“It looks like helping small and medium-sized business isn’t a top priority,” Nesvetov said.

While the nonfood retail and services sector ground to a halt, big state-controlled companies and industrial plants have kept operating. Putin has promised subsidies to airlines, car and aircraft plants, and defense manufacturers, among others.

The Kremlin’s approach contrasts with that of the United States and many EU nations, many of which provided subsidies to workers and businesses.

With tears in her eyes, café chain owner Anastasia Tatulova told Putin during a recent meeting with business managers that more support is needed quickly. She urged the Kremlin to temporarily waive taxes instead of offering tax deferments and to provide more subsidies.

Putin promised help, but Tatulova said authorities have since stonewalled most of her proposals.

“We don’t count on anyone. We are struggling to survive on our own,” Tatulova told the AP. “What’s happening is very sad.”

She says authorities failed to consult businesses when drafting rescue measures, meaning many ended up being useless. In one example, businesses will have to pay taxes on bank loans intended to help pay wages.

“It’s a duty of the state to ensure normal operations in a time of crisis, and it just didn’t work,” she said.

Tatulova noted that Moscow municipal authorities offered some real help, waiving rental payments on city property and automatically extending licenses. Governors in some regions slashed taxes, offered subsidies and allowed some businesses to reopen.

Oleg Zinov, who co-owns a chain of dental clinics, said some of the relief measures have been put into action and he was able to get loans to help pay wages. “We can’t say that the steps that have been taken are sufficient,” he added.

As the pandemic swept through Russia, Putin refrained from declaring a nationwide state of emergency, noting that the situation varied widely across the vast country. He has given regional governors the authority to manage their lockdowns and decide which industries can continue working — a strategy seen by Kremlin critics as an attempt to shift blame for the spread of contagion and the economic fallout.

Alexei Navalny, a leading opposition figure, has launched an online campaign to urge the Kremlin to pay at least 20,000 rubles (about $260) to every worker and launch a bailout program that would cover all types of business. He pointed to the billions of dollars in Russia’s rainy-day funds.

“We have accumulated those reserves for use during the hard times,” Navalny said. “No one has any doubt that those times have come. The question is if we use those reserves to ease the burden for the people and the business or stupidly hand them out to state companies and the oligarchs.”

Don’t miss:Putin’s foreign minister bristles at suggestion Russia is using coronavirus pandemic to boost its global influence

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed Navalny’s proposals as incompetent and populist.

Amid a ban on public gatherings, many Russians have taken to the internet to vent their frustration. In several big cities, people used a popular navigation app allowing drivers to post comments about traffic to criticize the Kremlin in what became a string of virtual rallies.

And in the province of North Ossetia in the North Caucasus mountains, hundreds took to the streets demanding to end the lockdown and scuffling with police. Several dozen were arrested for up to 15 days.

Putin has insisted that the nation’s hard-currency reserves, worth $563 billion, and other funds accumulated from oil and gas revenue would allow the country to survive the crisis.

His top economic advisers have warned against big cash infusions now, arguing they could fuel inflation and that the situation’s uncertainty requires a careful use of reserves.

But a group of leading Russian economic experts has criticized the government’s response as too rigid, calling for bigger subsidies to businesses and consumers, a hike in pensions and a decrease in utility bills. They warned in a recent report that the failure to offer cash to consumers and businesses would drive up poverty and ruin any hope for a quick economic recovery.

“Restrictions of economic activity are compulsory and the state must take responsibility for its costs, otherwise the already limited trust in the government will be increasingly undermined,” they said.

CityWatch: Limited seating, disposable menus, possible temperature checks: The future of small business in New York

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As New York’s elected officials turn more of their focus to staggering an economic reopening after May 15, when New York’s “on pause” order ends, New York City’s myriad small businesses are starting to strategize what a new normal will look like.

First and foremost, that will include reducing the number of customers in any venue at one time. Basic cleaning routines will be stepped up, with doorknobs and other high-touch surfaces sanitized many times a day. At dine-in restaurants, limiting physical interaction between staff and customers will be paramount — and contactless ordering could solve that.  

Construction and manufacturing will be the first industries to reopen in New York, starting with upstate regions sometime after the pause order lapses, as long as employers can put social distancing and other safety measures in place to avoid a cluster of coronavirus infections, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. 

But nonessential businesses like restaurants and gyms — where physical space for individual customers is at a premium in New York City in the best of times — will likely reopen more slowly. A set of city task forces charged with creating a road map for restarting the city’s economy won’t deliver final plans until June, but Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that he would consider opening certain businesses before then if there’s a significant slowdown in the outbreak. 

