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COVID-19: Governors fail renters, a 90-day rent freeze is the only option now

Independent contractors whose only sin is renting instead of owning, are facing evictions even as Governors put tiny bandaids on the situation. A 90-day freeze is the nation’s only option to avoid mass migrations or spikes in homelessness.

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COVID-19 moving boxes

2020, it seems, is the year of rebranding—even when it comes to our impromptu recession brought on by a variety of factors (but largely thanks to COVID-19). Despite the negative connotations of widespread economic disaster, some people, such as St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard, are regarding this instance as “an investment in U.S. public health.”

Should we all be so optimistic? Bullard seems to think so.

To be fair, James Bullard’s “optimism” also accounts for taking a “$2.5 trillion hit” to the economy, so it’s not all sunshine and dancing unicorns (this time). However, the long-term outcome of handling this crisis correctly—a process which involves bailing out small businesses, matching wages, and contributing to rebuilding and supporting our healthcare infrastructure—will be, according to Bullard, positive.

Bullard’s optimism does come with an important message: As with pretty much anything, the simpler we can keep solutions to this problem, the better the outcome will be. We’re not off to a great start; between states’ varying responses to COVID-19 procedures and mixed congressional support for a stimulus package, the process of dealing with economic fallout has become more complicated than some—Bullard included—would consider “ideal”.

Unfortunately, there isn’t really an “ideal” outcome here that is also practical without requiring a heretofore unseen level of cooperation and cohesion between political parties and state-based cultures. In the event that we can actually pull together and actively invest, as Bullard suggests, in our infrastructure, the implications for our economy will ultimately be positive—even if only in a pyrrhic victory kind of way.

In unprecedented times of crisis—you know, like right now—a little bit of optimism doesn’t hurt. Over the course of the next few months, you’ll hear all sorts of different takes on the situation; some people—those who identify as “realists” but really just enjoy bumming people out—will actively speak out against positive attitudes, while others will avoid “getting their hopes up” because they don’t want to be disappointed.

But, if Bullard’s optimism is to be believed—and we’re choosing to think it is—you have full permission to let yourself hope, at least for now.

Remember, there are a couple of things you can do to bolster your immune system without medicine during this time. One of them involves keeping a positive outlook, and the other one is eating plenty of garlic; we’ve found that one accompanies the other.

This story was first published in our Real Estate section.

Business Finance

How business owners should handle the trend of COVID-19 surcharges

(BUSINESS FINANCE) COVID-19 has caused a lot of money problems, but some places have decided to counter this with new surcharges, and hopefully they told customers about them.

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COVID-19 surcharges

Hidden surcharges have long been a subject of discussion among consumers. Banks, car dealers, hotels, and credit card companies are much more transparent than they once were. According to a 2019 survey by Consumer Reports, 85% percent of adult consumers were hit by an unexpected fee when paying for a service, so the practice is not completely gone. With COVID-19, some businesses are turning to surcharges to balance out their profit margins.

Can businesses add a COVID surcharge legally?

The impact of COVID-19 is continuing to unravel. FOX8 reports that a Missouri steakhouse and sushi restaurant included a surcharge related to the rising costs of food under the pandemic. A CBS affiliate in Midland, TX reminds consumers to check their bills, because restaurants and salons are adding surcharges. Some businesses are saying that state restrictions are increasing operational costs, while others relate it to the cost of goods. Even UPS has added surcharges to peak delivery slots. According to a librarian at the State Law Library, a private business in Texas has a lot of leeway in deciding what to charge.

A surcharge isn’t necessarily price gouging

In Texas, price gouging following a natural disaster is illegal. The surcharges that we’re discussing aren’t price gouging, just a way for businesses to temporarily raise prices without changing their menu or listing new prices. The Houston BBB recommends that if your business does add a surcharge, it should notify consumers about the charge before the bill arrives. Consumers who believe that they’ve been a victim of price gouging should file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General.

