While local politicians are arguing for varying reopening timelines, small businesses are still largely focused on short-term cash infusions to stay afloat in the near term.
That's according to Jim Foley, who leads the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Bradley University.
"There has been quite a bit of confusion over these programs," he said. "So we still have companies that we're working with who have gotten the funds, but have still not used the funds, because they want to make sure that if they do accept the funds, that they're still going to be compliant."
He hopes the conversation will soon shift to firmer reopening plans, but says there's still a lot of uncertainty that's causing many entrepreneurs to instead focus efforts on keeping the lights on in the short-term.
"That's why it's kind of a two-phased approach. Let's get them some cash on a grant basis, hopefully not take on loans," Foley said. "That as this opens, let's look at how we can get a safe work environment, a safe retail environment, a safe hospitality environment, where they can still do safe social distancing, but start getting some of that income back in."
Foley said opening up unemployment benefits for the self-employed this week will be a "game changer" for many small businesses trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's not just that it will turn on Illinois unemployment income, but it will also trigger the CARES Act federal payment of $600 per week. And the best part is normally unemployment income is not retroactive, but it will be for these sole proprietors," he said.
Foley says this will be especially beneficial for salon owners and barbershops, which often operate as sole proprietorships with independent contractors renting out chairs. Those subcontractors can also receive payments.
Once businesses do begin reopening, restoring customer confidence will be key.
"I think it's going to be important that the first experience the consumer has is one that clearly supports their safety, and that demonstrates that they're showing best practice in how to keep the retail store or the restaurant safe," Foley said.
Foley says one option is maximizing digital service options. He said many restaurants are already doing this via online ordering of carryout meals.
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