MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- If you take a drive through downtown Merced, you'll see many signs of the times. Some businesses have adjusted their services, and others are closed completely.
That includes Donna Bernard's salon, Stilettos and Spurs. Her shop has been shut down with no money coming in for the past five weeks, and she's now down to the last of her savings.
Bernard says, "I'm very worried. If it lasts much longer I don't know if I'll have a salon to come back to because I won't be able to afford the payments."
Bernard is also concerned for the four stylists who normally rent spaces in the salon. She says they're all hoping to receive benefits through the state's new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. The state began accepting applications on Tuesday, April 28. Bernard and her colleagues worked together to submit their requests right away.
She explains, "We were up at like 6:00 this morning. We all chat on a group text so we were all helping each other get through it."
The new PUA program opens up unemployment insurance payments to people who don't typically qualify, including self-employed workers and independent contractors. According to the California Employment Development Department, the payments will be $167 for each week of unemployment due to the pandemic from February 2 through December 26.
There is an additional $600 a week from March 29 through July 25 from the federal CARES Act. The new unemployment payments are retroactive. State officials say they're aiming for quick processing and turnaround times so people should receive their payments in two to seven days.
"Things like the disaster emergency funding from the government and the CARES Act are going to help, but they're not going to save a small business," says Merced College business professor Annette Haugen.
She believes the real key to helping the local economy recover will be people spending their money at restaurants, stores, gas stations, and salons as much as possible in the months to come.
She says, "What we need to do is focus on stimulating these small businesses owners ourselves and giving our businesses locally when and if we can."
New Pandemic Unemployment Assistance available for self-employed workers and independent contractors