Statewide, 295,106 positive COVID-19 cases and 17,638 deaths due to the virus have been reported as of Tuesday morning. Of those, 162,338 cases and at least 12,509 deaths occurred in New York City, according to the state. Daily fatalities statewide remained flat, with 335 new deaths as of Tuesday, Cuomo said at a press briefing; that figure is down more than 50% from the peak of the outbreak, when nearly 800 deaths were reported per day.

Small businesses in survival mode

Now in week six of shutdown mode, many of New York City’s small businesses are barely hanging on. Some owners are trying to tap into the latest federal relief measure, a $484 billion bill signed into law Friday, after larger public companies snapped up funds allotted for small businesses in the previous bill. To keep a little revenue trickling in, gyms are offering online fitness classes; restaurateurs that can manage it are doing delivery and takeout; and local shops are expanding shipping locations. In some cases, business owners are frantically raising money so their out-of-work workers can pay rent and buy groceries.

While addressing these challenges, small-business owners will also share some of the responsibility for deciding what the post-coronavirus economy looks like

For employers, Cuomo said, that will mean ensuring employees can get safely from home to work; once at work, those in customer-facing environments must be trained to safely interact with the public. Will businesses provide workers with gloves and masks? How will physical distancing work? And if an employee develops symptoms of COVID-19, what is the protocol to swiftly address the situation?

Major changes for the coronavirus era

Small businesses will likely adopt some of the same measures currently in place at grocery stores, bodegas and pharmacies: Plexiglass dividers erected at cash registers and tape marks on the floor to keep customers distanced on the checkout line. Then there is the iFresh market in Chinatown where shoppers are having their temperatures taken by an employee with an infrared thermometer, the New York Times reported April 20.

Raab Rashi, founder and co-owner of Sword Class NYC, a martial arts school in Harlem, said he’s looking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to his local martial arts community for guidance.

“There are gyms big and small that are affected by this and I think the industry is going to have to re-evaluate its best practices,” he said. At the very least, his school will have to develop a new policy for sanitizing the swords it lends to students, and it will likely limit the number of people per class. 

Also see: After the apex, hospitals prepare to treat trauma in frontline medical staff

Sophia Phillips-Afrifah, who owns Muffets Closet, a boutique clothing store in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, plans to limit the number of shoppers when she reopens — perhaps no more than three at a time, compared to the eight she’d normally have on a weekend. She may also remove the sofas that her customers love to lounge on as their friends try on dresses, she said, and that means she’ll also have to pay to put the furniture in storage.

The comfortable seating helps foster a relaxed atmosphere that Phillips-Afrifah believes sets her business apart on Church Avenue, a main thoroughfare in the neighborhood. But if the shop starts to feel like just another “grab-and-go” sales floor, she worries she will lose some competitive edge. 

“The kind of operation that I have is close-knit,” she said. “You are very personal with the clients.” 

Andres Sen Sang, who left an executive chef job at a Bronx restaurant in February to pursue a private catering business he was building on the side, said his entrepreneurial plans are currently on hold. But once he can start cooking again, he’s considering serving food on disposable plates instead of the fancy rented dishes he prefers. Plasticware will diminish the elegant atmosphere he aims to create, but the decision will be worth it if it prevents one guest from getting sick because of a poorly washed dish, he said.

He will also limit attendance at events from about 50 people to just 10 or 12. To make up for the loss in revenue, he could take on two events a week instead of two a month. 

“We have to adapt to this and learn how to live with this, and we have to accommodate to stop the spread of the virus,” he said. 

U.S. restaurateurs could look to Europe for strategic lessons as countries start relaxing restrictions. Starting May 25, the Czech Republic will allow restaurants, snack bars, pubs and wine shops “offering goods for immediate consumption” to reopen if they have an outdoor patio or sell takeout food and drink, CNN reported. And in China, many restaurants are serving dine-in meals but guests are often required to have their temperatures taken upon entering, sit far apart, and wear masks when not eating or drinking, Barron’s reported

Roy Henley, who opened The Grange Bar & Eatery in Manhattan’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood in 2013, said he’s “trying to take every day as it comes” and hopes to have a better blueprint for reopening in mid-May.

Don’t miss: Why haven’t I gotten my stimulus check? 6 reasons your payment might be a no-show

He expects to reset his spacious — by New York City standards — dining room and go to 50% occupancy. To help make up for the loss in revenue, he is seeking permission to add more sidewalk seating, where tables could be spaced six to eight feet apart. 

