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Yellowstone County asks businesses for information on downturn after COVID-19

Leaders urge community to come together in difficult time
Posted at 2:26 PM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-17 16:26:29-04

Schools, businesses and events impacted or canceled by governmental COVID-19 response should fill out a one-page form to help county officials document the economic impact in order to apply for federal financial assistance, Yellowstone County officials said at a press conference Tuesday.

The conference was attended by Billings Mayor Bill Cole and representatives from the Yellowstone County Commissioners, Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services and Big Sky Economic Development.

After declarations of emergency were signed by the city and county on Monday, the door opened to the community for support from the state and federal governments, said Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services Director KC Williams.

"I would ask that all the businesses that have been affected negatively, all of the schools and any event that has been canceled, postponed or altered in any way, we need to document that information so we can send it to the state in our request for both financial help and supply help,” Williams said.

Williams said it could be a while before the community sees help from the state or federal governments. But it is important to document how businesses were effected because the community is essentially competing against the country for funding, Williams said.

"This is a nationwide declaration of emergency. We are competing if you will with every other community in the United States. So, the better we document the impact this has on us, the higher we go up on the list for potential resources," Williams said.

The information gathered will eventually be mapped on a web site so the public can look at economic impact across the state, Williams said.

Big Sky Economic Development Director Steve Arveschoug provided information about the process to apply.

“Our state leaders need to hear from businesses in the Yellowstone County area, those that are being impacted by the business restrictions related to COVID-19," Arveschoug said.

The one-page form for businesses to fill out is called a economic injury worksheet and should be emailed to both mtdes@mt.gov and melanie@bigskyeda.org.

The worksheet asks for simple information like name, address, date the impact began, whether cancellations or closures had to be made, or whether the event was impacted but still operational.

A economic injury worksheet needs to be filled out for each event that was canceled, Williams said.

“We need to collect this information so that when we turn it into the state and we start getting federal resources, we have collectively as a community come together and pooled our needs, and that places us higher on the priority list," Williams said.

Arveschoug stressed it is important for people impacted by the COVID-19 response to fill a worksheet out as soon as possible.

If people need help filling out the worksheet, email contact@bigskyeda.org.

This form gets the process started but more documents from the Small Business Administration will have to be completed before any disaster assistance loans can be applied for.

“Once the Small Business Administration has issued an economic injury disaster declaration for the county and surrounding counties, businesses will be eligible to then apply for economic injury disaster loans and other resources," Arveschoug said.

Arveschough pointed people to bigskyeconomicdevelopment.org for more information being made available in the coming days for financial assistance for local businesses.

Arveschoug urged people to support small businesses when COVID-19 becomes less prevalent because many locals are hurting from the Yellowstone County Health Officer's decision to close bars and restaurants.

“There will be a time when all of us in our community will need to show up and support our small business community … they will need us to show up and do business with them," Arveschoug.

Mayor Bill Cole said he will be discussing with the health officer ways to make the restaurant closures more flexible in the future.

"That will be something that I know I, and other government officials, will be asking about as we go forward. Are there opportunities to make those restrictions more flexible? Ultimately that will be up to the county health officer. But that will be a point of discussion going forward," Cole said.

A business owner in the crowd asked how long will the community be "down and out"?

“That’s a really, really good question," said Williams. "And unfortunately the answer to that question is that that’s not known yet. The federal government … is discussing the impact this is having on businesses across the nation. There are rules to the Stafford Act, which is the emergency declaration act, that they are reviewing right now to see which of those we need to alter for such a big problem.”

Another business owner asked about the other businesses that were still in operation as of Tuesday with people in close proximity, such as grocery stores, convenience stores, nail and hair salons. A question was also asked about when people can expect things to go back to normal.

Cole acknowledged that the government response is disrupting the community and economy, but he said the decisions were made to stem a possible county wide complete shut down. He did not give a time-frame for when the coronaviris crisis would end.

“There’s no doubt that this is causing a huge disruption to everybody in our community," Cole said. "We all wish that it never happened, and we all wish that it would go away. And we all wish that we could put a deadline on it. The reality is though that we can’t. The reality is that this virus is like a fire. It is more manageable when it is smaller. It is uncontrollable when it becomes large. We’ve seen the disaster in places like Italy that did not get on it quickly. And the economic disruption in places like Italy has gone far beyond closing down bars and restaurants to closing down all businesses, going to quarantines, to preventing people from leaving their community. Six counties announced yesterday around the San Francisco area are now on shutdown. You want to see an economic catastrophe? If that happens, that is what we are trying to avoid. We need to put the fire out as early as possible and restrict it as much as possible as early as possible. That means that inaction is our enemy. We need to act decisively but also intelligently and with due deliberation. It has to be data driven and based on the experience of people a lot smarter and a lot more knowledgeable than I am. But I do know that I have seen fires, and I’ve seen the difficulty when they get big. So that’s the thinking behind it. … But we have to stick together. We will get through this, but it will probably be a few months and probably not a few weeks I’m afraid.”