Coronavirus Resources for Employers

Updated 10/15/2021 at 9:45 a.m. Updates in bold

We appreciate the ongoing support of all of our members, including our Visionary Members: Bloomsburg University, First Columbia Bank & Trust, First Keystone Community Bank, Geisinger, Kawneer, PPL Electric Utilities, USG, & SEKISUI KYDEX
 

President Biden’s Vaccine Mandate for Large Employers

From the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 

In September, President Biden issued executive orders (EOs)—a summary of which can be found here regarding new policies to combat the COVID virus.

On Tuesday, October 12th, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sent the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which will require employers with at least 100 employees to ensure their employees are vaccinated or that they submit a negative COVID test on a weekly basis.

The specifics of the ETS or how long it’s expected to remain at OIRA have not been released, but it could take effect within a week.

The ETS will take effect once published in the Federal Register—at which point it will also be open for comments. Under the OSH Act, the ETS will remain in place for six months. After the six months, OSHA can either replace it with a permanent standard that reflects the comments or discontinue the standard altogether. At this time, we expect that the ETS will require employers to provide some paid time off for employees to get vaccinated or to recover from getting vaccinated—though the specificities are unknown.

As more information becomes available on the ETS, this post will be updated.

Business Operations

On Thursday, September 9, President Biden issued executive orders regarding new policies to combat COVID-19. The White House has released a document summarizing the orders, which can be found here.

The orders include the following:
• Department of Labor Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring employers with more than 100 people to require vaccination or weekly testing
• Department of Labor rule requiring employers with more than 100 people to provide paid time off for vaccinations
• Require federal employees to get vaccinated within 75 days or risk termination (which would remove the option for weekly testing in lieu of vaccination)
• Extend the federal employee vaccination requirement to federal contractors
• Require Medicare and Medicaid funding recipients to fully vaccinate their staff
• Urge schools to set up regular testing based on community spread
• Expand free COVID testing

On Friday, September 10th, Seema Nanda, Solicitor for the U.S. Department of Labor, explained that these orders will be implemented via an OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard expected “in weeks.” Details on how employers will have to report information, what employees will be included in the requirement, and who bears the cost of testing, were not available. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is compiling employer questions and we will be providing answers as the information becomes available.

– Restaurants, bars, stores, salons, gyms, theaters, event venues, nightclubs, and other businesses can operate at 100% capacity, and crowd-size limits are lifted on all indoor and outdoor gatherings.

– While Pennsylvania’s face covering order was lifted on June 28th, the PA Department of Health continues to urge individuals to follow CDC guidance for wearing a mask where required by law, rule, and regulations, including healthcare, local business, and workplace guidance. For the protection of themselves and others, individuals who have not yet been vaccinated or are partially vaccinated are still encouraged to wear a mask when in public. The CDC requires individuals to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs, such as airports and stations. Masks are also recommended, regardless of vaccination status, while indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission. As of August 30th, Columbia and Montour counties are at a high transmission rate.

The latest CDC guidance regarding masking indoors is not an OSHA regulation. However, an employer could be cited for creating an unsafe working condition if a claim is filed, according to OSHA’s Wilkes Barre office.


Vaccination and Testing

 

Vaccination

The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Geisinger in encouraging eligible individuals to get vaccinated. Resources to help employers communicate with their employees about vaccination are available from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, provides recommendations for developing a workplace vaccination strategy.

Vaccine Distribution

Geisinger is offering vaccines to anyone age 12 or older either by appointment or through a walk-in clinic. Click here for information. 

Click here to find vaccination sites statewide. 

Columbia County EMA is assisting Susquehanna Valley Medical Specialties with COVID-19 vaccination appointments.  Those eligible should call 570-389-5735, Monday through Friday only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Provide name, date of birth, address and phone number.  Someone from Susquehanna Valley Medical Specialties will call back to schedule an appointment. The clinic expects to experience a large volume of inquiries and asks callers to allow ample time for a call back. Callers who are not contacted within 72 hours are asked to call again. Another way to schedule an appointment time for their vaccination, patients simply need to log on to our website at svmedspec.com and click on our Covid-19 vaccination link to enter their contact information.

Individuals needing a ride to a vaccination appointment can call 1-800-632-9063 to schedule a free ride with rabbittransit.