Sanitizing tables in between seatings is standard, he said, but the restaurant — a favorite for its creative cocktails and late-night menu — will go the extra step to sanitize chairs and maybe switch to disposable menus. Servers will likely wear masks and gloves. As for checking customers’ temperatures? “If it’s something that makes people feel comfortable in coming in, it would make sense to do from a business standpoint, but hopefully we don’t get to that.”

Their Stories: Jesus Roman Melendez was a family man and the ‘backbone’ of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant Nougatine 

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In January, when many still thought the coronavirus was a remote problem, Jesus Roman Melendez took his family to his hometown of Mexico City for the first time in seven years. 

They spent a morning in Xochimilco, a neighborhood of canals where they rented a colorful boat, hired a mariachi band to float alongside them for a while, and bought micheladas from passing barges. They visited his parents’ graves in the town of La Magdalena Tlatlauquitepec three hours southeast of Mexico City, where, at the age of 17, after seven years of work street vending and two years after he started dating the woman who would become his wife, he bought his mother a piece of land to build a house on. 

“Every time he told me that story, we’d get very emotional,” says his son, Jesus, 19. “I was just so inspired by him.”

At 23, Melendez crossed the border into the U.S., and for the past 20 years, before his death on April 1 at age 49 from complications of COVID-19, he worked as a cook at Nougatine, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s casual fine-dining restaurant on the ground floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower. New York magazine’s food publication Grub Street called Melendez the “backbone” of the storied restaurant. His children remember him as a man who worked hard, but never lost sight of the reason he woke up at 4 a.m. on working mornings to make the long commute from Queens to 1 Central Park West.

“When I was little, he was my idol. He was the definition of a good father figure.”

— Alison Roman, 15, daughter

“He would always make time for us,” said his daughter, Yustin Roman, 21, who worked with him at Nougatine part-time for the past four years, until the restaurant closed on March 15 because of the pandemic. “He would always find the energy to take us to karate, and my sister to ballet. He’d always go to our school events, every parent-teacher conference.”

One of her fondest memories was of the family gatherings he’d organize in nearby Forest Park, cooking for aunt and uncles, cousins and in-laws on the public grills. Tacos were his park specialty, though he’d always make sushi for Yustin on her birthday, and was famous in family circles for his birria beef stew.

“When I was little, he was my idol,” said his daughter Alison Roman, 15. “He was the definition of a good father figure. Everybody in my family would say that when I was a baby I would wait for him to get home so he would feed me.”

Though pay as a cook, even at an upscale spot like Nougatine is not great—the family had to set up a GoFundMe to help with funeral expenses— he was keenly aware of how far he had come, and how much further he wanted his kids to go.

See: Blacks, Latinos in NYC disproportionately fall victim to coronavirus

“We would always talk about his life,” Alison said. “We would chill on the bed and talk and talk, and conversate about anything. He’d tell me stories about his past, like how hard it was for him as a child because he didn’t have a lot of money.”

Melendez had grown up poor, sometimes homeless. His first house, according to his son, was made of cardboard. Today, Yustin is enrolled at John Jay School of Criminology and hopes to make detective someday. Jesus is studying to be a paramedic, and Alison is enrolled in the pre-med stream of her high school.

Read: More stories of the lives lost to COVID-19

“He’s somebody that made it out of the mud,” his son said. “He not only built a house for his own mother, but came over here and got us a house, put a roof over our heads.”

“He never complained about having to go to work,” Yustin added. “He actually liked it when he was busy. He liked the culinary world, and he was really passionate about the dishes that he made. Everybody at his job has been texting me about how much he helped them to grow. My dad was a very bright soul, he wanted to help everybody.”

Melendez was predeceased by his parents, Gaudencio Melendez and Innocencia Roman. In addition to his three children, he is survived by three sisters, one brother, and his wife of 31 years, Miriam Reyes, who also tested positive for COVID-19 and is now recovering. 

Personal Finance Daily: How small businesses can slash their bills during the coronavirus shutdown and afterward and state employment offices are undergoing hiring sprees

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Stay safe, MarketWatchers, and don’t miss these top stories:

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Here’s how small businesses can slash their bills during the coronavirus shutdown and afterward

The scramble for federal assistance isn’t the only way that small businesses can fight to survive the COVID-19 shutdown. From suspending garbage service to trimming the fat on a phone contract and more, these bill-cutting measures can help during better economic times, too.

Weirdly, this is the perfect time to declutter and destress every part of your life — not just your closet

Treat this enforced time at home as the Great Reset and ask Marie Kondo’s fundamental question: what activities bring you joy?

