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U.S. Readies Small-Business Grants as P.P.P. Nears End

The federal government is preparing to open two new industry-specific small business relief programs, one of them months in the works, as its signature pandemic aid effort, the Paycheck Protection Program, nears its end.

The Small Business Administration said it hopes to start taking applications by the end of this week for a $16 billion grant fund for live event businesses like theaters and music clubs. The program, called the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, was supposed to begin nearly two weeks ago, but its application system malfunctioned and collapsed, stymieing thousands of desperate businesses that have been waiting months for the promised aid.

On Saturday, the agency posted additional details on its forthcoming Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion support program for bars, restaurants and food trucks whose sales were devastated by the forced shutdowns that states imposed in response to the pandemic. The fund was created as part of last month’s $1.9 trillion economic support package. Within the next two weeks, it will begin a seven-day test intended to help the agency avoid the kind of technical fiasco that plagued the venue program.

The agency has not announced a specific start date for either grant program.

“Help is here,” Isabella Casillas Guzman, the agency’s administrator, said of the restaurant program. “We’re rolling out this program to make sure that these businesses can meet payroll, purchase supplies and get what they need in place to transition to today’s Covid-restricted marketplace.”

webinar last week organized by the Independent Restaurant Coalition. Lawmakers projected at least $120 billion in demand for the restaurant fund, Mr. Kelley said, but provided money for less than a quarter of that amount.

The law creating the restaurant fund required a 21-day exclusive period for businesses that are majority-owned by women, veterans or socially disadvantaged individuals. The S.B.A. said that group includes those who are Black and Hispanic, as well as Native Americans, Asian-Pacific Americans and South Asian Americans.

That period alone will almost certainly exhaust the restaurant fund. Applicants will be asked to self-certify their eligibility for the priority period, the Small Business Administration said.

Participants in the fund’s seven-day pilot period will be picked randomly from current Paycheck Protection Program borrowers who meet the priority period criteria, the agency said. They will help test the system but will not receive grant money until the application system opens publicly.

The S.B.A. has offered few details on the technical meltdown that demolished its application system for the live-events grant program. On the day it was supposed to open, frustrated applicants spent more than four hours reloading a broken site before the agency shut it down. No applications were accepted.

“After our vendors fixed the root cause of the initial tech issues, more in-depth risk analysis and stress tests identified other issues that impact application performance,” Andrea Roebker, an agency spokeswoman, said on Friday. “The vendors are quickly addressing and mitigating them and working tirelessly with our team so the application portal can reopen A.S.A.P. and we can deliver this critical aid.”

A spokeswoman for Salesforce.com, whose technology underpins the system, said the company “worked with S.B.A. to resolve initial technical issues, and we’re continuing our work together to enhance the site’s performance.”

The restaurant fund is run by a different part of the agency and uses a separate technology system than the shuttered venue program. After waiting nearly four months for that program to start, industry businesses can’t hold out much longer, said Audrey Fix Schaefer, a spokeswoman for National Independent Venue Association, a trade group.

“Landlords can’t last forever. Eviction notices are coming. People are saying, ‘We can’t do this anymore,’” she said.

The Paycheck Protection Program, created just weeks after the pandemic took hold, has made $762 billion in forgivable loans to millions of businesses over the last year.

It is scheduled to end May 31, but it appears likely to exhaust its funding before that. As of mid-last week, the program had $44 billion left, according to an S.B.A. spokesman.

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Drug Overdose Deaths Have Surged During the Pandemic, C.D.C. Says

On Tuesday, several dozen organizations that work on addiction and other health issues asked Mr. Biden’s health and human services secretary, Xavier Becerra, to “act with urgency” and eliminate the rule that doctors go through a day of training before getting federal permission to prescribe buprenorphine. Many addiction experts are also calling for abolishing rules that had already been relaxed during the pandemic so that patients don’t have to come to clinics or doctors’ offices for addiction medications.

Although many programs offering treatment, naloxone and other services for drug users have reopened at least partly as the pandemic has dragged on, many others remain closed or severely curtailed, particularly if they operated on a shoestring budget to begin with.

