WE’RE HERE FOR YOU, YOUR TEAM, AND YOUR BUSINESS

The constantly changing nature of this public health crisis requires continued engagement with public policy developments. We invite you to reach out to our advocacy team directly with your questions: 

We will be holding regular legislative update calls for Chamber members over the coming weeks, if you’re a Chamber member who would like to participate please email advocacy@chamberphl.com.

As the situation continues to evolve we are:

  • Federal – Actively engaging members of our regional congressional delegation to ensure stimulus measures in coming legislation reflects the needs of our regional economy.
  • State – Partnering with local chambers of commerce around the Commonwealth, including the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce to advocate for legislation to ease business regulations, provide small business loans and grants, assist our health care providers to get the products they need, and help get companies back on their feet.
  • Local – In regular contact with the Mayor’s Office, Managing Director’s Office, Commerce Department, PIDC, the City Solicitor, and City Council regarding updates and announcements surrounding COVID-19. We will continue to provide Chamber Members with insight and clarification on policy, regulation, legislative, and operational matters from our local government.

As the COVID-19 public health crisis evolves, your Chamber advocacy team is working to share legislative updates and continue to advocate for your business in Washington, D.C., Harrisburg, and Philadelphia. We’ve created a round-up of recent activity including Key Takeaways for Your Business and a Detailed Legislative Update. This represents our best knowledge of the situation as of 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 19, 2020.

KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR YOUR BUSINESS

Federal

  • The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act will fund $7 billion in low-interest disaster loans to small businesses.
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was approved in Congress which includes the creation of two emergency paid leave programs and a refundable payroll tax credit to offset the employer cost of these programs.
  • A proposal from the U.S. Treasury Department is in the works to provide aid to distressed sectors of the economy and the creation of a small business interruption loan program.

State

  • The shutdown of non-essential businesses in Pennsylvania has been ordered until at least March 27.
  • Employees impacted by COVID-19 may be eligible for Unemployment and Workers’ Compensation benefits.
  • Members of the legislature are again exploring paid leave legislation. 
  • A measure to allow the state Health Secretary to declare a public health emergency is awaiting consideration.
  • There are plans to introduce legislation to provide zero-interest loans to small businesses affected by COVID-19 community mitigation measures.

Local

  • The Kenney Administration announced the closure of non-essential businesses and City government operations.
  • The City has expanded paid sick leave to include public health emergencies and relaxed the standards for the Fair Workweek Ordinance.
  • Philadelphia’s City Council will be running modified operations through at least March 27.
  • The District Attorney Krasner announced reforms aimed at reducing and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system.
  • The City and PIDC will launch a program consisting of new grants and zero-interest loans for Philadelphia businesses that make under $5 million in annual revenue.

DETAILED LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Federal: Updates from Washington D.C.

After passing supplemental appropriations to respond to the spread of COVID-19 earlier this month, Congress approved yesterday its second legislative response to protect workers and families. Congress is now looking ahead to a third package of policies to stimulate the economy.

On March 6, 2020, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act was signed into law by the President. This $8.3 billion package fully funds a response to coronavirus, by investing in vaccine development, supporting state and local governments, and assisting affected small businesses, including:

  • $7 billion in low-interest disaster loans to small businesses
  • $3.1 billion for research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics
  • $2.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including $950 million for state and local health agencies
  • $1 billion for medical supplies, health care preparedness, and medical surge capacity.

On Wednesday, the President signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a second piece of coronavirus response legislation that provides increased access to coronavirus testing, enhances Unemployment Insurance, expands food security initiatives, and increases federal Medicaid funding.  A key pillar of the proposal creates emergency paid leave programs:

  • Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act: The measure requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide employees two weeks of paid sick leave at their normal rate of pay up to $511 per day, if they are exposed to the virus, caring for a family member, or caring for a child whose school or care-provider has closed because the pandemic through Dec. 31, 2020.
  • Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act: Employers would also have to provide as many as 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to employees caring for a child whose school or care-provider has closed due to the pandemic. The first 14 days of leave could be unpaid, after which workers would receive at least two-thirds of their normal pay rate from their employers up to $200 a day.

