Dear Chamber Members,
This week’s COVID-19 business information compiled by your Greater Sumter Chamber Team includes: Hundreds of South Carolina Businesses Call on Federal Delegation to Pass Liability Protections, Federal Stimulus Bill Negotiations Ongoing, Broadband, Liability, and UI Trust Fund Lead SC Legislative Discussions This Week
In a letter organized by Chambers of Commerce in SC sent Tuesday to the members of the South Carolina Federal Legislative Delegation, nearly 250 businesses, healthcare providers, and educational institutions called for members to support S. 4317, the SAFE TO WORK Act. This legislation provides a temporary and targeted safe harbor from lawsuits for businesses who acted in good faith to keep their employees and customers safe. These employers are encouraging congressional leaders to include the provisions of the SAFE TO WORK Act as part of the Phase IV COVID-19 relief package.
The letter was sent to all nine members of the South Carolina Federal Legislative Delegation which includes: Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Tim Scott, Congressman Joe Cunningham, Congressman Joe Wilson, Congressman Jeff Duncan, Congressman William Timmons, Congressman Ralph Norman, Congressman Jim Clyburn, and Congressman Tom Rice. Congress is in the midst of negotiations on the Phase IV bill, and details will likely be finalized over the next week or two.
We now need your help. It is increasingly looking like there is a possibility that liability is left out of the final stimulus bill. We need everyone to reach out to delegation members and utilize social media to tell them how important it is for them to provide targeted protections for the good actors that are serving us during the pandemic. Here are somesample messages you can use on social media either on your business or personal handle(s). You can also retweet items from the SC Chamber’s Twitter.
SC Chamber, NFIB, SC Retail Association & SCRLA Send Letter to Delegation Regarding Unemployment Benefits: Under the Coronavirus Aid, Response, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, individuals who became unemployed due to COVID-19 received $600 per week from the federal government in addition to whatever amount they may normally receive from the state unemployment system. That provision expired last week, and negotiations are ongoing about extending or modifying these benefits.
We’ve heard from businesses that the extra-large benefit has lessened the incentive for employees to return to work when a business reopens because the amount exceeds many individuals’ prior weekly earnings. Further illustrating that point, in a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance last month, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that if the temporary increase of $600 per week in unemployment benefits is extended another six months, five out of six (83%) individuals will make more on unemployment than they do in their job.
Accordingly, on Monday this week, the SC Chamber, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) SC, the SC Retail Association, and the SC Restaurant and Lodging Association (SCRLA) sent a letter to the South Carolina Federal Legislative Delegation asking members to “support a measured approach in the next stimulus package that provides a safety net, but not more than a person made in their job.” You can find the full letter here.
Negotiations on Next Phase of COVID Stimulus: Last week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a new COVID-19 relief package called the “Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protections and Schools (HEALS)” Act. As a reminder, the House of Representatives passed their version of the COVID-19 relief package, the HEROS Act, roughly three months ago. An article breaking down the difference between the two packages can be found here.
As of today, no agreement has been reached between the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Executive branch. Both legislative bodies were expected to adjourn at the end of this week for the regularly scheduled August recess. It appears that, instead, the bodies will remain in session but not hold votes and many members will return to their home states without a deal. Key leaders of both bodies will remain in Washington to try to reach a compromise and will likely call members back to DC when an agreement is reached.
Joint Bond Review Committee (JBRC) – Broadband Oversight Subcommittee: This subcommittee met Tuesday to get an update from the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) on implementation of Act 142, enacted on June 25th, allocating $50 million of CARES Act funding for broadband needs in the state. Act 142 directed ORS to procure mobile hotspots and pay for monthly service to students in the poorest school districts in the state, and for mapping and infrastructure projects.
- So far, $8 million has been spent to provide hotspots to 57,000 students.
- ORS also launched the South Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Program for internet service providers to apply for funding to expand infrastructure where needed in the state. So far, ORS has identified 550 areas as having substantial need for broadband improvement.
House COVID-19 Employment, Workforce, and Business Recovery Committee: This committee met this afternoon and staff presented draft findings and recommendations. The proposal includes recommendations that the state should:
- Create a grant program to support small, minority-owned businesses negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to cover business-related expenses (details TBD) – hope the House Ways and Means Committee will be able to develop a plan that can be approved through the budget process. The goal is for this to apply to businesses who may not be able to qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program.
- Support the work of the House COVID-19 Liability Protection Review Committee in seeking legislation that would protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits.
- Continue to add additional funds to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
- Recognizing COVID-19 as a compensable injury, allowing employees to be eligible for Workers Compensation.
- Increase broadband access and availability in underserved regions.
- Expand efforts to make childcare providers aware of options to continue operating and potentially expand capacity and/or set up temporary operations. Create a study committee to review statutes that may make this more difficult.
- Support public-private partnerships for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) availability.
- Examine the process for additional retailers to accept EBT funds online.
- Review options to set aside additional funds for technical schools to retrain employees in culinary programs.
- Support retailers and restaurants/breweries by allowing curbside pickup and delivery service of alcohol.
- Create a central repository for local ordinances so that businesses have a known location to track them as they are passed.
- Provide assistance and technical support to small business owners attempting to navigate the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan process.
The next step is for staff to poll the language with the committee members based on today’s feedback in hopes of reaching a consensus on the final wording in the next week or two. The group is unlikely to have another meeting.
We are appreciative of this committee for all of its hard work and for including several priorities in its final recommendations!