State employment offices are undergoing hiring sprees to process the influx of unemployment claims

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Cuomo on his biggest fears during New York’s coronavirus pandemic: ‘I had two nightmares when this started’

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Ethereum Soars Over 125% Since March: What to Expect Now?

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Ethereum

Almost all markets across the world have been in turmoil owing to the economic uncertainties brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, and in that regard, the crypto market has been no different. However, one of the major cryptocurrencies to have made a remarkable recovery since hitting its lowest levels in March is Ethereum (ETH), and it is important to take a closer look at it. In this regard, it should be noted that ETH is the second-biggest cryptocurrency in the world, and its recovery might have an impact on the wider crypto market.

Major Triggers

The recovery has been quite remarkable, and it is only natural that investors are taking note of Ethereum since it rose 125% from its lowest levels. In a new development, it has now emerged that Grayscale Investments has acquired as much as half of all the ETH tokens that had been mined this year.

The actions of Grayscale could well be one of the major reasons behind the rally enjoyed by the cryptocurrency this year. According to a post that was published on Reddit, Grayscale now owns 1.1% of all the ETH tokens that are currently in circulation.

It is a significant development for ETH and marks the entry of an entity that looks after the interests of institutional investors. Grayscale is currently focused on a total of 10 cryptocurrency-related investment products and primarily caters to the interests of institutional investors.

>> ETH is in Focus Ahead of Ethereum 2.0: What to Expect?

At this point, Grayscale has investments worth $2.7 billion in its books, and out of that, the Ethereum Trust consists of investments to the tune of $234.7 million. It needs to be kept in mind that over the years, it has been said that the flow of institutional money is going to be the main trigger behind the growth of the crypto market, and it seems like perhaps this is finally happening. It remains to be seen how this latest development affects the attitudes of other investors with regards to Ethereum.

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Brett Arends's ROI: The nursing home COVID-19 tragedy — how did this happen?

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Charlie Baker wants answers.

The governor of Massachusetts — a Republican, and a former health care executive — wants to know why so many people had to die in nursing homes from the COVID-19 epidemic.

“This is one [topic] that’s going to require some pretty-heavy duty analytics,” he said Wednesday. We need “to figure out exactly, A: what went wrong, and, B: what needs to be done on a go-forward basis to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

More than half of those who have died of the virus so far in Massachusetts were residents in nursing or long-term care homes. New York state has actually seen even more nursing deaths per person. A new study from the London School of Economics suggests the figures are similar in other parts of the world.

Horror stories abound, from Andover, N.J., to Holyoke, Mass. And some say the death numbers may be understated. Longtime industry critic and elder advocate Carol Herman, who has run the nonprofit Foundation Aiding The Elderly for more than 35 years, says she’s learned to distrust the “cause of death” claimed on certificates in nursing homes.

“I’ve seen so many erroneous death certificates,” she says.

The COVID-19 stories are just as bad, sometimes worse, overseas. But that’s no consolation — least of all for the bereaved.

Baker says it isn’t just the worst operators who’ve seen the worst cases. “I know a fair number of people who operate in that industry,” he says, “and some of the folks who suffered some of the most dismaying, disturbing and destructive outbreaks are terrific operators…Even in the assisted living space, some of the folks who’ve battled their way through some of the worst examples of COVID-19 penetration represent organizations that prior to that were considered by most of the among the very best players in their space.”

Baker, a former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim, a nonprofit health insurer, points out that the coronavirus is especially insidious because you can carry the virus and be highly contagious for days without showing any symptoms. So it has been especially challenging to fight, he says.

But it still poses the heartbreaking question for many families: Couldn’t more have been done to protect the vulnerable, especially the elderly?

Read: Cuomo: Now is ‘not the time’ to bring elderly family members to nursing homes

The federal government regulates nursing homes through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS. They offer a “compare nursing homes” service in which each home is subject to a five-star rating system, like on Yelp.

There are 42 New York state nursing that have admitted to at least 10 COVID-19 deaths so far.

And 30 one of those homes are currently given a full “five star” rating by the CMS for “quality of care,” and not one is rated below average for care quality.

More than half were given four or five stars overall, and just five were rated below average.

The CMS says the ratings are based upon health inspections, staffing levels, and quality measures. It says the inspections are carried out by 5,000 health inspectors working for state agencies, the staffing information comes from payroll data, and the quality measures are drawn from Medicare claims and “clinical data provided by the facilities.”

