WILTON \u2014 Local businesses should look first to the federal government for help with staying afloat, according to David Lehman, commissioner of the Department of Economic & Community Development. In a short online question-and-answer session with state Sen. Will Haskell, Lehman said the Paycheck Protection Program loan is the best chance for small businesses suffering the fallout of COVID-19 to find help. \u201cI realize it\u2019s not a silver bullet for everyone,\u201d he said, but the program lends money for business payroll, rent and utilities, offering potential loan forgiveness for money spent in those areas. \u201cObviously this is such a trying time for the state,\u201d Haskell said, noting that 3,819 of his constituents are unemployed. He credited Wilton Selectman Ross Tartell with the idea for the Q&A with Lehman that took place Monday afternoon. \u201cRoss has found that some businesses are more aware than others about what federal or state aid may be available\u2026 so he thought it might be a good idea to have a conversation about what is out there for businesses,\u201d he said. \u201cThere is still in excess of $100 billion out there,\u201d Lehman said, with an Aug. 8 deadline for federal applications. He said he saw the state\u2019s role as largely being a kind of \u201cconcierge\u201d to guide interested parties toward that federal money through its website. Haskell expressed some trepidation from business owners insofar as whether the offer of loan forgiveness was real, or just how conditional it might be. \u201cI don\u2019t think anyone is looking for a \u2018gotcha\u2019 moment,\u201d Lehman said. \u201cI think they want to avoid fraud.\u201d He encouraged business owners to keep good documentation, which could allow anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of those allocations forgiven from the original loan. \u201cThis is an unprecedented economic and health crisis \u2026 The reality is that it\u2019s necessary to keep our economy going,\u201d he said. Toward that end, Lehman said there would likely have to be compromises at the federal level in terms of negotiating the next relief bill, which is estimated to be one trillion dollars. At the same time, he said the best thing for the state\u2019s economy is to focus on keeping the virus levels low. \u201cIf you look at the state\u2019s data, it\u2019s been great,\u201d he said, but state officials are watching what\u2019s happening in other states and they\u2019ve presented red flags for opening too soon. \u201cIt\u2019s concerning,\u201d Lehman said, with plans for the third phase of reopening in Connecticut still being examined. \u201cIt\u2019s just a very uncertain world we\u2019re in right now,\u201d he said. Haskell pointed out his disappointment on a trip down to Compo Beach in Westport recently, where he saw many people congregating in close proximity without wearing masks. \u201cI\u2019m nervous but cautiously optimistic that everyone in our community will do the right thing,\u201d he said. In response to a question of rent relief for business owners, Lehman pointed out that commercial property owners are likewise faced with mortgage payments and tax bills. In both cases, he said, it\u2019s not part of the state\u2019s purview to get involved and that the federal loan program remains the best option. \u201cThe state doesn\u2019t need to get in the middle of that,\u201d he said. \u201cI realize that hasn\u2019t worked for everyone \u2026 I do think that\u2019s going to be the best form of rent relief that we\u2019re going to get,\u201d he said. As far as the businesses themselves were concerned, Lehman said ultimately success in reopening would rest with how comfortable people are going to be returning to various businesses. \u201cConsumer confidence is critical,\u201d he said, noting a \u201cculture of compliance\u201d to health mandates would go a long way. \u201cWearing a mask is the best thing we can do for our economy,\u201d he said.