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Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has joined with five other state leaders in the region to begin working on plans to reopen the economy. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York convened the group, which includes Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Connecticut. 

The purpose is to share information and resources, and not inadvertently restart a pandemic as the public returns to their jobs.

“This virus doesn’t care about state borders and our response shouldn’t either,” Raimondo said. “I am fully in support of this effort to make sure we get to the business of getting folks back to work and we do it in the smartest safest way possible.”

Most non-essential businesses in Rhode Island have been closed for more than three weeks and are set to remain so until early May. As of this week more than 140,000 people in the state have filed for unemployment insurance.

“The economic impacts of the decisions that I have had to make weigh very heavily on me,” Raimondo said Monday. 

State and federal agencies administering the emergency relief funding are getting bogged down, with some companies and individuals complaining they’ve been unable to access the benefits. 

The financial services firm Goldman Sachs will provide $10 million dollars for a small business loan fund to be administered by the state. Starting this week, small businesses and nonprofits will be able to access loans of up to $250-thousand dollars through the program. The money can be used for expenses like rent or payroll. The loans may be forgivable if the organizations retain their staff. 

“I hope this helps,” Raimondo said. “It isn’t perfect, it's not enough money, I’m going to continue to work to get more to help you. But just know this is something to help us all get through this.” 

Raimondo said the program is aimed specifically at companies that have not been able to get money through a similar loan program run through the federal Small Business Association. 

As unemployment numbers in the state skyrocket, Raimondo also took time Monday, to walk the public through the programs available to those in need of money. 

The state unemployment benefit is for people who have been let go from their jobs. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is for those who have lost work, but have not been laid off, such as those who are self-employed or freelance workers. Workers who have not been laid off but are in need of money because of illness or doctor’s recommendation can also apply for PUA. 

Low wage workers in essential businesses, including grocery stores, may be worried about going to work, but Raimondo encouraged them to stick it out. 

“Being afraid to go to work is not a reason to file for unemployment. I’m asking you to be courageous.”

Raimondo said she supports a wage subsidy for low-wage workers who are required to go into public spaces, but said that directive should come from the federal government, not the General Assembly. 

But she said the restrictions on the economy remain necessary to contain the spread of the deadly illness.  Ten more Rhode Islanders have died as a result of the coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to 73. Eight of the most recent deaths were associated with nursing homes. 

The coalition of regional governors begins meeting this week to coordinate a plan for re-opening local businesses, but Raimondo warned it will not be a quick process.

“It will not be an on-off switch, it will be a gradual switch,” said Raimondo.

To that end, Rhode Island is now focusing on building more nimble testing capacities, so that rapid-result testing will be readily available even after people start going back to work. 

State officials are also looking for spaces, including hotels, where people will be able to self-quarantine should they get sick after businesses and schools have reopened.