“The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services strongly supports transparency, and has worked over the past several years to improve public access and understanding of nursing home inspection reports,” said the agency in a statement. “This has allowed us to expand the information available to consumers, including through CMS’ Nursing Home Compare (NHC) website. CMS developed NHC and the Five Star Rating System to provide consumers with an easy way to search for and compare nursing homes certified by Medicare or Medicaid.”

But not everyone is convinced.

Read: Nursing home deaths from the coronavirus surpass 10,000 as industry asks for more testing

The rating system is “totally bogus,” says FATE’s Carol Herman. “I’ve had more problems with facilities that have a five-star rating where they’ve abused patients. I tell my clients, don’t look at the ratings. I never go on the CMS rating.” She says much of the data depends on self-reporting by the operators.

It leaves those shopping for a nursing home for a family member facing difficult choices. We recently published this helpful guide. Experts advise that if you’re considering a home, try asking family and friends for recommendations. If you choose a home near you, you’re more likely to keep tabs on the level of care. And before choosing that place for your grandparent, drop by a few times unannounced to see what it’s really like when they think no one is looking.

Families have typically been concerned with levels of care and the risk of abuse. Keeping your grandmother safe from a pandemic may not have been high on the priority list.

“The long-term care industry is not being monitored, and regulations are not being enforced,” says Herman.

It’s less than a year since the U.S. Government’s independent watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, reported rising abuse in nursing homes. While confirmed abuses were “relatively” rare, it said: “Abuse deficiencies cited in nursing homes more than doubled, increasing from 430 to 875 in 2017, with the largest increase in severe cases.”

Meanwhile, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the nursing home industry is now asking state governments for legal immunity.

“[M]ore needs to be done to afford appropriate legal protection to those that are working hard to prevent and contain this virus from spreading,” Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive of the industry trade association AHCA/NCAL, tells MarketWatch in a statement. “We encourage every state to extend sovereign immunity provisions to the long term care providers and other health care sectors associated with care provided during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The reason?

“Long term care workers and centers are on the front line of this pandemic response and it is critical that states provide the necessary liability protection staff and providers need to provide care during this difficult time without fear of reprisal,” he says.

But problems run deep. The pay in the industry is low, the demands are high, and many say the incentives are all wrong. A look through the piles of federal lawsuits filed against nursing homes in recent years yields a similar dismal tale time and again. Too many patients needing too much care. Far too few staff, paid far too little.

The median hourly wage of a nursing assistant in America, says the U.S. Labor Department, is $14 and change. The median hourly wage of a mortician or “funeral arranger?” Try $26. In other words, we pay someone nearly twice as much per hour to make Mom look good after she’s dead as we do to make sure she’s comfortable when she’s alive.

One thing that’s likely to have helped spread COVID-19 through nursing homes: The parade of part-time staff and orderlies, doing shifts in one place and then another.

AHCA/NCAL says it’s insulting to criticize the front-line staff for how the industry has handled the crisis, rather than, say, the executives or stockholders.

“This type of criticism is a disservice to the brave heroes of this fight, who leave their families every day to care for others,” says spokeswoman Beth Martino.

The COVID-19 outbreaks, Martino says, “are not the result of inattentiveness or a shortcoming in nursing homes. Nursing homes and assisted living communities are doing everything they can with the limited resources they have been given to slow the acceleration of the virus for our residents. We desperately need help with more personal protective equipment (PPE), priority and regular testing, and additional staff support…It’s time for America to rally around our long term care residents and caregivers so we can get the help we need.”

Here’s how small businesses can slash their bills during the coronavirus shutdown and afterward

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The scramble for federal assistance isn’t the only way that small businesses can fight to survive the COVID-19 shutdown. From suspending garbage service to trimming the fat on a phone contract and more, these bill-cutting measures can help during better economic times, too.

Cost savings is front of mind as many small businesses seek a lifeline after the coronavirus pandemic slowed the economy to a crawl. The reality is, distribution of funds has been inconsistent. The initial $349 billion set aside for the Paycheck Protection Program ran out on April 16 after being available for less than two weeks. Congress approved an additional $310 billion for the program that kicked in this week amid a backlog of demand and a few technical glitches.

Read:The NBA’s Lakers, worth $4 billion, received and returned a $4.6 million small business loan from the stimulus program

Opinion:These policy options could help businesses avoid layoffs more effectively than those cumbersome SBA loans

Most businesses will have to help themselves if they are able, and these steps can clean up the expenditure side of the ledger, says Aaron Stahl, co-founder and CEO of Springdale, Ark.-based P3 Cost Analysts, a consulting firm working with the private sector and school systems. Since P3’s inception in 1991, it has restored more than $200 million back to clients’ bottom lines, taking its slice only when savings are realized.

