Coronavirus Update, June 5, 2020

At New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s press conference Friday, Cuomo announced that the state is at its lowest number of deaths and hospitalizations since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuomo also confirmed over 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 in New York, making the statewide total to over 376,000. There are 19 active cases of COVID-19 in Tompkins county, according to the county health department. There is 1 active case of COVID-19 in Schuyler County as of Friday.

The City of Ithaca is asking the New York State Department of Health for the forgiveness of 3 months’ of rent debt for local residents amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Ithaca Times reports that New York State will now either approve or deny the City’s request, which would cover rent payments missed in April, May, and June. This move was approved by a 6-4 vote at the Common Council meeting on Wednesday.  

Individuals will not be exempt from their rent payments moving forward, and money already paid to landlords would not be taken back if the resolution passes. If the request is approved, Ithaca would be the first municipality in the country to forgive rent debt as a result of COVID-19.

Alderperson George McGonigal says he worries rent forgiveness risks increasing unemployment in Ithaca, as carpenters and painters would be put out of work, and landlords would have less rent income.

The COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program will begin in Tompkins and Tioga counties on June 15. The program starts in Schuyler and Seneca counties on June 8.

Residents can apply for rent assistance if they lost income because of the pandemic or if they are within a certain household income limit, reports Ithaca Voice. Eligible residents can apply for up to three months of financial assistance and must provide bank statements for two months, a copy of the current lease and proof of income loss from coronavirus. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services provides an online program application guide and is overseeing the program. 

Financial assistance is possible if the household income for one person is under $47,950. Income must be under $54,800 in a two-person household, and $61,650 in a household of three people. 

The program is funded through Community Development Block Grants given to Tompkins County and Ithaca from The US Department of Housing for COVID-19 related needs. The county grant has about $589,000 to provide help for 150 houses and are only for full-time residents outside of the city of Ithaca.

The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency is providing $190,000 for 50 houses within the city of Ithaca. $200,000 in New York State HOMES funds are going to help renters in Tompkins, Schuyler, Tioga and Seneca counties on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Lime Bike is removing its services from Ithaca, according to the Ithaca Times. The company’s bikes were removed from Ithaca in March because of coronavirus, but it was assumed that the service would return after the end of the pandemic.

The company was not making enough money in Ithaca, stating that Lime Bike was either breaking even or losing money in the town. A contract was signed in March 2018 to last three years, but a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the city and an operation obligation was not included.

BikeWalk Tompkins is looking at other companies to potentially provide another bikeshare program for Ithaca. Hector Chang with BikeWalk says the process will most likely last until at least 2021 because of coronavirus and the length of time it took for Lime Bike to be approved.

As phase 2 of reopening the Southern Tier continues, several restaurants in Ithaca and Tompkins County have opened for outdoor seating as of Thursday. 

While different restaurants will operate their own timelines for reopening, many are either ready or making preparations to open soon, according to 14850 magazine. Regulations and safety precautions will be put into place, such as: wearing masks as much as possible, not lingering after finishing a meal, and not going out to eat if you feel sick. 

Congress has approved new legislation that includes more flexibility for the federal forgivable loan program for small businesses. According to Times Union, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that changes the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, to allow small businesses to use more of the loan on rent and give more time for owners to bring back workers. 

The loan money can be used to cover expenses for over 24 weeks and still qualify for forgiveness. 60 percent needs to cover payroll to receive forgiveness, compared to 75 percent previously required. Payroll taxes can be deferred and businesses that do not qualify for loan forgiveness have 5 years, instead of 2, to pay it back. Up to $10 million loans are intended for businesses that have 500 or less employees, with a few exceptions.

Over 4.5 million PPP loans to small businesses was approved by the Small Business Administration, equaling over $510 billion. Over 290,400 loans have been provided to New York state businesses. Around $128,500 is the average loan in the state.

The bill awaits the signature from President Trump to take effect.

Contributing writing by WRFI News Interns Phoebe Harms and Tessie Devlin