Dear Chamber Members,
Today’s COVID-19 business information compiled by your Greater Sumter Chamber Team includes: SC Chamber Sends Letter to Federal Delegation Urging Liability Protections, DSS Supporting Increased Childcare Services for Essential Workers, DEW Creates “Recall Taskforce.”
ICYMI: Media Reports of SC Chamber Release of Final Survey Results:
- SC Chamber of Commerce hopes to provide assistance, liability protection to businesses
- Businesses hoping demand returns sooner than later after SC Chamber releases survey
- Survey by SC Chamber of Commerce reveals struggles businesses are facing
- Chamber of Commerce survey shows the damage done to SC’s smallest businesses
- Two-thirds of SC Chamber survey respondents worry about safety liability
- SC businesses at “end of the rope” from COVID-19, new chamber survey shows
- accelerateSC’ meets to discuss ways to reopen South Carolina safely
1. Greater Sumter Chamber partners with SC Chamber to send Letter to Federal Delegation Urging Liability Protections
Yesterday, the SC Chamber and over 50 state and local partners including the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the members of the South Carolina Federal Delegation, urging their support for legislation that will protect businesses as the state begins to reopen.
Constantly evolving guidance at the federal and state level has confused issues like cleaning a worksite and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers and professionals doing their best to control the spread of this disease responsibly with the limited guidance available deserve legal protection.
The letter asks explicitly that our federal delegation members support legislation with these measures:
- Provide limited and rational safe harbors for good actors to help ensure that critical needs are met, and employers are not punished when following federal and state guidelines.
- Expand the scope of the PREP Act, designed to address product and volunteer liability issues, to provide protections for companies that may not typically produce PPE to do so to serve front line health care workers, and meet the demand for PPE to protect the public.
- Recognize the value of new safety regulation as a far better alternative to one-off lawsuits to give businesses more precise expectations on how to manage a safe workplace.
- Provide employers with a safe harbor for collecting and exchanging critical information related to employees’ health status and for implementing reasonable measures such as temperature checks to combat workplace transmission of COVID-19.
- Temporarily suspend suits that threaten to shut down industries—including health care providers, a sensible step to ensure every American has access to basic life essentials without creating new shortages and exacerbating the crisis.
US Senator for South Carolina Lindsey Graham is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and announced that the committee would hold a hearing on Tuesday to discuss legal liability issues related to COVID-19. We are appreciative of his prompt attention to this issue.
2. DSS Supporting Increased Childcare Services for Essential Workers
The SC Department of Social Services (DSS) is the state agency that regulates childcare providers in South Carolina. DSS is actively working to aid centers in reopening; sourcing items providers need to reopen like disinfecting and cleaning products, communicating with childcare providers to support their decision making about whether to continue operating and providing guidance on modifying practices to minimize the risk of exposure.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been no Executive Orders by Governor McMaster mandating the closure of childcare centers in the state. Even so, as of noon today,1,198 childcare centers have voluntarily chosen to close – this equates to 50% of all licensed childcare facilities in the state. This number is down from the highest closure number, which was 1,288 childcare centers that had voluntarily chosen to close, as of 4/13/2020.
As a reminder, a recent SC Chamber Survey showed that when asked about the biggest challenges for business, 16.8% of respondents stated lack of childcare for employee/associate dependents as part of their current problem. Another question asked about was what companies need to get up and running – 14.8% of respondents replied that they need more availability of childcare services.
As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, DSS is deploying three initial phases of assistance for first responders, essential personnel, and childcare centers:
- Phase 1: DSS is offering childcare for those engaged in providing essential services (health care workers, first responders, commercial transport, critical state government operations, childcare providers); individuals involved in making sure the public has access to essential services (food, water, gas, utilities, sanitation, medical, childcare); and critical infrastructure operations (communications, national guard mobilization, transportation).
- To qualify, you must be currently working at an essential business, you must need childcare so you may continue to work, and you must complete a childcare application.
- You do not have to meet any income guidelines for this limited program.
- They will provide this category of childcare from the point of approval through August 30, 2020.
- More information is available at: https://scchildcare.org/news-and-announcements/covid-19-
- DSS will continue taking applications through 5 pm tomorrow.
- Phase 2: A one-time cleaning and sanitation grant was made available to licensed or registered childcare providers.
- DSS is still accepting applications for these cleaning grants. The application information and form are on the scchildcare.org website, and childcare providers were sent via email on 4/21/20.
- Phase 3: DSS is also developing an application and delivery mechanism to deploy larger grants to childcare centers with funding provided through the CARES Act. DSS is finalizing implementation details now and anticipates a mid-May availability announcement.
Click here to read DSS’s update in full.
3. DEW Creates “Recall Taskforce”
Yesterday, the SC Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) announced that it had created a “Recall Taskforce” to help employers understand the different federal funding programs available to their workforce. This help includes the eligibility requirements of each program, as well as help navigating situations in which an employee refuses an offer of work.
The Recall Taskforce wants businesses who are reopening to know that their employees cannot refuse an offer for work without good cause and remain on unemployment insurance. If an individual refuses to return to work or refuses an offer of employment, businesses should contact DEW. After the appropriate level of due process, individuals receiving unemployment insurance (UI) benefits may lose their UI benefits if they refuse to return to work or accept an offer of new employment without good cause. Employers can:
- Notify DEW through the employer self-service portal OR
- Complete and submit the Offer of Work Form (UCB-261)
Employers who have ten or more employees refusing to return to work should contact DEW at Recall_Taskforce@dew.sc.gov. The agency will be able to provide an Offer of Work spreadsheet that allows you to submit the required information in a convenient, user-friendly format.
The agency also released updated unemployment numbers today:
- For the week ending May 2, 46,747 people filed an initial claim.
- This is a decrease of 18,412 initial claims from the week prior.
- This is the third decrease recorded since mid-March.
- In the last seven weeks, the total number of initial claims received is 453,636.
- The agency has paid more than $831 million in a combination of state unemployment insurance benefits and CARES Act programs.
These and other resources for businesses are available on our website here.
As always, we will keep you up-to-date on any further information as it becomes available. Please feel free to reach out to us here with questions.