The laws that govern the country are rapidly changing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, law firms across the state have taken it upon themselves to keep the public informed about how the new laws will affect them and their companies.
Law firms such as Warner Norcross + Judd and Barnes & Thornburg LLP have been hosting COVID-19 webinars since March, tackling a variety of topics from Preparedness and Response Plan for Employees and Businesses to SBA Disaster Assistance Loans.
Amanda Fielder, a partner at Warner Norcross + Judd, said the firm’s webinars are hosted by their attorneys who are located in the state of Michigan so their clients in a variety of industries throughout the country can have access.
According to Fielder, the webinars are generally an hour in length. About 45 minutes is dedicated to sharing with their clients legal updates and the remaining time is spent answering questions.
“Most entities’ concerns right now are ‘How do they keep their employees? What do they do to make sure their people are treated fairly? How do they bring people back to work, looking at what is still COVID-19, while keeping them safe and operating safe companies?’” she said. “I think those are some of the big concerns.”
Robert Stead, the managing partner for Barnes & Thornburg’s Grand Rapids office, said the firm has had 30 webinars so far related to COVID-19 and more than 12,000 people have tuned in. The webinars are hosted by B&T attorneys located in Michigan offices and other offices across the country who have experiences in different sectors of the law.
With the state of Michigan tentatively planning to reopen businesses in early May, both Stead and Fielder said one of the biggest concerns employers have is how to protect their employees once they come back to work. As a result, the firms’ corporate, labor and employment attorneys have been conducting some of the webinars.
“Like us, people are asking, ‘How do you stage the reopening of your business?’ Are you bringing some of your people in for a certain period of time during the days, so you are not bringing in everyone in at once?” Stead said. “Are you making sure they have protective gear in place so they can feel comfortable coming back to work? There is so much uncertainty right now on what the right approach should be.”
Since the state has been under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, there have been a few laws passed that address some of the economic concerns people are having now. Since March, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Act and the Paycheck Protection Program Increase (PPPI) Act were all signed into law.
“The state and the country are going through something that most of us have never seen in our lifetime,” Fielder said. “‘We are trying to make sure that businesses survive and what they can do now in the interim — whether it be applying for a PPP loan, whether there are additional tax credits available they can qualify for. Whatever they can do as a business so that when we do get through this COVID-19 pandemic they are still operating and still supplying whatever goods or services that they were prior.”
According to GovTrack, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act provided $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak related to developing a vaccine, medical supplies, grants for public health agencies, small business loans, and assistance for health systems in other countries. It also allowed for temporarily waiving Medicare restrictions and requirements regarding telehealth services.
The FFCRA Act guarantees free coronavirus testing, established paid leave, enhanced unemployment insurance, expanded food security initiatives and increased federal Medicaid funding, per GovTrack.
The CARES Act, according to GovTrack, provides a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which is sending $1,200 to each American making $75,000 a year or less, adds $600/week to unemployment benefits for four months, gives $100 billion to hospitals and health providers, makes $500 billion in loans or investments to businesses, states and municipalities, and provides $32 billion in grants to the airline industry, and more.
The Paycheck Protection Program, which is in the PPPI Act, allows for $30 billion for loans made by insured depository institutions and credit unions that have assets between $10 billion and $50 billion; and $30 billion for loans made by community financial institutions, small insured depository institutions and credit unions with assets of less than $10 billion.
“We know our clients are really struggling,” Stead said. “They have so many things to worry about. We are hopeful that the resources that we are putting out there can help them cut to the chase and get quick answers. No one is going to look at 800 pages of the CARES Act, but that is our job as attorneys and that is how we make our living, by trying to condense that information and get it out to our clients. Hopefully, our clients and other people find it useful.”