Lock in low utility rates. Many states have open and deregulated markets for electricity and gas. In these markets, business owners should consider bidding out the energy supplier contract and locking in low rates. Markets are at all-time lows right now, so locking in even three-year deals can make a lot of sense, says Stahl. Find a broker you trust to run these analyses for you, he adds.

If energy usage has dropped dramatically and is expected to stay down for quite some time, consider running a usage projection (and history). Then determine which electrical tariff is best for your business. This can result in direct savings per kWh, which can have a significant impact on costs. Note, however, that most utilities allow for only one tariff change per 12 months. So if you do not get the math right and change the tariff, this could result in overspending for 12 months, before you can revert back.

Meter-reader no-shows. Make sure usage on your bill actually aligns with how much power you’re likely consuming. If you notice an estimated meter reading on your bill — signified by an ‘E’ on your invoice — this means the meter was not actually read and was instead estimated off-site by the vendor. For their part, vendors will defend the practice and likely insist that even estimated readings eventually self-correct over time. But the pandemic means this is as good a time as any for businesses to fight any discrepancy. An estimate in error may trigger extra demand charges, which can ratchet up and result in thousands of lost dollars, says Stahl.

Reduce waste and recycling spending. If production or business has slowed or stopped, consider reducing and adjusting waste volumes or suspending them all together. But ask for special, temporary terms and be careful not to sign or extend a new agreement when you do this. Haulers will often use service changes as an opportunity to lock you into a longer-term agreement, typically under their standard and onerous terms and conditions.

Keep a watchful eye on “contamination” and “overage” charges from haulers. Some have become very aggressive charging customers for fees that are questionable at best and they can add up to thousands of dollars, says Stahl. You can typically negotiate these fees down (or out of the contract entirely).

Read:Welcome back, cubicles? Longtime Silicon Valley CEO says coronavirus could kill the open office

Scrutinize telecom and wireless plans. If you identify an error on your invoice you are generally entitled to a refund. Many times, the vendor will try and simply give you a three-month credit. Do not accept this without further investigation, urges Stahl. Depending on the error you may be entitled to a refund back to the point of error, as stipulated in the regulations. While it can take perseverance, and sometimes over a year to achieve satisfaction, the amounts can be enormous and a great cash benefit to your company.

It may also be a good time to take inventory of phone usage overall. Any lines that do not answer after multiple attempts can be considered for disconnection. You will want to request a copy of your telecom customer service record to do a proper check and accurately build a list of every number your company is paying for. All billed lines are not always disclosed on the invoices and can only be seen on the CSR (customer service record). Even the smallest of organizations can find themselves paying for considerable amounts of services they no longer use.

Consider a property tax appeal. Loss of revenue can impact the valuation of your property. And even in normal times, properties are often overvalued for tax. Locate a professional who has experience successfully contesting appraised property values.

Leverage any work-from-home learnings. Stahl, an executive who has been set up to work from home long before the pandemic, believes that businesses can use the challenges of COVID-19 to better outfit remote offices for small and large disruptions to their operations (many retailers and most restaurants, of course, look forward to returning to fully staffed, on-site workforces). The optimist’s take-away is that businesses will be more efficient because they will reduce commute times for employees and may be able to rethink office-space rentals, certainly reducing footage in some cases to accommodate a blend of communal office space and work-from-home days, with not all staff on-site at once.

Updating home technology can often occur faster and for a lower expense because it’s specific to the user: “For instance, virtual phone connections that are cheaper than AT&T copper lines, cloud storage for documents, digital sharing of documents” can all reduce the need for a centralized office and can sometimes be less costly.

Don’t miss:Companies reveal their plans for what work will look like when America returns to the office

“There’s a chance, depending on the business, that the longer the crisis stretches out, the less it feels like a crisis and may start to feel like business as usual,” said Stahl. “Workforces in some cases can be scattered and that’s fine. When fully-functioning business comes back on line, operations will be set up for the next time there’s an issue, and maybe we won’t have to consider interruptions as a crisis.”

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The Margin: 1 in 7 Americans wouldn’t seek coronavirus treatment because it probably costs too much

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The U.S. can’t afford to see this happen if it wants to fight the coronavirus epidemic.

The CDC has urged people to call their doctors or local health departments if they develop probable COVID-19 symptoms such as fever and a dry cough, a vital move to get people tested and tracki the spread of the virus before the economy can reopen.

