An estimated 36 million Americans are out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of those people are employees at companies strained by the mandated closure of businesses deemed nonessential. To provide relief, Congress established a now-$669 billion loan program for small businesses, and the money is forgivable as long as it is used to make rent or pay employees. But the loans are also available to those whose payroll consists of only Me, Myself and I.
Unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act have been expanded to self-employed workers such as independent contractors, freelancers, sole proprietors and gig workers — common job titles for those living in the Pioneer Valley.
Greenfield resident Michael Nix, owner of the full-service music company NixWorks, said he successfully applied for gig-worker unemployment. He explained the benefits kick in with a generous payment if his income dips below a certain threshold.
Nix’s business provides musical performances and instruction, and is also a record label with its sixth CD set for release on June 1. He started in his line of work in 1976 and incorporated the business in 1990.
“Locally, I’m known for providing lessons in mandolin, guitar, banjo, as well as music theory,” he said. “Things have been a little different (since the pandemic started), but they’ve also been the same. My business model has always been predicated on diversified income revenue streams.”
Nix said this means whenever there’s a downturn in the economy he can pivot and focus on a different aspect of his business. He explained that while he has been giving music lessons via video conferencing platforms Skype and Zoom, he has also had to cancel concerts that would have generated thousands of dollars in revenue.
The 66-year-old said his company is in a good place because he runs it “in a very conservative fiscal manner.”
“I’m not one of those people that runs right at the edge of fiscal insolvency,” Nix said, adding that he has a healthy amount of emergency savings. “I’m big on taking care of oneself and family based on preparation.”
Rebecca Rideout of Greenfield started TOLD Video 5½ years ago, a business in which she produces, films and edits short-form marketing and fundraising videos for schools, businesses and nonprofits. She has applied for assistance through the CARES Act’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides up to 39 weeks of financial benefits for workers who have lost their job but aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits.
Rideout said her workload is down 50 percent since the pandemic started.
“I was fortunate enough to have some projects in the editing stage,” she said. “Half of my business is filming; the other half is editing.”
Rideout, 38, said she might be able to come up with some creative solutions needed to restart filming — for example, she said, one-on-one interviews could be conducted outdoors and the interviewees could attach to themselves a wireless microphone that Rideout would hand them in a sterilized bag.
“It’s interesting. As a self-employed person, I enjoy working with myself,” she said, “but I’m realizing how much I really miss working with the clients.”
Until life returns to some degree of normalcy, Rideout said she is happy to have more time with her family, including her 4-year-old son, Ollie.
River’s Edge Cycling
Sunderland’s Gary Briere, of River’s Edge Cycling, operates the business with his wife, Maureen, and has some part-time employees to assist with individual bicycle tours. When contacted by the Greenfield Recorder, the former Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation worker said he was sitting at his desk writing out refund checks for customers after the decision was made to cancel the last few rides scheduled for this year. This is thousands of dollars that won’t make it into his pocket.
Briere, 64, said he had already canceled a big Cape Cod event set for early June as well as the annual River Valley Ice Cream Ride, a wildly popular one that typically attracts 175 to 200 riders from across the region in late July. He said local ice cream stands, restaurants, farm stands and lodging facilities will also lose out on business.
“We pride ourselves on a very … warm cycling experience, with lots of support from our team,” Briere said, adding that riders are treated to homemade cookies at the tours’ rest stops and local foods at farm stands during the River Valley Ice Cream Ride. “It’s hard to project that warmth behind a mask or behind latex gloves, and so we really felt that it would be better to … put the kickstand down on 2020.”
Briere said he has considered applying for federal loans available through the CARES Act, but has so far opted not to.
“I know there’s a lot of people who need that (money) worse than my company does,” he said. “We’ll get by.”