On April 3, 2020, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia issued the following statement to our entire regional congressional delegation requesting the expansion or extension of the measures put in place by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Chamber supports Congress’s current efforts to develop a fourth legislative package to address the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic and stimulate our economic recovery. We ask regional business leaders to magnify this message by contacting both U.S. House and Senate members in our region.
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The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia (Chamber) and its CEO Council for Growth (CEO Council), representing roughly 600,000 employees from thousands of member companies and organizations across the eleven-county tri-state area, applaud our congressional delegation’s recent actions to deliver desperately needed assistance and relief to businesses, their employees, and health care organizations on the frontlines of this pandemic. While the demonstrated federal response to COVID-19 has been significant, we believe that more needs to be done to return the nation to good health and economic stability. We, therefore, support efforts to develop a fourth legislative package that will build on previous measures to address the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic and stimulate our economic recovery.
Congress should consider additional resources and policy provisions to expand or extend the measures put in place by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act like the Paycheck Protection Program and emergency funding for hospitals and institutions of higher education. We believe some programs fall short of their intended purpose, which will leave institutions, businesses and their employees still vulnerable.
In addition to business assistance and relief measures, federal infrastructure investment is the right approach to assist in our economic recovery in the near term with massive and lasting benefits. An infrastructure stimulus should not be limited to “shovel ready” projects that may only address short-term operational losses. Instead, a streamlined environmental clearance process should expedite projects of regional and national significance. The infrastructure stimulus package should advance capital programs and major projects at a 100 percent federal cost share, waiving the need for the standard state matching share of up to 20 percent of a project’s cost.
Legislative efforts should not only consider investments in system modernization, it should also consider the effect and change to our infrastructure due to the pandemic, including information systems, public health infrastructure, logistics and supply chain infrastructure. With the existing surface transportation authorization expiring this year, Congress must also act to develop and pass a long-term adequately-funded reauthorization that emphasizes solutions to shortages or disruptions that may come from future threats to global health.
The Chamber looks forward to working with our entire regional delegation to ensure policies and investment in the areas defined below.
Business Assistance and Relief
The next stimulus should continue to support hospitals and health care providers on the frontlines of the pandemic. Previous emergency funding, while significant, is not expected to sustain hospitals through this critical time for our nation. Funding should not be exclusively tied to direct treatment, it should also provide relief for prevention and preparation costs related to COVID-19.
The CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. It will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. Congress can improve the effect of this program by:
- Expanding borrowing eligibility to include 501(c)(6) organizations, specifically Chambers of Commerce that are significantly affected by COVID-19 and a crucial contributor to economic recovery;
- Extending and increasing assistance to the program to sustain small business operations. The program’s provision of loans up to 2.5 times the borrower’s average monthly payroll costs, while significant, may not be enough to assist small businesses through the economic recovery;
- Clarifying “affiliation” so that it doesn’t adversely impact startups for all Small Business Administration (SBA) programs – particularly both the PPP and 7a program; and
- Expanding lending eligibility to include Community Development Financial Institutions, Economic Development Corporations, and Non-Profit Lenders to deploy loan funds as a way to ensure that those small businesses and startups without robust bank relationships are not adversely impacted.
To serve the needs of startups whose unique requirements are often overlooked during a downturn, Congress should instruct the SBA to:
- Resuscitate the Intermediary Lending Program;
- Certify all state-designated venture development organizations as qualified partners for management of funds and programs targeted to startups; and
- Change the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program to fast track eligibility of state venture development organizations with an established investment track record.
Assistance to employers to help maintain health coverage so people are able to get the care they need is critical to keeping businesses open and returning stability to our public health. For consumers recently laid off, this could be done through subsidies via Cobra. Congress should also:
- Open a 30-day, one-time special enrollment period for the individual market open to all uninsured Americans. If done properly, this could be an effective step in expanding coverage to vulnerable residents in this time of crisis; and
- Establish a Risk Mitigation & Premium Stabilization Fund across all lines of coverage for protection against possible catastrophic costs due to the emergency and the additional risk being assumed by health plans as COVID-19 spreads and people seek coverage and care.
The CEO Council recently developed a clear and succinct investment portfolio, “Connecting the Region,” which applies accepted regional principles to a benefit analysis in order to identify nine key infrastructure investments within four project portfolio areas that are the most likely to transform the region. These nine projects share common themes such as global connectivity and regional significance, with a focus on investment in innovative hotbeds that represent the future of our region’s economy. One example, the advancement of the 30th Street District Plan and Schuylkill Yards developments, requires investments in infrastructure to accommodate the area’s growing medical, research, commercial, and residential activity. This suite of projects would have incredible economic benefit by untying the knot that constrains traffic flow in a key innovation node.