To offset the costs of these two new mandates, the bill provides a refundable payroll tax credit to the employer equal to paid leave wages paid by an employer. The bill also allows a “hardship waiver” to businesses with fewer than 50 employees that may be jeopardized by these policies. Exemptions from the paid leave requirements are also in place for certain health care providers and emergency responders.  The provisions would go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire on December 31, 2020. The bill expressly provides that it does not preempt existing state or local paid sick leave entitlements.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also:

  • Covers costs of COVID-19 diagnostic testing for all uninsured.
  • Funds nutrition assistance programs for low-income pregnant women and mothers, seniors, and children.
  • Increases the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) that the federal government provides to state and territorial Medicaid programs.
  • Provides resources and flexibility to states for the processing and payment of unemployment benefits to laid off and furloughed workers.

The U.S. Treasury Department is putting forth a so-called “stage three” proposal, which would include $50 billion to aid the hard-hit airline industry, $150 billion for other distressed sectors of the economy, provide two rounds of direct payments of $250 billion each on April 6 and May 18, and $300 billion for the creation of a small business interruption loan program.

Democratic leaders are also eyeing the stage three package as their opportunity to expand family and medical leave eligibility requirements that were narrowed through the House technical corrections process. Although the extended paid leave program in “stage two” is available for the sole purpose of caring for children who are home due to school or daycare closures, earlier versions of the legislation would have also covered individuals that are exposed to the virus or caring for a family member.  Democrats would like to restore that language to a third sweeping aid package.

Question? Contact Anselm Sauter (asauter@chamberphl.com) for more information about federal legislative affairs.

State: Updates from Harrisburg

In Harrisburg, legislators convened earlier this week to discuss a range of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a measure to allow them to vote remotely during the ongoing crisis. 

Governor Tom Wolf ordered a shutdown of all non-essential businesses in Pennsylvania until March 27. The Governor issued a press release regarding the definition of non-essential businesses. Essential services include:

  • Food processing
  • Agriculture
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Feed mills
  • Construction
  • Trash collection
  • Grocery and household goods (including convenience stores)
  • Home repair/hardware
  • Auto repair
  • Pharmacy and other medical facilities
  • Biomedical and health care
  • Post offices and shipping outlets
  • Insurance
  • Banks
  • Gas stations
  • Laundromats
  • Veterinary clinics and pet stores
  • Warehousing
  • Storage
  • Distribution
  • Public transportation
  • Hotel and commercial lodging

Employees in Pennsylvania who are impacted by COVID-19 may be eligible for Unemployment and Workers’ Compensation benefits, Secretary of Labor & Industry (L&I) Jerry Oleksiak announced this week. Guidelines have been provided to determine if you or your employees are eligible for these benefits.

This week, the state Senate had intended to begin work on budget bills, all of which are now on hold. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is looking at the possible impacts of a substantial decline in revenue to the state, including the personal income tax and corporate receipts tax. The state sales tax is expected to see an initial bump up due to people stockpiling goods. Other revenues such as the gas tax are expected to decline. The state has a Rainy Day fund that is being considered as a way to make up some of the lost revenue

Some members are also calling for the legislature to take up paid leave legislation. Previously, legislation had been introduced in the House (HB 1739) by Rep. Thomas (R-Bucks) and the Senate (SB 580), sponsored by Senators Laughlin (R-Erie) and Collett (D-Montgomery) to establish the Pennsylvania Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program to create a statewide insurance fund, administered by the state Department of Labor and Industry. Working individuals would contribute a payroll deduction of half a penny per dollar earned. According to the bill’s cosponsors, the measure would generate an estimated $2.8 billion for the program each year and be available to all employees, regardless of pay grade. 

Other paid sick leave bills have previously been introduced, including Senate Bill 13 (D-Hughes) to mandate employers to provide workers who they employ for at least 30 days with one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. 

A measure (SB 633) to allow the state Health Secretary to declare a public health emergency is awaiting consideration. This allows the state to override certain regulations and allow for emergency purchases without following certain procurement rules. The Senate passed legislation in June to give the governor that authority. 