Transparency is part of good customer service

According to Consumer Reports, 96% of the consumers surveyed were annoyed with a hidden fee. I want to talk to the 4%, and find out why they weren’t. A surcharge under COVID-19 conditions can make sense. Cleaning and sanitizing takes time and money. Prices have increased. What’s bad business is trying to hide those surcharges until after the customer checks out. That’s not fair. Be transparent.

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Business Finance

Tool simplifies vender payments, saves small businesses tons of time

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Melio is a B2B payment platform that simplifies bill payment for small businesses while freeing up their cash flow. Quick and easy, even from your phone.

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Melio homepage

Designed to maximize cash flow and consolidate the complications of paying bills and vendors, the startup Melio could be a big boost for small businesses.

The way this payment workflow tool works is that it lets you pay any vendor –including those who do not accept credit cards- using a bank transfer, or check mailed on your behalf for B2B payments.

Specializing in small business payments, accounts payable, accounts receivable, online payments, and business to business payments; it is free to send and receive payments using bank transfers/ ACH but credit card payments incur a 2.9% fee.

The onboarding is straightforward, including integration and automatic sync with QuickBooks, which is essential for many small businesses. Lots of online customer reviews via Trustpilot and other sites claim that Melio is user friendly with responsive, human customer service. Melio fills the gap between the bill payer who wants to use a credit card to pay a bill, and the biller, who wants to receive their money as simply as possible, and without credit card fees. Many small businesses have to manage the challenge of payments to purveyors such as utilities and landlords that do not accept credit cards, or want to deal with the associated merchant fees.

Melio and bill payment services allow businesses who prefer to use a credit card for payment to do so. For a small business who could really use the float and cash flow of a 21-day billing grace period of a credit card, or using a card with a sweet rewards program, this could be a valuable option.

Melio does not have a mobile app to download, but it is described on the meliopayments.com website as having a mobile-friendly, responsive web app easily-managed across devices. Most of the reviews seem to confirm the user-friendliness of this tool, and the few poor reviews I have seen involved requests from Melio for compliance documents that were not satisfied by businesses, and resulted in undelivered payments. With more than 2 years since its founding, Melio is continuing to grow and cater to the needs of small businesses in the United States who want to streamline their accounts payable process.

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Business Finance

Politicians reconsider PPP rules too cumbersome for small businesses

(BUSINESS FINANCE) The PPP loans may have some changes coming soon, to help small businesses even more by extending the time they have to spend the money.

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loan changes

Congress has reported talks over fixing parts of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a key program designed to help businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. Changes could range between small tweaks to an overhaul of program requirements. Congress remains divided over a phase four relief bill (passed in the House last week) which includes several of those PPP changes.

The PPP was created to provide forgivable loans to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Although the Treasury is continuing to offer updated guidance, any significant changes will require approval from Congress.

One of the major potential changes is an extension to the eight-week time frame for businesses to spend their loan money. Senator Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.) is advocating the change. He told reporters “I think the more important thing to change is the time frame in which they can use it for,” Rubio told reporters. “We do need to give them more time to spend those monies.” The hope is to pass those changes before the first PPP loan recipients reach their deadline in early June.

Other changes proposed in the House bill include extending the spending time period to 24-weeks and eliminating the requirement for 75 percent of loan spending on payroll in order to qualify for full forgiveness. The flexibility could allow recipients to allocate money towards rent, another challenge facing small business owners. While Senate Republicans haven’t shot down that option, they’ve voiced concern on the spending rule which was originally designed to keep workers employed. Meanwhile, Democrats argue for flexibility which could support businesses with fixed costs. Both sides are open to discussing a 50 percent payroll and 50 percent additional cost breakdown in a new PPP changes.

The Small Business Administration has reported $195 billion from the $310 billion of the second tranche of PPP has been approved. With no defined plan to reopen the country, small businesses are counting on relief programs. Senior White House advisor Kevin Hassett has said the government can’t continue to lend money to businesses indefinitely. “It is something we can do through Jun, I would, guess if there’s enough cash for that.”

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