Infrastructure stimulus should invest in transit, which provides essential mobility and fuels our economy. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), for example, requires sustained and dedicated infrastructure investment to address a $4.6 billion state of good repair backlog and make long-term investments in projects of regional significance that will allow the system to meet the future needs of our growing region. With funding from the FAST Act and Pennsylvania Act 89, SEPTA has been able to stabilize and reduce its state of good repair backlog. Additionally, with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, SEPTA earned national recognition by awarding 54 major construction contracts within one year, and all projects were substantially complete in under four years of the bill passing. SEPTA has a pipeline of projects ready to advance.
The next congressional response package should support high-speed intercity passenger rail, especially along the Northeast Corridor. Investment in Amtrak stations, rail cars, and facilities would support the economic engine between Washington, D.C and Boston, MA. Our Chamber, for example, supports projects that improve connectivity between Amtrak and the Philadelphia International Airport. Rail investment would also help support the aging and inadequate infrastructure that would be replaced through the Gateway Project, thereby removing the looming threat to our national economy from a shutdown of the Northeast Corridor at New York City, NY.
Funds should keep our ports and channels competitive on a global scale. In our region, construction of a turning basin located near the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal and deepening the entire Marcus Hook anchorage are necessary projects for the completion of the Delaware River deepening project. Investments in freight rail will support the network that moves goods to and from our ports.
Congress should invest in clean water and wastewater infrastructure to address decreased revenue from household, industrial and business water usage for water and wastewater systems nationwide that will otherwise challenge continued investments in this critical infrastructure. Water infrastructure investment programs like the SRFs, WIFIA, USDA Rural Development, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Title XVI-WIIN Water Reclamation and Reuse Program, and other water infrastructure grant programs can help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, help fuel local economic activity, and strengthen our water infrastructure.
Investments should support broadband and telecommunications infrastructure nationwide. Enhanced broadband and telecommunications will support public health communications as well as business and employee productivity due to changes to the workplace from the pandemic. Support for public media is especially important during this time.
Funding should go to partnerships between and among universities, corporations and venture development organizations to accelerate commercialization of innovations that can remake our nation’s critical technology infrastructure.
Raising the caps and alternative minimum tax limits on private activity bonds for transportation, infrastructure, and construction will incentivize Public-Private Partnerships and other Economic Development programs to engage the private sector and also take advantage fully of the historically low interest rate environment. Reintroduction of a taxable direct-pay bond like the Build America bonds could be used to finance new capital investment for private activity bonds as well as traditional municipal bonds.
Infrastructure spending should support schools as economic drivers of our recovery. School buildings should be safe and modernized to set the physical classroom as a foundation for talent development. The Chamber is actively advocating for additional school district funding for school construction and environmental remediation projects statewide such as lead and asbestos abatement.
Institutions and students of higher education are facing urgent needs relative to COVID-19. The American Council on Education estimates Higher Education Institutions will require $58 billion. CARES Act funding for higher education did not go far enough to prevent institutions from implementing layoffs or, worse, closure.
Infrastructure should increase access for disadvantaged small businesses and expand opportunities to provide equitable employment to disadvantaged workforce.
Congress should promote investments in clean energy and enhanced reliability and resiliency technologies to support the transformation of a low-carbon energy economy.
Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective resource for achieving carbon emissions reductions. Investment should leverage direct grants to enable small businesses to make investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
Investments should advance the deployment of microgrids, which strengthen grid resilience and support the integration of distributed energy resources such as renewables while increasing resiliency for businesses and communities. Investments should include combined heat and power projects which help optimize on-site renewable generation as well as reduce carbon emissions.
Recent events have highlighted the need for establishing strategic locations on the grid that offer extremely high reliability and resiliency for first responders and essential services and businesses.
Congress must ensure a diverse, affordable, reliable, and low-carbon energy supply, which includes investments in renewables and other low-carbon and zero-carbon energy generation assets that provide grid resiliency and low-cost energy for families and businesses.
Investments in clean transportation should advance a full range of clean transportation solutions, which include electric, natural gas, propane, and hydrogen infrastructure.
Congress must also address the catastrophic drops in oil and gas pricing due to sudden interruptions in the transportation sector. The regions last few remaining refineries are struggling because of this. These refineries are vitally important to our region workforce, economy and national security. They too need investments in order to protect the high paying jobs that tens of thousands of families throughout our region depend on.