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Many in state eligible for extension of unemployment benefits

by Andrew Moreau | July 12, 2020 at 2:45 a.m.

Many Arkansans collecting unemployment are eligible for extended benefits that would last an additional eight weeks.

It's the first time the extended benefits program has been available since 2009, during the last U.S. recession, which was spurred by a crisis in the financial industry.

The state Division of Workforce Services is contacting those eligible for the extended benefit program, which kicked in after Arkansas' insured unemployment rate reached 5%. Extended benefits are available dating back to the week ending June 6.

Eligibility may be a little tricky: Extended benefits are available only after jobless workers exhaust both their regular unemployment benefits from the state, which last 16 weeks, and their federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, known as PEUC.

In March, Congress approved PEUC to provide an additional weekly benefit to jobless workers during the covid-19 pandemic.

The extended benefit program differs from PEUC; here's a brief rundown on how the extension works.

Individuals who are receiving the standard 16 weeks of state unemployment insurance are also eligible to receive benefits for another 13 weeks through PEUC.

Once both of those benefit programs are exhausted, any worker still unemployed can apply for the extended benefit program.

Extended benefits are paid out for at least 13 weeks but the period could be longer if the insured unemployment rate remains above 5%.

The insured unemployment rate represents the unemployed workforce covered by Arkansas' unemployment insurance program.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Who's paying for this?

The federal government is covering 100% of the costs for extended benefit claims filed before the end of the year.

If you have not yet received notice of eligibility for extended benefits, contact your local workforce services office.

SUPPORTING RURAL ENTREPRENEURS

The Conductor of Conway is partnering with a community development organization to provide financial support to rural entrepreneurs in 11 counties.

The organizations will offer zero-interest loans combined with 1:1 matched investments to support business development in small communities.

The partnership with the Local Initiatives Support Corp. also includes Kiva, a crowd-sourced lending platform that allows entrepreneurs to borrow up to $15,000, interest-free. LISC is one of the nation's leading Community Development Financial Institutions with 31 offices in the U.S.

Conductor staff will endorse borrowers for the program. Rural entrepreneurs who borrow through Kiva will have that loan matched by LISC, dollar-for-dollar.

The initiative will deliver capital to entrepreneurs, no matter where they live, according to the Conductor's Tiffany Henry, who added that the investment program "is an amazing opportunity that comes at a pivotal time."

"Many of the business owners we work with identify access to capital as their biggest barrier to entrepreneurship," said Henry, rural director at Conductor.

Once entrepreneurs are endorsed by Conductor and reach their fundraising goals on the Kiva platform, they will be eligible to receive matching funds from LISC.

Rural entrepreneurs in the Conductor's 11-county service include residents in Conway, Faulkner, Yell, Logan, Van Buren, Cleburne, Pope, Johnson, White, Lonoke and Pulaski counties.

BANK OZK BOOST

Stephens Inc. is boosting interest in another Arkansas financial institution, with Bank OZK of Little Rock getting a favorable report from the investment firm.

Last Thursday, the banking team at Stephens raised the price target for OZK to $26 from $24, citing the "outperformance" of the bank's RV and marine portfolio and the bank's favorable position to realize increases in margins on interest rates.

The bank's RV and marine portfolio represents 9.6% and 4.9% of total loans, respectively, which at a combined 14.5% of loans "is an outlier for bank peers," Stephens said in the July 9 report.

RV and marine industry trends remain favorable because of family leisure activity during the pandemic, Stephens said.

Last month, Home BancShares Inc. of Conway also received a favorable report from the Stephens banking team, which reset a stock price target of $18 per share, up from $16.

MANAGING CUSTOMERS

Many service sector employees are gaining new tasks as they return to work – enforcing rules that customers wear masks to enter the business. Most patrons come prepared, but retailers and restaurants are now putting mask enforcers at the front doors.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is offering five quick tips to help businesses enforce health and safety procedures in ways that manage customer expectations as everyone grapples with new pandemic business protocols.

The five tips are: remind customers the rules are the same for everyone; be honest and transparent; train employees to be helpful; set reasonable expectations; and make it easy for customers to provide feedback.

First, it's important to remind customers that, as business owners, you're following new rules or regulations. For example, in Little Rock that would be adjusting to the executive order from Mayor Frank Scott Jr. last month that required mask wearing in public.

Transparency means being honest with customers about your cleaning policies and any changes in the business due to the pandemic. Train your employees to offer gentle reminders to customers who forgot to wear a mask or have a habit of slipping it off once in the store.

That leads to expectation-setting: supply chains across the globe have been disrupted and it's OK to let customers know why a favorite food item is not available and when it might be back on the shelf. Finally, ask for their feedback. It's always good to know what works and what doesn't.

Be safe out there.

PPP STILL AVAILABLE

Here's a quick reminder that there is still time to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan. The U.S. Small Business Administration has extended the deadline to Aug. 8 for small businesses grappling with the pandemic.

Borrowers must submit an application through a lending institution, so reach out to your local banker if you need help with paying employees and covering other essential costs.

Loans of up to $10 million are available and a portion of the loan is forgivable if the money is used for payroll and costs such as rent and utilities.

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