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Impact of relief package on unemployment and local business

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The American Rescue Plan, a relief package, could be voted on by the United States Senate this week. The package includes extended benefits for people who are unemployed, extend financial assistance for unemployed workers who do not typically qualify for unemployment, assistance for small businesses and more.

If passed, it could provide assistance to businesses and individuals in Columbia and Boone County.

John Scalise with Job Point in Columbia said the organization continues to help people find jobs and train for new positions during the pandemic.

"In the beginning, there was certainly a pause in people wanting to work. It wasn't a long pause in our side of things, and then we started seeing more and more people looking for jobs," Scalise said. "We had folks who, you know, certainly needed to work and were moving into different jobs. Some people stepping down to take jobs that they were overqualified for because those were available."

He said March and April are typically busy with people searching for jobs and employers searching for employees. He expects business to begin picking up and said he now sees many places in the community that are hiring.

"I think we know more about the virus and so people's comfort level is changing over time. I think with vaccines people are feeling a little bit more comfortable and safe out there," he said.

He said many people are able to train more easily in some instances during the pandemic because a lot of training is now online. Instead of requiring people to travel, they can train from home, and online training often makes the cost of training cheaper.

Scalise said having some enhanced benefits under the previous relief package was a big help to some people.

"I think we're all waiting to see, you know, what opportunities come from this next round of stimulus, how that may impact individuals," he said. "I know folks who have been waiting and looking and trying to find that right job and the bills continue to go on."

If passed, the plan could provide a $400 per week unemployment insurance supplement. It could also extend emergency unemployment insurance programs through September 2021.

Scalise said if benefits were extended it could benefit people who were financially struggling and could allow people more time to stay true to their career instead of changing careers or finding temporary work.

"For some people that extra income's going to be vital to their survival. I mean, there are people who have been doing everything they can and doing everything right and just not at that point yet.

He said the local business community has worked closely with nonprofit organizations and organizations like Job Point to help people in Columbia find work.

The relief package would also provide assistance to small businesses. The package could provide grants to small businesses by distributing $15 billion. Much of the money in the package would help restaurants, bars, hospitality and other businesses hit hardest by the impact.

Matt McCormick with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce said those benefits could have a large impact on businesses in Columbia since it has so many small businesses and so many businesses focused around hospitality.

"Really locally that means a great deal for us because, as you know, I mean hospitality is a big industry for Columbia and for this region and if there's some relief in there that's built-in for our hotels and those serving the hospitality industry, could be a great help for them," he said.

McCormick said relief could be even more helpful if some businesses qualify for grants instead of loans so they do not have to pay that money back.

McCormick said this far into the pandemic the chamber continues to see some businesses doing well while others are still struggling to get through. He said if the Senate does pass the package, it could largely benefit small businesses with very few employees, many of which make up businesses local to Columbia.

"What was also just released was that I believe it's over the next 14 days, focusing all PPE dollars on all businesses that are 20 employees or less, and so making sure that everything is being focused on our small businesses," he said.

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce has partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and legislature in Washington D.C. to communicate that those benefits are the types of things communities like Columbia need.

"Around 85% of our businesses, if you look at the business licenses in Columbia, or the census information, we have around 10,000 businesses in Columbia that are filed, so you're looking at a very large number of our business community falls in that 25 or less employees," he said.

McCormick said no matter what happens the chamber will continue to help businesses and will continue to help businesses get CARES Act funding through the City of Columbia. The chamber is also helping businesses prepare for any changes that may come if the relief package is passed.

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Sydney Olsen

Sydney Olsen reports in the evenings during the week and on the weekend.

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