PARIS — The French government announced a new €20 billion aid plan Thursday for small businesses and sectors hit hard by the coronavirus crisis as the country is set to enter a second lockdown on Friday amid surging cases.
“This lockdown is a hard blow for all the companies that will be forced to close,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said during a press conference with Prime Minister Jean Castex and other Cabinet members.
“We will include an additional €20 billion in the end-of-year budget bill to enable us to see ahead and anticipate additional difficulties.”
Of this new funding, €6 billion will go to France’s solidarity fund, which allows 1.6 million SMEs and freelancers to ask for state aid of up to €10,000.
A partial-unemployment scheme — which allows companies to reduce employees’ salaries and hours, with the government making up part of the difference — will receive €7 billion. Another €1 billion will support lenders during the downturn, and there will also be €1 billion more in social contribution exemptions.
The rest of the funding package will be made up of state-guaranteed loans and direct loans.
Le Maire said the new measures would allow companies to borrow until June 2021 instead of January, and to spread out the repayment of loans by up to two years longer.
He also urged French people to order goods online from local businesses like restaurants and bookstores and pick them up nearby, rather than buying from bigger, international e-commerce sites. The government plans to support this effort through a dedicated digitalization plan.
“Only 32 percent of French SMEs have a website, which is not enough,” Le Maire said. “I urge all our compatriots to adopt patriotic economic behavior, favoring take-away sales in French shops.”