Business Update – August 18 2021

COVID-19 relief programs have helped keep millions of Americans afloat during the pandemic but have also been a spectacular bonanza for an array of international scam artists, including Russian mobsters, Chinese hackers, and Nigerian scammers. An estimated $87 million to $400 billion in unemployment benefits may have been lost to fraud; at least half of that is thought to have been stolen by foreign criminals. Many took advantage of weak systems of unemployment verification in many states, which were further loosened to get financial support out quickly. Besides looting millions – or billions – of federal funds, identity thieves prevent innocent people from receiving the support they’re entitled to. While the vast majority of the stolen cash is gone for good, the FBI has so far recovered $100 million, while the Secret Service has clawed back $1.3 billion.

THE AMERICAN RECOVERY PLAN ACT (ARPA)

Shuttered Venue Operator Grant (SVOG)

Last week, the SBA announced that the SVOG program will be closing to new applications at 11:59 pm PT on Friday, August 20, 2021. This program provides grants for live venue operators, promoters, arts organizations, and other businesses that were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Grants equal to 45% of gross earned revenue, up to a maximum of $10 million are still available. So far, this program has awarded $8.4 billion in grants, and has received applications requesting a total of $12.3 billion, nearly $4 billion less than the total of $16.25 billion allocated by Congress. Later this month, the SBA will be opening for supplemental awards of 50% the original award amount. Certain applicants, who were initially rejected, are also being invited to apply for a reconsideration of their awards.

Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments

As a reminder, if you want to opt-out of future payments, you must use the IRS portal for the advance Child Tax Credit by the deadline for the next month’s payment. Check out the IRS FAQs where you’ll find everything you need to know about opting out in Section J.

At present, the portal only allows taxpayers to verify enrollment status, update banking information, and unenroll from payments. For more information, taxpayers should consult the IRS webpage for this credit.

If you are going to keep these payments, please reach out to us to make sure there are no unexpected taxes owed when we file your taces for 2021.

FRAUD

Being tech-savvy isn’t enough to protect against fraud: a recent study shows that the number of individuals under the age of 20 who report being victims of cyber fraud has risen by 156% over the last three years. In contrast, fraud among the less tech-savvy generation over 60 has risen by only 112% over the same time frame. In 2020, 23,200 reports from the under-21 age group were made to the FBI’s Internet Complaint Center were made, with losses of $71 million. Common scams include job scams, where applicants are told to purchase training, and online influencer scams, where contest winners are told to pay a fee or provide banking information to receive their prize. The best way to avoid any kind of scam is to thoroughly investigate the person or company before sending any financial information and to be wary of offers that seem too good to be true.

REOPENING THE OFFICE

Tech companies may be delaying a return to the office in the face of the Delta variant, but according to recent surveys of American employees, more than half of respondents are already back in the office. According to the most recent survey, only 8 percent of employers had adopted a permanent work from home policy, and 19 percent were still planning on bringing everyone back in September. However, policies vary by education level: as education level increases, fewer report working in person. But even among the most highly educated, most employees project returning to in-person work in August or September.

Workplaces that offer employees the option to work from home or in person may be setting themselves up for two tiers of workers: those who are remote and those who come to the office. Managing two different groups of workers on a go-forward basis is challenging, so those who come to the office and who are more visible may receive more attention, better opportunities, and more promotions. Awareness of this tendency may help to ensure all workers are treated in an equitable manner.

Developing a successful hybrid model will also require accommodating the differing needs of differing demographics. For example, because women tend to take on more of the childcare and household responsibilities, working from home may be more appealing to women. Younger workers may need more help setting up a home office and connecting with mentors.

Workplaces are being forced to be creative in the bonuses and perks they offer to entice new employees. More restaurants are offering 401(k)s to their workers than before the pandemic, while even big companies such as Walmart, Target, and Facebook are offering tuition reimbursement or child-care benefits. Wages and signing bonuses are also common, especially in food services and retail.

REOPENING OUR OFFICE

As mentioned previously, our office was affected by the fire that occurred in the Carpet Depot building on the morning of July 31st. Like other businesses at this location, it was a total loss for us.

Fortunately, we had a disaster recovery plan in place that helped us maintain business continuity. Despite losing an entire physical location overnight, by 9:00 am on Monday morning following the incident, it was mostly business as usual for us.

With the exception, of course, of finding another location for our Pinckney office. After looking around at our options for the shortest possible path for getting an office opened back up to serve the local community, we are pleased to announce that we will be moving to 9540 Chilson Commons Circle, in Pinckney. Our new office will be located in the Chilson Commons shopping center, directly behind the Kroger gas station.

Multiple projects are underway to help get the new office opened up as quickly as possible. The response and support from our community has been nothing short of impressive and heart-warming. It has been a great reminder of how lucky we are to live, work, and raise our family in this community. The quality of our lives is determined by the caliber of people we spend the most time with, and we are truly blessed and thankful to have so many amazing people in our lives.

We do not yet have a firm date for when we will be able to officially open the office. Though every effort is being made to get our doors opened up as soon as possible. We will update you just as soon as we know more.

Until then, our Ann Arbor location is fully functional, and our team is working away diligently. We remain fully capable of continuing to serve your needs and we are very grateful for your support and your business!

ECONOMY

Inflation appears to be moderating, as the consumer price index rose less in July than in June, but it does not appear that we will return to the low inflation of the pre-pandemic days. Used car prices, which were a big driver of inflation recently, are beginning to moderate, but prices of other services such as lodging are increasing as people begin traveling again.

Meanwhile, job openings in June shot to a record high of 10.1 million as hiring also increased to near-record levels. However, the level of people voluntarily leaving their jobs (the quits rate) also increased in June to 3.9 million people, well above pre-pandemic levels. The quits rate is seen as a barometer of job market confidence. However, worries remain that a resurgence in infections could discourage unemployed people from returning to work.

Only a fraction – $3 billion – of the total $46.6 billion allocated for rental assistance has been distributed by the end of June. Although the program is overseen by the Treasury, implementation has been the responsibility of an uneven patchwork of state, county, and municipal governments plus charitable organizations. Local organizations have had to build programs from scratch and have had to hire additional staff to process applications. Some regions have adopted recent guidance which makes it easier for tenants to demonstrate financial need, while others require voluminous documentation.

GENERAL RESOURCES

We sincerely hope that you and your family are well and remain well. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Be well,

Your Team at Lepper & Company, LLC

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