As I write this column, Congress and the White House are still negotiating a much needed new stimulus/relief package, which everyone assumes, or should I say hopes, will happen before the traditional August Congressional recess. Most believe that such a package will, at a minimum, include money for schools, so that they can test and reopen on some basis; additional stimulus and enhanced unemployment payments, in some amounts; additional money for PPP loans; and money for coronavirus testing.
There are so many financial needs of both other sectors and individuals that could be addressed, and to many, if not most, they may be much more important, but, as the volunteer House Manager for six performing arts venues or groups, I am interested in the proposed Save Our Stages Act, that might be included in a relief package.
According to the Dallas Observer, on July 29, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced the Save Our Stages Act in an effort to aid independently operated cultural and music venues affected by COVID-19 shutdowns.
If passed, the act, which is endorsed by the National Independent Venue Association and the National Independent Talent Organization, would provide Small Business Administration grants to music venues, theaters and other venues that rely on crowds in order to operate.
Its purpose, per the Senate’s statement, is to “direct the SBA to make grants to eligible venues equal to the lesser of either 45 percent of operation costs from calendar year 2019 or $12 million,” and to "permit recipients to use grants for costs incurred during the COVID pandemic.”
According to a recent NPR report, as many as 90% of these independent venues could close permanently by the end of September if there is no government assistance. Like so many other business sectors, for the economy, it is not just about the ticket sales at these venues. It is about the dollars patrons spend at nearby bars and restaurants, retail shops, and even hotels.
Speaking of federal government relief and stimulus packages, we have recently learned that not only were stimulus checks in the amount of $1.4 billion sent to deceased individuals, recent NPR reports indicate that thousands of foreign workers who entered the U.S. on temporary work visas received the $1,200 checks in error during the first round of stimulus payments, and many of them are spending the money in their home nations. The total amount of these checks could exceed $40 million.
There are a number of reasons for this, but the reality is that the federal government, when it has to quickly do something new, is often not efficient. It’s like asking an aircraft carrier to do the work of a destroyer. So if, hopefully, there is another much needed stimulus payment, don’t be surprised to see this happen once again, but perhaps not to the same extent.
On a different subject, 2020 has seen many large well-known retailers file for bankruptcy. The virus shutdowns and the growth of online shopping are common causes.The list includes, J.C. Penney, J. Crew, Pier 1, GNC, Brooks Brothers, Lucky Brands, Neiman Marcus, Dress Barn, and now Lord & Taylor, which is sadly personal for my family. For several years my wife, Judith, has been the MC and Fashion Coordinator for a number of their fashion shows, and I have been a model. I have always thought that I was selected to provide the ultimate contrast with the other young, crazy good-looking, male models, to make them and their outfits look especially good. We will miss it.
On another subject, we have been talking a lot about interest rates during the pandemic. Last week the Federal Reserve said that it would keep interest rates near zero. Also, last week, mortgage interest rates fell back to historic lows after a short-term increase. Thirty-year rates were back under 3%, more than three quarters of a percent lower than last year at the same time. As a result, it continues to be a good time for home sales and mortgage refinancing for qualifying individuals. Also, with historically low rates, it can be a good time to borrow money at lower rates to pay off higher interest rate loans. In that regard, UBS Financial Services, among others, had very favorable rates last week for loans of $25,000 or more — 1 year, 1.25%; 3 year, 1.50%; and 5 year, 1.95%.
On another subject, I have seen and learned a lot on my daily bicycle rides in the neighborhood during the pandemic. Recently, I realized that, periodically, a red van was coming to one house and picking up their “Doodle” dog, (I don’t know what kind of doodle it is). The dog was very comfortable and even happy going with the driver, who didn’t appear to be family. One day I stopped one of the owners and asked, jokingly, if they knew that someone in a red van was picking up their dog and driving away. They said, yes! It’s Doggie Daycare.
Ok, you know how I talk about “pet parents” increasing their pet budgets, and that I have been seeing even more television commercials reinforcing the by-now proven to be successful marketing strategy, by specifically addressing pet parents, but I have not seen or heard a commercial for doggie daycare. Here is what my quick research yielded. Yelp.com even has a rating of the top ten Rochester area doggie daycares, many of which also offer grooming services. According to costhelper.com, the dogs usually get both supervised play and rest periods several times each day, along with one or more feedings. Play periods can include group interaction and running with other dogs as well as playing with a staff member, using dog playground equipment or swimming in a kiddie pool in hot weather. Half-day, full-day, weekly and monthly rates seem to vary pretty widely, but a full day seems to average about $25. Who knew?
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.