Dear Chamber Members,
This week’s business update compiled by your Greater Sumter Chamber Team includes: President Trump Issues Four New COVID-19 Executive Orders, All SC School Districts’ Reopening Plans Now Approved, Senate Re-Open Committee Discusses Testing, Broadband, and the State of Tourism.
Over the weekend, in the wake of Congress’ failure to reach a deal on a Phase IV COVID-19 relief bill, President Trump announced that he was issuing four new executive orders related to COVID-19. These orders have the effect of:
- Deferring payroll taxes beginning September 1 through the end of 2020 for employees who make under $4,000 every two weeks before taxes.
- Providing an increased unemployment benefit supplement of $400 per week (down from the CARES Act amount of $600 per week which expired at the end of July) – of this amount, states must submit 25% or $100 per week.
- The $44 billion in federal funds will come from the Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Relief Fund.
- The increase will last until December 6, 2020 or when the funding runs out.
- States have the option to choose to participate or not – South Carolina Governor McMaster’s spokesman stated, “Gov. McMaster supports what the president is trying to do since Congress has failed to act…there are many questions or concerns to be resolved… DEW estimates that it would cost upwards of $462 million for the state to provide a $100 match.”
- Governor McMaster, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Murrell Smith are set to meet this week to determine a path forward for South Carolina.
- Investigating options to help people stay in their homes. This order specifies:
- “The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of CDC shall consider whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions of any tenants for failure to pay rent are reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 from one State or possession into any other State or possession.”
- “The Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development shall identify any and all available Federal funds to provide temporary financial assistance to renters and homeowners who, as a result of the financial hardships caused by COVID-19, are struggling to meet their monthly rental or mortgage obligations.”
- Waiving student debt payments and all interest on student loans held by the U.S. Department of Education through the end of the year.
Ultimately, it is left to be determined whether the legality of these executive orders will be challenged in court in the coming days. Traditionally, changes to tax policy or spending are made by Congress.
The South Carolina State Department of Education (SDE) announced this week that all 81 school districts’ reopening plans have now been submitted and approved. At the outset, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman laid out four items each plan MUST include:
- A virtual option for all students.
- An in-person option for all students.
- A time-frame for when districts intend to review operational plans so that implementation of a full face-to-face instruction model can be worked towards as health and safety conditions improve.
- Establish how high quality instruction will be provided, regardless of instructional model, and demonstrate how a broad range of student services will be provided. This includes ensuring all federal and state law requirements are met.
Of the approved plans:
- 17 districts are offering a full-time, five-day, in-person option for students.
- 14 districts are starting out with online /virtual learning only for students – after the beginning of the school year, these districts will have to readdress their plans to figure out how they can get to the point where they can offer at least one day per week of in-person classes.
- 48 districts are starting with a hybrid model – most of these consist of an “A/B” schedule where all students are in-person in the classroom two days per week.
- The two charter school districts’ plans vary by school, but both districts met the criteria of offering in-person and virtual options for students.
- 17 districts begin school next week, on August 17th.
- 31 districts start after labor day, on September 8th.
- 33 districts start sometime between August 17th and September 8th.
Superintendent Spearman is requiring that all districts have students in the classroom in-person at least one day per week by September 14.
In a meeting yesterday, the full Senate Re-Open South Carolina Committee convened for the first time in several weeks. The packed agenda included subcommittee reports as well as speakers from the State Department of Education (SDE), the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) and the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (PRT). Highlights from the meeting include:
COVID-19 Testing: The Senate Re-Open South Carolina Testing and Tracing Subcommittee concluded its work yesterday and finalized a report with 19 recommendations. Most importantly, one of the recommendations sets a goal of testing 10% of the SC population every month. DHEC currently estimates we are testing about 4-5% of the population.
- Online Learning Program: ORS has received about 95,000 orders for hotspots or wired service via school districts and higher education institutions. They are working with 13 providers to fill those orders and expect to spend about $13.5 million of the $20 million set aside in CARES Act dollars for this purpose.
- Broadband Infrastructure Program: this was launched last week. Providers apply for matching funds to build infrastructure to serve underserved areas – the provider must put up 50% of the funds and the CARES Act dollars serve as the other 50%. All applications are due tomorrow, August 14th.
- Mapping: ORS worked with the SC Procurement Office to put out an RFP for more detailed, street-level broadband mapping of the state. A contract was awarded to a vendor this week and they are expected to begin their work right away.
Tourism: For the week ending August 1, South Carolina is at about 52% hotel occupancy – this is down from the 2019 rate of about 70%. Tourism spending numbers are even more dire. For the week ending August 1, South Carolina’s tourism revenue was down 37% over the 2019 amount. These numbers have led to extremely high unemployment numbers in the leisure and hospitality field: from February to June these jobs are down 26.8% and compared to June of 2019, are down 23.3%. These percentages are nearly four times higher than the other sectors that have been affected by the pandemic.
While our occupancy rate average was considered 3rd highest in the nation, we still have a long way to go to get back up to the tourism numbers South Carolina would consider average.