But one in seven Americans say in a new West Health and Gallup poll that they would avoid seeking medical care if they experienced these key symptoms because they’re afraid of the financial cost of treating the disease.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. adults between April 1-14, 2020 as part of an ongoing study to get public opinion on the cost of healthcare.

And 14% of respondents said they would skip getting medical help if they or a family member had a cough and a fever because of concerns about the cost of care. What’s more, almost one in 10 (9%) would still avoid getting medical help even if they suspected themselves of explicitly having the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and not just exhibiting similar symptoms.

Related:Watch out for these 6 new coronavirus symptoms

This worry about the cost of treating COVID-19 fell along clear socioeconomic lines.

The groups most likely to avoid care included more than 20% of adults who were under 30, non-white, had a high school education or less, and made under $40,000 a year.

Gallup noted that certain socioeconomic groups are generally less willing to seek out medical care because they simply can’t afford it: Black and Hispanic-Americans are less likely to have health insurance than non-Hispanic whites, for example, and lower-income households are more influenced by cost when considering whether to follow their doctors’ orders.

This aligns with a Kaiser Family Foundation survey conducted in March, which found that more than one-third (36%) of respondents were worried about being able to afford testing or treatment — and two-thirds of those who didn’t have health insurance expressed concern about the cost of treatment and testing.

Congress recently passed the Families First relief act to make coronavirus testing free, however. And most of America’s major health insurers have agreed to waive co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus tests.

But being treated for COVID-19 could be an entirely different story, costing up to $20,000, according to a recent analysis by Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation Health System Tracker. It found that even people with health insurance through their employer could pay more than $1,300 in out-of-pocket costs if they’re hospitalized with a severe case of COVID-19.

What’s more, some stories about steep COVID-19-related medical bills have spread, such as a Miami man who reportedly racked up $3,270 in hospital charges when he was tested after a work trip to China, or a Pennsylvania man who set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for $3,918 in surprise bills after he was evacuated from China and quarantined with his three-year-old daughter.

Read more:How much does coronavirus treatment cost? Getting tested is now free, but treatment could cost up to $20,000

Last month, Vice President Mike Pence assured that “there will be no surprise billing,” however. The IRS also announced that high-deductible health plans can cover coronavirus-related testing and treatment.

Many people are in no condition for sky-high medical bills at the moment.

After all, a record 26 million Americans are out of work due to coronavirus-tied layoffs. While the government has set aside $290 billion put aside for direct payments to individuals to help them cope with the pandemic, one in three Americans fear the first stimulus checks won’t sustain them for even a month. Most already say that they need a second relief check to make ends meet. The economic stimulus payments are available up to $1,200 for individuals earning less than $99,000, and $2,400 for married couples making less than $198,000.

Read more:84% of Americans say they need another stimulus check

Gallup notes that seeking care when showing COVID-19 symptoms or when someone suspects they may have been infected by the virus is a critical part of combatting the outbreak, as increased testing is key to reopening the economy. The White House is planning to double coronavirus testing in May in an effort to get states to start lifting their lockdown restrictions and reopen their economies.

Stay up-to-date with MarketWatch’s coronavirus coverage here.

Key Words: Cuomo on his biggest fears during New York’s coronavirus pandemic: ‘I had two nightmares when this started’

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has had sleepless nights, but two of them have haunted him.

“I had two nightmares when this started,” he told his daily press briefing. “One that I would put out directives on what we need to do, and 19 million New Yorkers would say, ‘I haven’t been convinced, I’m not going to do this.’” He added, “I can’t remember when government was more disruptive to individual life. What if New Yorkers said, ‘It’s too much, it’s an overreaction, it’s political.’”

‘They have honor in their souls and dignity in their character.’

— New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on essential workers during the pandemic

“My second nightmare was: What if the essential workers don’t show up?” the governor said Tuesday. “You have to have food, you have to have transportation, the lights have to be on, someone has to pick up the garbage, the hospitals have to run. What if you communicated so effectively, the essential workers say, ‘If everyone is staying home, I’m staying home too.’”

“What if they said, ‘You don’t pay me enough to put my life in danger? I’m not doing it.’ They showed up. They didn’t show up for a pay check. They didn’t show up because government asked them to show up,” he said. “They showed up out of their honor, out of their values, out of their dignity. That’s why they showed up.” He added, “They have honor in their souls and strength in their character.”

