Philly small-business relief fund up against limited resources during COVID-19 crisis

UPDATED: 8:05 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — With updates from Philadelphia officials on Monday about efforts to financially stabilize the people most affected by the spread of the coronavirus came the somber news that the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city has surpassed 1,000.

Today's updates:➡️ New COVID-19 cases➡️ Union contract extensions➡️ Small Business Relief Fund update➡️ @WilliamPennFdn and @Vanguard_Group investment in early childhood education➡️ @sixers donation to Philabundance and School District

— Jim Kenney (@PhillyMayor) March 30, 2020

Health Commissioner Tom Farley announced 182 additional cases of COVID-19 in Philadelphia since Sunday. The total in the city now stands at 1,072. He said 74 of them are known to be health care workers.

Farley reported one additional death, as well, bringing the city total to nine. The latest casualty was a woman in her 80s with an underlying medical condition.

He highlighted the fact that five of those deaths were of people who'd been living in nursing homes, underscoring the vulnerability of that population.

Farley said Philadelphia hospitals are in good shape for now. Only 79 COVID-19 patients have needed hospital care, and emergency room visits are down.

“We do expect demand on the hospitals will increase over time, and they are preparing for that,” he noted.

How serious is social distancing?

Philadelphia health officials continue to urge residents to stay home in the hopes of controlling the spread.

Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the city is taking the rims off of basketball goals at city rec centers, so people will stop playing pick-up games and gathering in groups.

“You’re going to continue to see rims come down across the park system,” he added.

Farley said these preventive measures could have a profound effect on how severely the city gets hit in the coming weeks.

“If our social distancing is very effective, we may not see a surge at all,” he hoped.

In the meantime, however, the city is preparing for the worst. Abernathy said refrigerator trucks are on their way to Philadelphia to be used as additional morgue space. The city is also continuing to negotiate for additional quarantine beds, and Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said the first field hospital is up and waiting at Temple University’s Liacouras Center.

“Our ultimate hope is that we never have to put this site into service,” he said, “and again, that’s going to depend on everyone who’s listening to stay at home and help us flatten the curve. ... We certainly hope this surge capability is something that will essentially sit here and we’ll pack it up at the end and never hit that surge.”

Food access expansion

Philadelphia's expansion of its free food program to help families in need started on Monday morning at 20 new sites throughout the city. Through a partnership with Philabundance and Share Food, the city is operating the sites on Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

Each household in need is entitled to one box, with enough produce, dry goods and canned goods to last five days — no ID or proof of income required. 

Early reports indicated that supplies ran out very quickly at these locations. Abernathy said this is a reflection of the need and said the city will announce additional food distribution sites this week.

The city has a map of the 20 new sites, plus the more than 80 sites already providing meals to students.

Philanthropy and financial assistance

At Monday's press update, Mayor Jim Kenney pushed one of his favorite causes: early childhood education. He announced the creation of the Philadelphia Emergency Fund for Stabilization of Early Education, a $7 million effort from the William Penn Foundation and Vanguard to provide emergency funding to early learning providers.

Kenney also thanked Josh Harris and David Blitzer of the 76ers organization for a donation to Philabundance worth about 20,000 boxes of food, which he said would feed about 160,000 people in the region. The pair also donated funding for for 10,000 Chromebooks for Philly school students.

Kenney announced a deadline for applications to the Philadelphia COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund. Applications for microenterprise grants, small-business grants and small-business zero interest loans received by 5 p.m. will be reviewed for funding consideration.

However, because of high demand and limited resources, after 5 p.m., only applications for $5,000 microenterprise grants will be accepted and reviewed, and only as new funds become available. There are other opportunities for small businesses through Pennsylvania's COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program, offering zero-interest loans of up to $100,000, and through the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

Other resources are available at the city's website.

Municipal workers

In order to allow law enforcement employees to focus on the health crisis, rather than lengthy contract negotiations, Kenney said the city's contract with the FOP Lodge 5 was extended by one year.

Negotiations started a few months back, but over the weekend, city leaders and union officials from the police union agreed to extend the contract another year — with a 2.5% pay raise for officers and 2.25% increase for sheriffs, starting May 1.

“We did this now so our employees could focus on the health crisis on hand rather than months of contract negotiations,” Kenney added.

Similar agreements with the other three municipal unions are in progress. 

More deaths in Philly suburbs

Montgomery County announced its sixth death on Monday: an 82-year-old woman from Springfield Township.

With so many confirmed cases, county officials say data shows Montco will peak in about two weeks, though the height of the peak is unknown.

Chester County announced its first death on Monday: An 89-year-old Willistown Township man. He had been hospitalized and died on Sunday. 

Health department officials are offering their condolences to his loved ones. Cases in Chester County also rose to 146.

The death toll stands at five in Delaware County. It was hit with 45 new cases on Monday, bringing the county total to 300.

Authorities from both counties remind residents to stay at home except for essential reasons, like doctor visits or food shopping.

During the ongoing outbreak, the Chester County Health Department has been sharing its services with Delaware County, since it does not have its own health department.


KYW Newsradio's Pat Loeb, Eric Walter, Kristen Johanson and Pat Toddy contributed to this report.