Testing

Geisinger offers both symptomatic testing and testing for travel.  Visit here for details.

If you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, contact your physician for a referral to a testing site.


Financial Assistance

 
Federal programs

– The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) included a tax credit for small employers that offered paid time off for receiving and recovering from the COVID-19 vaccine. This tax credit makes it easier for businesses to incentivize their workforce to get vaccinated, as well as give employees the proper time they need to get vaccinated and recover from it if they experience side effects. In July, the program was expanded to provide tax credits for employees who need time to take care of family members. 

The original employer tax credit for COVID-19 vaccine paid time off was announced in April 2021. It allowed eligible businesses and nonprofits to be reimbursed for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave or family leave (10 days or two work weeks) given to any employee to get vaccinated or recover from vaccination side effects. The reimbursement of $511 per day or $5,110 in total is deducted from the employer-portion of Medicare taxes and applies to paid time off taken between April 1 and September 30, 2021.

The July 2021 update to the ARP’s paid sick leave and family tax credits now allows employers to claim tax credits for paid time off given to employees to get vaccinated themselves or to accompany a family or household member to get vaccinated. It also includes paid time off for employees who need to take care of a family or household member that is recovering from vaccine side effects.

Click here for additional information from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about the Small Business Vaccine Tax Credit.

– The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced significant enhancements to the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, a federal disaster relief loan designed to support small business communities dealing with the pandemic, especially hard-hit sectors such as restaurants, gyms, and hotels. The SBA is ready to receive new applications immediately from small businesses looking to take advantage of these new policy changes.

Key changes being announced by the SBA include:

  • Increasing the COVID EIDL Cap. The SBA has increased the COVID EIDL cap from $500,000 to $2 million. Loan funds can be used for any normal operating expenses and working capital, including payroll, purchasing equipment, and paying debt.
  • Implementation of a Deferred Payment Period. The SBA will ensure small business owners will not have to begin COVID EIDL repayment until two years after loan origination so that they can get through the pandemic.
  • Establishment of a 30-Day Exclusivity Window. To ensure Main Street businesses have additional time to access these funds, the SBA will implement a 30-day exclusivity window of approving and disbursing funds for loans of $500,000 or less. Approval and disbursement of loans over $500,000 will begin after the 30-day period.
  • Expansion of Eligible Use of Funds. COVID EIDL funds will now be eligible to prepay commercial debt and make payments on federal business debt.
  • Simplification of affiliation requirements. To ease the COVID EIDL application process for small businesses, the SBA has established more simplified affiliation requirements to model those of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

Businesses can apply directly with the SBA for EIDL loans.

Businesses needing assistance in applying for an SBA loan can contact the Small Business Development Center network.

Columbia & Luzerne County businesses – wilkes.edu/sbdc
Montour County businesses – bucknell.edu/sbdc

The Employee Retention Credit is extended through December 31, 2021. The new credit, beginning January 1, is 70% on $10,000 in wages per quarter (or a maximum $28,000 per employee through December 31, 2021).

The new law expands eligibility to include employers who experienced a decline of more than 20% in a qualifying quarter.

Employers can also apply to the PPP program and take advantage of the tax credit program, provided the same wages are not used.

The IRS has issued updated guidance on utilizing ERC.

The Shuttered Venue Operators (SVO) grant program provides assistance to live venues that were harmed by COVID-19 restrictions. The SVO grant program will distribute $16 billion in funds to live venue operators, including eligible movie theaters, concert spaces, museums and performing arts organizations.

SVO grants are being administered directly by the SBA. Click here for program details and to apply. 

Local programs

– A grant program for small businesses in Columbia County impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is accepting applications. The Columbia County Commissioners are providing qualifying small businesses funding to assist in covering the business’ operating expenses incurred in 2021. Grants are being awarded on a first come, first served basis. The program will close on October 14.

Eligible businesses must have fewer than 500 full-time employees, be privately owned, and have experienced a net reduction in revenue of at least 25% in calendar year 2020 compared to calendar year 2019. Grants are to be awarded in $4,000 increments up to a maximum of $40,000. Eligible operating expenses include, but are not limited to: payroll, rent, mortgage, utilities, costs of goods, supplies, raw materials, etc.