Read also:‘When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total.’ Can President Trump save the U.S. economy and save lives from coronavirus? ‘It’s appalling to attach a dollar number to a human life — for noneconomists’

As of Tuesday, 5.6 million people had been tested in the U.S. for SARS-CoV-2. There were 989,357 confirmed cases, and 56,386 deaths, of which 17,515 were in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. Worldwide, there were 3,062,557 confirmed cases and 212,221 deaths. Cuomo said 335 people had died of the virus over the previous 24 hours.

“We want to reopen, but we want to do it without infecting more people or infecting the hospital system,” Cuomo said. “Government is not about spouting philosophical or political opinions, government is about delivering services.” He added, “Separate the emotion from the logic.” He said he won’t be swayed by protesters, adding that the CDC set reopening guidelines for states.

He also told an episode of Axios on HBO that he regrets believing that China had the virus under control. “I wish someone stood up and blew the bugle and, if no one was going to blow the bugle, I’d feel much better if I was a bugle blower last December and January.” He added, “I’d feel better sitting here today and saying, ‘I blew the bugle about Wuhan province in January.’ I can’t say that.”

Dispatches from a pandemic: Letter from New York: ‘New Yorkers wear colorful homemade masks, while nurses wear garbage bags. ‘When I hear an ambulance, I wonder if there’s a coronavirus patient inside. Are there more 911 calls, or do I notice every distant siren?’

State employment offices are undergoing hiring sprees to process the influx of unemployment claims

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Unemployment benefits aren’t the only thing people are applying for at state employment offices.

Due to the influx of applications of more than 26 million Americans who are out of work from the pandemic, employment offices are ramping up hiring to help reduce wait times so that more people can receive unemployment benefits.

In New York, where there is the greatest number of coronavirus cases, 1.4 million unemployment applications have been processed in the past month and a half since April 25, according to the state’s Department of Labor.

The department has “increased the number of representatives handling calls and processing applications from 400 people working five days a week to up to 3,100 individuals working seven days a week.”

“Since the COVID-19 crisis began, DOL has paid approximately $2.2 billion in unemployment insurance benefits to 1.1 million New Yorkers. The application call backlog prior to April 8 has been reduced to 4,305 from 275,000,” the state’s DOL said on its site.

In California, over the past month and a half 3.2 million people have filed for unemployment benefits, according to the state’s Employment Development Department.

The EDD has redirected 1,340 workers from other branches of the state government to “ensure we are answering technical questions and directing people to utilize our online resources,” a spokeswoman told MarketWatch. Representatives are working seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to assist residents, she added.

“The EDD is also hiring new workers, bringing back recently retired annuitants, working with additional vendor staff among a number of other strategies being developed daily to help manage the historic demand for Unemployment Insurance benefits,” she said.

Like California, many other states are contacting retired workers to temporarily return back to work in addition to hiring new employees.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania had low unemployment with a near-record number of people working and our Office of Unemployment Compensation was appropriately staffed for those conditions,” said Theresa Elliott, deputy communications director at Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor & Industry.

“Since mid-March, more than 1.6 million people have filed for unemployment compensation in our state and new federal laws made big changes to increase payments for many people and made other workers eligible for those benefits for the first time,” she said.

One single mother from Doylestown, Penn., told MarketWatch she’s been waiting five weeks for her unemployment check.

“I’ve called the unemployment center every day, 10 times a day for weeks and I get the same message that they’re too busy and to call back the next business day every single time,” she said.

To meet the unprecedented demand, the office has brought back 70 retirees who previously worked in the Unemployment Compensation division. It has also redirected more than 500 employees from other offices at Labor & Industry, and is looking to hire more than 100 new employees.

New hires who will serve primarily as “intermittent intake interviewers get paid $17.73/hour for an entry-level position.” Retirees who also work as interviewers will get paid the same amount, or $20/hour, “depending on their prior employment and what their current responsibilities include.”

In Nebraska, which hasn’t been nearly as hard hit by coronavirus as states like New York and California, certain businesses in 59 counties are set to reopen on May 4.

Also see:States start to reopen, ending coronavirus lockdowns: Restaurants and cinemas open doors in Georgia; Texas on tap for May 1

That could put some of the 94,721 Nebraskans who have filed for unemployment benefits back to work, according to the Nebraska Department of Labor. The number of people out of work is much less than many other states, but nevertheless represents a huge jump in claims compared to before the pandemic.

The state’s Department of Labor says it has redirected “70 individuals who are employed by other state agencies,” to help process more claims. It has also 30 more individuals and contracted out work to more than 100.

More positions including several at the U.S. Department of Labor can be found here.