COVID-19: Nonessential businesses closed statewide to non-employees; curfews in four cities; federal legislation; tax and UC relief; SBA loans

Alabama is under a state of emergency (4th, 3rd and 2nd supplements) and the United States under national emergency status due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel human coronavirus. Click here for emergency rules and actions taken by state agencies.

This page is updated regularly with information related specifically to this global pandemic. See the Alabama Retail Associations’ Emergency Preparedness Page for broader emergency preparedness information. During these uncertain times, consult your company lawyer, accountant, insurance company, banker/financial adviser about business and/or legal decisions.

Last updated at 8 p.m. March 29, 2020

CURRENT HEALTH ORDERS
Amended Statewide Health Order
(Read full order linked here for complete provisions): From 5 p.m. Saturday, March 28, through 5 p.m. Friday, April 17, a specific list of “nonessential” businesses, venues and activities statewide are to be closed to non-employees, based on a state health order issued March 27. This order requires the closure of the store building to customers but would not preclude delivery or curbside services if the store complies with the order’s other provisions, such as the social distancing rules. All non-work-related gatherings of 10 persons or more, or non-work-related gatherings of any size that cannot maintain a consistent six-foot distance between persons, are prohibited. Employers are to take all reasonable steps to meet these standards for employees and customers. Alabama Retail members received a direct email communication concerning this order. This order supersedes and preempts all orders previously issued by the state health officer and Jefferson and Mobile County health officers. The Jefferson and Mobile County health officers can upon approval of the state health officer implement more stringent measures as local circumstances require, according to the order.

On March 27, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall updated his earlier guidance for state law enforcement that “knowingly violating or failing or refusing to obey or comply with” a state health order is a misdemeanor that, upon conviction, carries a fine of between $25 and $500 for each day the violation continues.


CURFEWS/QUARANTINES
SELMA (Proclamation): Selma Mayor Darrio Melton by proclamation ordered a quarantine for the city of  Selma between the hours of  9 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily. This quarantine begins Sunday, March 29, with no end date specified.

MONTGOMERY (Link is to city statement that includes downloadable proclamation): Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed issued a proclamation ordering a nightly curfew in Montgomery from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily that began at 10 p.m. Friday, March 27. The curfew will remain in place indefinitely, he said. The Montgomery Police Department encourages citizens to observe this curfew and remain indoors during these hours unless you are going to and from work or have a valid reason to be outdoors. Failure to comply is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 180 days in the municipal jail.

TUSCALOOSA EXECUTIVE ORDER #2 (Link is to executive order): On March 26, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox issued an executive order extending the public safety curfew for Tuscaloosa residents to 24 hours a day. The order was to go into effect at 10 p.m. Sunday, March 29. Provisions within the March 27 state health order that take effect 5 p.m. Saturday, March 28, accelerate portions of the Tuscaloosa curfew. Tuscaloosa’s curfew continues until midnight Saturday, April 11.

BIRMINGHAM (Link is to City of Birmingham ordinance): The Birmingham City Council unanimously approved a shelter-in-place ordinance Tuesday, March 24. The ordinance puts in motion an immediate curfew that applies to everyone in the city of Birmingham, both in Jefferson and Shelby counties. A state health order negates and supersedes the March 22 Jefferson County Health Order, relating to the closing of nonessential businesses.

Alabama Attorney General’s Guidance for Municipalities on Shelter-In-Place Orders/Quarantines: “Whether or not a municipality is acting within its lawful authority to issue a shelter-in-place ordinance that is more restrictive than similar state orders requires a fact-specific analysis. Municipal governing bodies are urged, to the degree possible, to coordinate with their county boards of health, where applicable, and the state health officer to ensure that the municipal action in question will be supported by, and is not inconsistent or in conflict with, current or impending state actions related to quarantine.”


ALABAMA SITUATION
The number of Alabama deaths and confirmed cases of coronavirus as reported in real time by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is the state’s official source. Local reports often are made before those deaths and cases appear on the state website.

ADPH also has a statewide informational hotline and a general information e-mail address to field health-related questions from the public about the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

The toll-free hotline and e-mail address are:

  • COVID-19 General Information – 800-270-7268
    Telephone calls are answered from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily.
  • The COVID-19 General Information Email address – covid19info@adph.state.al.us

In addition, a toll-free phone line provides information about available testing sites and hours of operation. This phone number is 888-264-2256. Callers will be asked for their zip code to help locate the site nearest them.

COVID-19 Related Emergency Actions of State Agencies: Emergency rules and other emergency actions taken by state agencies in Alabama’s response to COVID-19. For more information, please contact the agency directly.


FEDERAL LEGISLATION

FAMILIES FIRST CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE ACT (Link is to full text of legislation signed into law March 18, 2020) The Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes two employment-related components – the Emergency Family and Medical Expansion Leave Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. This federal legislation takes effect April 1, 2020.  It expires on Dec. 31, 2020.

CARES ACT (Link to the full law): The president has signed into law the 880-page Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2.2 trillion economic relief plan for individuals and businesses. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means website offers detailed looks at various aspects of the bill:

More information on this law will be added here as it becomes available.