In addition, members of the Philadelphia Democratic Delegation are asking Governor Tom Wolf to place a moratorium on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission from further utility shutoffs for the foreseeable future for all Pennsylvanians in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By law, electric distribution utilities and natural gas distribution utilities are not allowed to shut off electric or gas to a consumer at or below 250% of the federal poverty level between November 30 and April 1. It does allow shutoff for consumers above 250% of the federal poverty level, as well as other specific clauses regarding bill payment in conjunction with the federal poverty level. Lawmakers are asking for all shutoffs, regardless of federal poverty level or bill payment status, to be halted.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Tom Killion (R-Chester and Delaware) announced plans to introduce legislation that would establish a program to provide zero-interest loans to small businesses affected by COVID-19 community mitigation measures. The anticipated legislation would direct all state revenue from casino table games in the commonwealth to a fund within the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) for the creation of a zero-interest small business economic injury loan program. If enacted, it is expected the legislation would generate $125 million in relief for Pennsylvania small businesses.

Question? Contact Liz Ferry (lferry@chamberphl.com) for more information about state legislative affairs.

Local: Updates from Philadelphia’s City Hall

On Monday, March 16, the Kenney Administration, in concert with other local officials, announced the closure of non-essential businesses and City government operations to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Philadelphia. The City of Philadelphia designated specific retail, infrastructure, industrial, health care, and social services businesses as essential in an Emergency Order from the Mayor.

Food establishments may only accommodate online and phone orders for delivery and pick-up, and cannot allow dine-in service.  Business owners or managers who have questions about the order and restrictions can email vbeoc@phila.gov

Beginning Wednesday, March 18, all non-essential City workers will not need to report to work and all City government buildings are closed to the public. Essential operations will continue and include public safety, health and human services, utilities, sanitation, and payroll. Licenses and Inspections (L&I) is continuing to provide core services. As of Monday, March 16, online permitting is available through the eCLIPSE technology platform. L&I has also launched an automated phone system customers can use to schedule permit inspections and check on the status of permit applications. 

Council President Darrell Clarke also announced modified operations for City Council to protect the public’s health as well as the health of City Council Members and staff, these include:

  • Beginning Tuesday, March 17, all City Council employees need not report to work at City Hall or district offices effective through Friday, March 27, when it will be revisited.
  • Council budget hearings are postponed for the Mayor’s proposed FY 2021 city budget.
  • Council meetings and hearings are cancelled through the week ending March 20.

The City has expanded paid sick leave and relaxed the standards for the Fair Workweek Ordinance. The City’s sick leave ordinance has been expanded so that covered workers can use their paid sick leave for public health emergencies such as COVID-19 related business closures and quarantine. Employees who work for companies with more than nine employees can accrue up to five days of paid sick leave, while employees who work for smaller companies can accrue up to five days of unpaid sick leave.  The Office of Benefits and Wage Compliance will not be enforcing predictability pay as of the April 1, 2020 effective date of the Fair Workweek law until further notice. However, employers are still expected to comply with other portions of the law. 

District Attorney Krasner announced reforms in response to the COVID-19 emergency, aimed at reducing and preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. This includes actions such as changes to the bail status of incoming defendants based on seriousness of their offense and a request for the Philadelphia Police Department to use their discretion and prioritize dangerous offenses for arrest, among other measures.

Finally, the City and PIDC will launch a program to support Philadelphia businesses, help maintain payroll obligations, and preserve jobs impacted by the spread of COVID-19. The program will consist of new grants and zero-interest loans for Philadelphia businesses that make under $5 million in annual revenue. To understand the business community’s most pressing needs, the City and PIDC are also asking business owners in Philadelphia to complete a brief survey to share how their businesses are being impacted by the spread of COVID-19.

The Commerce Department’s Office of Business Services is available to answer questions businesses may have. They can be reached through the business services hotline (215-683-2100) and email (business@phila.gov).

Question? Contact William Carter (wcarter@chamberphl.com) or Darrell Davis (ddavis@chamberphl.com) for more information about local legislative affairs.