“What this capital will do will provide these companies the resources they need to keep employees on the payroll for the remaining few weeks or so until businesses can begin that process of opening back up,” Abbott said during a Monday press conference.
Abbott was joined via Zoom, the video-conferencing platform, by Janie Barrera, the president and CEO of LiftFund, a San Antonio-based nonprofit that holds the nation’s largest microlending portfolio; John Waldron, the president and chief operating officer of The Goldman Sachs Group Inc.; and small business owners from Dallas and San Antonio.
The $50 million “infusion of capital” is part of a $550 million national commitment from Goldman Sachs. LiftFund, along with other financial institutions that focus on serving underserved markets and populations, will work to administer the funds to qualifying businesses.
LiftFund supports small businesses across 13 states primarily in the Midwest and South, and is already offering disaster-relief loans up to $50,000 for small businesses facing financial hardships due to the pandemic, according to its website.
The loans will be primarily used for payroll to ensure employees are paid and retained, according to a news release. The loans will be partially or wholly forgiven if criteria are met, and will be made through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, Waldron said. Small businesses can learn more about the program by visiting LiftFund’s website.
Abbott’s announcement comes amid record job losses. According to figures released by the U.S. Department of Labor last week, more than 761,000 Texans have filed for unemployment in the past four weeks — more than the total number of claims filed in the state for all of 2019.
Last week, Abbott hinted at an executive order related to reopening businesses, and Monday said that more details would be coming this week.
“Later this week, I will outline both safe and healthy strategies where we can begin the process of going about reopening businesses in Texas and revitalizing our economy,” Abbott said Monday.
Abbott stressed that the state’s first priority is slowing the virus’ spread, and said he will announce a team that will evaluate which types of businesses may reopen based on medical advice and data.
Initially, “only businesses that will have minimal or zero impact on the spread of COVID-19 will be the first ones to be able to open up,” Abbott said, with others based on criteria that will be outlined in the executive order. A component will be “adequate testing,” Abbott said.
“This is not going to be a rush the gates, everybody is able to suddenly reopen all at once,” Abbott said. “We have to understand that we must reopen in a way in which we are able to stimulate the economy while at the very same time ensuring that we contain the spread of COVID-19.”
According to the Washington Post, President Donald Trump has sought to resume business activity by May 1. However health experts in the Trump administration have been more cautious in their assessment of when social distancing measures can scale back, and some governors have been wary of lifting stay-at-home orders too soon.
Abbott said he spoke with both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence over the weekend, and said the White House has “been communicating with governors for weeks now” to ensure a collaborative approach to slowly and safely reopening the economy.
“The states are so varied in the United States. What may work for Nebraska may be different than (what) works for New York, etc.,” Abbott said. “I think that there will be a level of flexibility for states and maybe even within a state about what type of strategy will work best, knowing that even within the state of Texas there are certain areas that are harder hit by the coronavirus still right now than there are others.”
Trump wrote on Twitter Monday morning that decisions “to open up the states” would be under the president’s authority.
“With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue,” Trump wrote. “A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!”
On a tele-town hall organized last week by the Republican Party of Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he wants Texas to be ready to revitalize the economy as soon as feasible, and pointed to the first week of May as a possible date, “barring any unforeseen big spikes.”
Abbott has previously stressed that while Texas hasn’t yet hit its peak number of cases, a slowdown in the the number of days it takes for confirmed coronavirus cases to double shows that social distancing mandates are working to slow the virus’ spread.
However, the number of cases across Texas is likely higher than reported as testing has been limited. Dallas-Fort Worth residents previously recounted being unable to get tested for COVID-19 even when showing symptoms, and local officials have pointed to the need for increased testing.
More than 133,200 Texans had been tested for COVID-19, with 13,906 confirmed cases as Monday afternoon, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Of those, 1,176 Texans are hospitalized with COVID-19, and there have been 287 deaths. It is estimated a little over 2,200 Texans have recovered — meaning they had gone at least two weeks of being COVID-19 free.
Abbott’s order requiring Texans to stay home unless participating in “essential” activities lasts through April. Abbott first declared a state of disaster in Texas due to the coronavirus on March 13, and he extended his declaration Sunday.