FEDERAL GUIDANCE
President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America
: On Monday, March 16, President Donald Trump released guidelines that recommend working from home whenever possible and avoiding social gatherings of more than 10 people. On March 29, the president extended the guidelines until April 30.

Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Homeland Security, has issued an advisory list for local and state leaders to identify workers essential to critical infrastructure to ensure public health and safety, as well as economic and national security. The advisory list is not an exclusive list. Individual jurisdictions should add or subtract essential workforce categories based on their own requirements and discretion. It now identifies distribution center workers, truck drivers, electronic and hardware employees as critical infrastructure workers. The link is to a letter and a graphic updated March 28 that lists essential workers by industry categories.


TAX RELIEF
Alabama’s Income Tax Filing Due Date Moved to July 15 (Link is to governor’s news release): Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Revenue announced Monday, March 23, that the state income tax filing due date is extended from April 15 to July 15. Taxpayers can also defer state income tax payments due on April 15 to July 15 without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed. The deferment applies to all taxpayers, including individuals, trusts and estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers. Other taxes included in the deadline extension are corporate income tax, the Financial Institution Excise Tax (FIET) and the Business Privilege Tax (BPT). Taxpayers do not need to file any additional forms or call the Alabama Department of Revenue to qualify for this automatic state tax filing and payment relief.

>> Revenue Commissioner’s Executive Order pertaining to deadline extensions.
>> Revenue Commissioner’s Executive Order pertaining to composite returns.

Tax Day Moved to July 15 (IRS news release): Early Friday, March 20, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the IRS’ tax filing deadline has been extended three months to July 15.  Taxpayers can defer federal income tax payments due on April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020, without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed. Mnuchin encouraged taxpayers to file their taxes as scheduled to ensure they get their refund in a timely matter. Most tax refunds are still being issued within 21 days.

Immediate State Sales Tax Relief to All Restaurants: All businesses currently registered with the Alabama Revenue Department as a NAICS Sector 72 business (those preparing meals, snacks and beverages for immediate consumption) may file their monthly sales tax returns for the February, March and April 2020 reporting periods without paying the state sales tax reported as due. Late payment penalties will be waived for these taxpayers through June 1, 2020.  Businesses must collect and report the state’s 4% state sales taxes, but you will not be penalized for nonpayment until June 1. After the expiration of this temporary waiver, the Revenue Department will work with taxpayers who elected to utilize the waiver program to develop workable payment plans that will allow taxpayers to pay outstanding liabilities for February, March and April 2020, while navigating any other impacts of the coronavirus on their businesses.

State Extends Sales Tax Relief to Some Small Businesses: Small businesses whose monthly retail sales during the previous calendar year averaged $62,500 or less may file their monthly sales tax returns for the February, March, and April 2020 reporting periods without paying the state sales tax reported as due. Late payment penalties will be waived for these taxpayers through June 1, 2020. Similar sales tax relief may be available on a case-by-case basis to other businesses significantly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the preventative measures being taken to limit its spread in Alabama.

City of Auburn Extends Relief to Businesses Unable to Pay Taxes


ECONOMIC RELIEF FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Alabama Small Businesses Can Seek SBA COVID-19 Disaster Loans
(Governor’s news release): Small businesses across Alabama negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic are eligible for assistance under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. Go to the Alabama Small Business Development Center Network EIDL loan page to get some valuable guidance on how to apply for a loan and then listen to this Preparing to Apply for the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan webinar if you need help understanding the process better. After familiarizing yourself with the process, begin your application.

SBA Offers Disaster Assistance to Alabama Small Businesses Economically Impacted by the Coronavirus (SBA news release with additional information):  The deadline to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan is Dec. 21, 2020.

SBA Alabama Fact Sheet – Economic Injury Disaster Loans 

Birmingham Strong Emergency Load Fund: First round of applications closed March 27. A second round of applications will occur if there is money available after the first round of loans have been administered. This is an emergency loan fund to provide zero-interest, 180-day loans to small businesses (less than 50 employees) of no more than $25,000 (with an average loan size of $10,000) to (a) prevent staff reductions; (b) offset losses related to the Coronavirus; and (c) help companies sponsor sick pay for workers.

The City of Auburn Working Capital Loan Interest Subsidy Program: Provides an interest subsidy to applicants who have been approved for a loan with a participating lending institution. The main objective is to enable those businesses to remain viable in the current environment through the provision of financial assistance. This program gives the City the potential to provide subsidies supporting up to 160 businesses assuming a maximum amount of $25,000 per loan.


OTHER SMALL BUSINESS RESOURCES
SBA’s Resource Partners: Reach out to SBA’s resource partners located throughout Alabama if you need assistance with the Economic Injury Disaster Loan application process. Click on Alabama District Office Resource Guide. Resource partners (Small Business Development Centers, SCORE chapters and The Catalyst) are listed beginning on Page 11 and ending on Page 12.

Alabama Small Business Development Center Network has compiled a Guide to Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery and a Checklist for Managing in Times of Financial Difficulty.


UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
Alabama Announces UC Relief for Employers of Workers Impacted by COVID-19
: The Alabama Department of Labor announced relief for employers whose employees must file unemployment compensation claims for weeks filed due to COVID-19 related issues. All charges will be waived against those employers who file partial unemployment compensation claims on behalf of their employees. This waiver means that employers’ experience ratings will NOT be affected by COVID-19 related claims. Employers will need to answer YES when asked if the claim is COVID-19 related when they file partial unemployment claims beginning on Monday, March 23.

Alabama Announces Support for Workers Impacted by COVID-19: The Alabama Department of Labor has modified existing unemployment compensation rules to allow workers to file a claim for unemployment compensation benefits who are affected in any of the following ways:

  • Those who are quarantined by a medical professional or a government agency,
  • Those who are laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to COVID-19 concerns,
  • Those who are diagnosed with COVID-19,
  • Or, those who are caring for an immediate family member who is diagnosed with COVID-19.

Read more about the modifications here and at link above. Workers can file for benefits online at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382. Online filing is encouraged.


WORKPLACE BENEFITS
COVID-19 Scenarios and Available Benefits 

COVID-19 Workforce Recovery Webinar: Presented March 24, 2020, by AlabamaWorks State of Alabama Workforce Division, featuring officials with Alabama Workforce Council, Alabama Department of Commerce and Alabama Department of Labor.


PHARMACY


PRICE GOUGING
The statewide emergency proclamation prohibits price gouging and eases transportation restrictions for the movement of emergency supplies throughout the state.

When Alabama experiences a state of emergency, Alabama’s price gouging law is in effect.

ALABAMA’S PRICE GOUGING LAWMakes it unlawful for anyone to raise prices on commodities or lodging by more than 25 percent during the declared state of emergency. To avoid violating Alabama’s price gouging law, figure the price charged for each of the previous 30 days. Add the 30 daily prices, divide by 30, and multiply the price by .25, or 25 percent, to figure the maximum price increase allowed for any one day. The exception is if a wholesale price increases by more than 25 percent and merchants have no choice but to pass along the price increase.

The fine for violating Alabama’s price gouging law can be up to $1,000 per incident. Those who willfully and continually violate the law can be banned from doing business in Alabama.


TRANSPORTATION
The state declaration also allows truck drivers delivering supplies and goods to Alabama to exceed the hours of service or spend less time off duty than required by federal law. The waiver only applies to the time a driver is delivering the emergency supplies for up to 30 days after the emergency declaration, or until the declaration ends. Under federal law, a driver may drive only during a period of 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty. The proclamation loosens that regulation only as it relates to the timely delivery of disaster supplies for the 30 days or less of the emergency declaration.

The national emergency includes “hours of service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the nationwide coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak” for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. That declaration includes allowing transportation of “food for emergency restocking of stores” as one of the qualifiers for hours of service exemptions. It will remain in effect until the emergency declaration is lifted or April 12, 2020, whichever comes sooner.


DRIVER LICENSES
Driver License Offices Closed to Public/Online Services Active/STAR ID Deadline Extension
(Link is to ALEA news release): As of Thursday, March 26, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) driver license offices are closed to public access. Staff are on-site to answer phones and assist with online services, including license renewals. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security extended the REAL ID enforcement deadline to Oct. 1, 2021, in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Alabama’s version of the federal REAL ID program is STAR ID, which stands for Secure, Trusted and Reliable Identification. “This deadline extension should relieve some of the wait time at ALEA’s DL offices to obtain a STAR ID during the next several months,” said ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor. Once ALEA’s Driver License Division resumes normal operations, customers may schedule an appointment on the agency’s website to obtain a STAR ID and conduct other driver license business.


HOW TO PREVENT SPREAD OF DISEASE

Health officials ask Alabamians to follow precautions to prevent illness and the spread of disease. Preventative measures include frequent hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, not touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, staying home when sick and practicing social distancing.

Anyone with fever, cough and shortness of breath should:

  • Stay home except to get medical care.
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.
  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor.
  • With a medical emergency when calling 911, notify the dispatcher about your condition.

The CDC advises against people who are well wearing a face mask. To help prevent the spread of the infection to others, face masks are recommended for people who show symptoms of COVID-19, the disease which first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. The use of face masks are crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings.


STEPS FOR EMPLOYERS

  • Communicate and reinforce safe workplace practices (e.g., hand washing, disinfection)
    • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces.
    • Provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol, disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to clean their work surfaces.
    • Require regular hand washing or using of alcohol-based hand rubs.
    • Post hand-washing signs in restrooms. (Link to downloadable sign provided by Alabama Department of Public Health)
  • Encourage employees who experience symptoms to stay home and isolate sick employees until they can get to medical professionals and/or home,
  • Communicate how absences will be handled (under both absenteeism policies and for purposes of compensation). If you don’t already have one, consider having an emergency sick leave policy specifically for the coronavirus or communicable diseases and communicate that policy with employees.
  • Allow work from home where feasible and practice the social distance of six feet for those who remain on the job.

OFFICIAL COVID-19 WEBPAGES:


REPORTED CASES:

HAND-WASHING

CLEANING

OTHER CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES:

Originally posted at 3:54 p.m. March 9, 2020