Additional details and the application link are available at csgiving.org/cccsbg.

A grant program for nonprofits and government agencies in Columbia County negatively impacted by COVID is accepting applications. The Columbia County Commissioners ARP Nonprofit Relief Grantround has $500,000 available. Grant requests up to $25,000 are now being accepted online until the application deadline of October 28. Additional funding may be considered on an individual basis. Upon review by the Community Giving Foundation Grants Committee and County Commissioners, grants will be awarded by November 30.

The grantround is designed as a flexible response to provide relief for a variety of unexpected costs. The Foundation is specifically interested in helping organizations maintain their operations and respond to increased demands.

Only 501(c)(3) nonprofit and government organizations are eligible to apply and the requested funding must be invested within Columbia County. 

Grant applications must be completed and submitted at www.csgiving.org/ccc-nonprofit-relief/. Grant requests must be submitted online by 11:45 pm on Thursday, October 28, 2021.

For grant-related questions, please contact Christine Orlando, Senior Program Officer, at 570-752-3930 ext. 2, or [email protected]

– SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) has created a loan program with funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. For-profit businesses can apply for loans of at least $10,000 with an interest rate of 3.25%. Funds can be used for working capital and can be disbursed based on past working capital expenses. No payments are due in the first six months. 

There is a $500 underwriting fee and a $100 filing fee.

For more information, visit https://seda-cog.org/covid-19/ or contact SEDA-COG’s Business Finance Department at [email protected]

– The Chamber’s low-interest loan program is offering loans of up to $10,000 for members at 3% interest for 30 months, with interest only payments for the first 12 months. If you are interested in the Chamber’s loan program, contact Fred Gaffney at the Chamber of Commerce at 570-784-2522 as funds are limited.


Unemployment, Benefits & HR Issues

 

 

The PA Department of Labor and Industry provides UC guidance for employers with impacted employees.

President Biden’s Vaccine Mandate for Large Employers

From the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

In September, President Biden issued executive orders (EOs)—a summary of which can be found here regarding new policies to combat the COVID virus. 

On Tuesday, October 12th, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sent the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which will require employers with at least 100 employees to ensure their employees are vaccinated or that they submit a negative COVID test on a weekly basis.

The specifics of the ETS or how long it’s expected to remain at OIRA have not been released, but it could take effect within a week.

The ETS will take effect once published in the Federal Register—at which point it will also be open for comments. Under the OSH Act, the ETS will remain in place for six months. After the six months, OSHA can either replace it with a permanent standard that reflects the comments or discontinue the standard altogether. At this time, we expect that the ETS will require employers to provide some paid time off for employees to get vaccinated or to recover from getting vaccinated—though the specificities are unknown.

As more information becomes available on the ETS, this post will be updated.

 

Bloomsburg Council Candidates Share Their Views

Candidates for Bloomsburg Town Council discussed a variety of issues including the downtown, infrastructure, and taxes during a candidate forum held Tuesday, October 12th. Incumbents Bonnie Crawford and James Garman along with challengers Eric Bower, Nicholas McGaw, and Janine Penman participated in the forum. The event was co-hosted by Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. and Bloomsburg University’s American Democracy Project at Bloomsburg University’s McCormick Center.

Among the questions asked of the candidates was if they support a pledge developed by The Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. To date, candidates Bonnie Crawford and James Garman have signed the pledge. Mayor Bill Kreisher also signed the pledge earlier this year. 

A recording of the forum is available on the Chamber’s YouTube channel, which can be viewed HERE

Member News – October 13, 2021

Community Giving Foundation Fund to Support Berwick Life Skills Students

The Community Giving Foundation: Berwick is pleased to announce the creation of a new designated fund in memory of Lisa Canouse, a dedicated wife and mother who impacted the lives of many children in the Berwick Area School District through her passion and big heart.

The Fund will provide charitable grants to the Berwick Area School District to support life skills students, K-12, who demonstrate financial need for necessities that help them thrive as individuals.

Lisa fell in love with the Berwick community after marrying her husband, Barry, and always considered the area home. When her three children were grown, she began to work in the Berwick Area School District, where she continued to show a motherly love by supporting the children at the school.