Sara Glick, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington, said a survey of about 30 syringe exchange programs that she conducted last spring found that many closed temporarily early in the pandemic. After reopening, she said, many programs cut back services or the number of people they could help.

“With health departments spending so much on Covid, some programs have really had to cut their budgets,” she said. “That can mean seeing fewer participants, or pausing their H.I.V. and hepatitis C testing.”

At the same time, increases in H.I.V. cases have been reported in several areas of the country with heavy injection drug use, including two cities in West Virginia, Charleston and Huntington, and Boston. West Virginia’s legislature passed a law last week placing new restrictions on syringe exchange programs, which advocates of the programs said would force many to close.

Mr. Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act includes $1.5 billion for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, as well as $30 million in funding for local services that benefit people with addiction, including syringe exchange programs. The latter is significant because while federal funds still largely cannot be spent on syringes for people who use drugs, the restriction does not apply to money from the stimulus package, according to the Office of Drug Control Policy. Last week, the administration announced that federal funding could now be used to buy rapid fentanyl test strips, which can be used to check whether drugs have been mixed or cut with fentanyl.

Fentanyl or its analogues have increasingly been detected in counterfeit pills being sold illegally as prescription opioids or benzodiazepines — sedatives like Xanax that are used as anti-anxiety medications — and particularly in meth.

Northeastern states that had been hit hardest by opioid deaths in recent years saw some of the smallest increases in deaths in the first half of the pandemic year, with the exception of Maine. The hardest-hit states included West Virginia and Kentucky, which have long ranked at the top in overdose deaths, but also western states like California and Arizona and southern ones like Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee.

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Was Keeping Tourists Out the Only Way to Survive?

ST. MARY, Mont. — In a regular spring season at Johnson’s of St. Mary, the R. V.s would be pulling into the more than 150 sites with sweeping views of Glacier National Park. Campsites would start filling up. The kitchen would start churning out homemade soup and bread.

But last spring, everything was quiet at this tourist destination in the corner of northern Montana, where the Blackfeet Reservation meets Glacier National Park. It had to be.

The Blackfeet Nation’s tribal Business Council closed the eastern entrances of the park, which sit on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, in an effort to protect the tribe from further exposure to the coronavirus. The pandemic, which has ravaged Indigenous communities across the country, has taken a devastating toll on the Blackfeet Nation and Native Americans in Montana. On the reservation, where fewer than 10,000 people live, 47 have died from the virus. Statewide, Native Americans make up one-third of Montana’s more than 1,400 Covid deaths, according to the state public health department, despite being just 7 percent of the population.

Nathan St. Goddard, a Blackfeet tribal member who runs Johnson’s, is hoping for a better spring this year. On March 17, the business council voted to allow him to open — with vaccination rates of eligible people on the reservation reported close to 95 percent.

“The best part about my business is the history,” Mr. St. Goddard said. “My grandparents ran it, my mom ran it, and I want to keep the legacy going.”

The 30 or so businesses here rely on visitors to Glacier National Park, and owners spent the precarious past year with their livelihoods pitted, in part, against the council’s priority: to keep everyone as healthy as possible.

“We lost people,” the business council chairman, Timothy Davis, explained at a February meeting. “We didn’t want to lose anymore.”

Other losses had piled up though. Last May, Jennie Walter, who owns Rising Sun Pizza in St. Mary, posted a video on Facebook pleading with the council to reopen: “Please, see us. Know us. We are a small, proud business and we need your help.”

The long year has been, Mr. St. Goddard said, a “no-win situation.”

“I risked looking insensitive to make a dollar, which isn’t true,” he said. “I just wanted to open safely and feed my family.”

Now that the council has opened the entrance, the business owners are gearing up for the spring and summer season, cautiously optimistic that coronavirus infection rates will stay low enough to safely stay open.

And, as Stephen Conway, a Blackfeet tribal member who runs Heart of Glacier RV Park, put it, their corner of the world might be particularly appealing now.

Visitors, he said, “come to our area to get away from crowds and people.”

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