Easing Pressures

Earlier this week, East Main Street in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom neighborhood was almost deserted. Localities are considering steps to ease financial pressures for business owners and residents amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Numerous businesses deemed nonessential have closed across the state because of unprecedented statewide restrictions that are in place to contain the coronavirus pandemic. And local governments across the Richmond region are stepping up to alleviate some of the financial stress business owners and residents are facing.

This past week, Henrico County became the first locality in the region to freeze late fees and interest on lodging tax and meals tax payments, the RTD reported. It also extended the deadline for paying real estate, individual and business personal property, machinery, and tools taxes. Chesterfield and Hanover counties adopted similar relief measures on lodging taxes Wednesday night, as well as utility bills. The extended deadlines range from May through August.

In Richmond, Mayor Levar Stoney has proposed an amnesty period on penalties and interest for most local taxes through June 30, which City Council will act on when it next meets. City Council also expects to adopt an ordinance extending the filing deadline for applications and certifications for tax relief for seniors and people with disabilities to mid-May, according to a news release.

“Every move to help businesses maintain liquidity will postpone downsizing or keep it to a minimum,” Brian Anderson, CEO of ChamberRVA, told the RTD. “I applaud our officials for approving those kinds of actions.”

So do we. Businesses are worried about paying bills and making payroll. These actions offer some financial breathing room.

On Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced sweeping limits on businesses that will remain in effect through late April — and potentially longer. The travel and hospitality industries have been hit particularly hard as hotel stays have plummeted and restaurants have shuttered. Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned. Restaurants can only serve carryout food, which brings in far less money than sit-down meals, and many employees have lost their jobs.

The economic news is grim. Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday, amid the financial disruption caused by the global pandemic. That’s more than quadruple the previous record set in October 1982.

Earlier this month, the Virginia Employment Commission saw about 400 claims filed a day. Last week, Virginia had nearly 47,000 claims, according to Northam’s office.

As we confront this economic upheaval, there’s also a public health crisis. Respect the restrictions in place. Wash your hands regularly. Stay at home if you’re able. And remember, we’re all in this together.

— Pamela Stallsmith

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