 


Miller – Keystone Blood Center Asking for Critical Supply Help

Two weeks ago, an emergency statement was issued by America’s Blood Centers (ABC) regarding the status of the nation’s blood supply:

“The blood supply in the United States is dangerously low – an uncommon occurrence for this time of year. It is safe to donate blood and all eligible individuals – including those who have received a COVID19 vaccine – are encouraged to make an appointment to donate blood or platelets now to ensure that blood products will be available for all patients when needed. Blood centers across the country are currently reporting low blood supplies. Some blood collection organizations are experiencing an abnormal decline in donor turnout; others are experiencing blood drive cancellations at schools and businesses limiting the number of individuals allowed onsite as a precautionary pandemic practice. These collection challenges have disrupted the nation’s blood supply, resulting in dangerously low inventories of life-saving blood products across the country for patients in need.”

As your community blood center, Miller-Keystone Blood Center is also challenged with meeting the needs of our local hospitals and the patients they serve. We currently have between one and two days of inventory that can be quickly decimated with one major local trauma event. We expect this emergency situation to continue through the end of 2021 unless we can get assistance from the community and respond to this appeal for blood donations. Miller-Keystone Blood Center needs individuals to donate blood at our regional donation centers. As a leader of a local organization, we urge you to help our team by getting the message out and helping us help our hospitals by doing the following:

  • Encourage your employees, staff, members, and students to call 1-800-223-6667 or visit giveapint.org  to schedule a donation at one of our 17 regional blood centers and community satellite locations that are close to where they live or work.
  • Or, contact us to discuss how your organization can arrange a special event, Adopt-A-Day blood Drive, at one of our locations. Please contact Krista Hill at (610)-691-5850 extension 1254 for more information.

Miller-Keystone is committed to maintaining the stability of the region’s blood supply, while ensuring the safety of our donors and staff. We continue to adapt our safety protocols to align with local, state, and federal guidance to ensure the safest possible experience for donors, staff and blood drive hosts.


Boroughs’ List Trick-or-Treating Nights & Times

The kids are counting down the days to one of their favorite night(s) of the year, Trick-or-Treating. The excitement of kids dressing up in a unique costume and getting candy is an all-time favorite memory for kids of all ages. The following nights and times are set up for Trick-or-Treating in the area.

Berwick Borough – October 29 & October 30 | 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Bloomsburg Borough – October 30 | 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Danville Borough – October 30 | 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

My Benefit Advisor Offering Free Health Insurance Webinars

These webinars will provide general information and answer your questions about health insurance as 2021 open enrollment is right around the corner for most employers. This is the perfect opportunity to explore plan options and learn more about the latest laws, carrier news, and how the MBA program can benefit you. Register for one of our upcoming sessions.

AGENDA

  • Overview of Insurance Marketplace
  • Projected Renewal Increases
  • Carrier Updates
  • Cost Saving Strategies
  • Employer Resources

My Benefit Advisor (MBA) is an employee benefits platform designed to guide employers through the complexity of planning, communicating and managing a successful employee benefits program.

Welcome Premier Real Estate Agency

After many years working in the real estate field as an agent, Chris Pardee decided to become a broker and open his own agency in order to create a new kind of customer-focused, local real estate agency to better serve the changing needs of north central Pennsylvania. Partnering with Macy Benson, who brings a wealth of knowledge to the agency, the duo pioneered new and innovative marketing ideas that exceeded the expectations of their clients. Their main goal has always been to help buyers and sellers through even the most complicated situation with ease and help them realize their dreams.

They have assembled a group of real estate professionals who are capable of handling all the real estate needs. With over 60 years of real estate experience among its agents, Premier Real Estate Agency has the knowledge and expertise to handle all your residential, commercial and investment real estate transactions. The team of Real Estate professionals looks forward to guiding you through the process of buying or selling your home, business or investment property.

Our client first, that is the philosophy of Premier Real Estate Agency. The Premier philosophy of commitment and dedication to clients’ needs fits their own personal and professional ideals and are proud to be aligned with one of the nation’s leading providers of homeownership services.

Visit Premier Real Estate Agency’s website at www.premierparealestate.com for more information.

Premiere Real Estate Agency joins over 415 members of The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce to receive benefits and support the Chamber’s efforts to enhance the region.