On June 1, 2020, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia issued the following statement to our entire regional congressional delegation urging an additional legislative relief package to further address the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia (the Chamber) and its CEO Council for Growth (CEO Council) commend our regional congressional delegation for their efforts to date to provide federal assistance that helps return the nation to good health and economic stability. While the demonstrated federal response to COVID-19 has been significant, we believe an additional legislative package is necessary to further address the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Congress considers building upon these past legislative efforts, the Chamber and CEO Council urge our regional congressional leaders to include both business liability protections together with aid to state and local governments in the next economic assistance and relief package.
Regional businesses, health care providers, education institutions, and nonprofits remain narrowly focused on the health and safety of our community, beginning with their employees, customers, patients, and students. As these employers work tirelessly to keep their organizations viable and workplaces safe, they should be protected from unwarranted legal actions alleging transmission and contraction of COVID-19 that is virtually impossible to prove. If businesses adhere in good faith to health and safety guidelines provided by federal, state and local authorities, a broad safe harbor should protect them from frivolous COVID-19-related lawsuits. Those acting in gross negligence, on the other hand, should be held accountable.
Together with business liability protections, flexible direct assistance is urgently needed for state and local governments to address the rising costs associated with the response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the lost revenues due to the economic slowdown. States, counties, and municipalities face drastic spending cuts to programs that are critical to public health and safety, economic security, education, and social services. Congress should provide flexible funding to a stabilization fund available to states, counties, and cities where a portion of the fund is dedicated to public K-12 and higher education spending, including:
- $175 billion in Educational Stabilization funds distributed to the local level through Title 1 formula
- $13 billion for the Individual with Disabilities Education Act
- $12 billion in additional Title 1 program funding
- $5.25 billion for E-Rates
While remaining funds should provide flexibility to state and local authorities to allocate towards spending priorities, the dollars should be restricted from addressing pension liabilities. In addition, Congress should consider retroactive amendments to the $150 billion CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund that:
- Continue to exclude deficits incurred before the coronavirus public health emergency, but increase the flexibility of funding to include revenue shortfalls stemming from COVID-19; and
- Change the current definition such that “incurred” is defined as “when the responsible unit of government formally commits to accept the obligations via contract, purchase order, etc.”
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:
- Defining eligible nonprofit organizations to accept all non-profits of any size, including 501(c)(6) groups;
- Extending forgiveness for expenses beyond the 8-week covered period out to 24 weeks;
- Eliminating restrictions limiting non-payroll expenses to 25% of loan proceeds; and
- Expanding affiliation rules to support venture-backed small companies and affiliated cultural institutions and non-profits.
To serve the needs of startups whose unique requirements are often overlooked during a downturn, Congress should:
- Provide $1 billion to Community Development Financial Institutions, Economic Development Corporations, and Non-Profit Lenders that can include capital as grants that could be used for increased staffing to address volume of demand, loan loss reserves, and capital to make new, but high-risk loans;
- Incentivize early stage private investments to support emerging startups and discourage the formation of gaps in innovation economies; and
- Provide funding for “virtual accelerators” to help entrepreneurs quickly connect to resources, talent, and information enabling them to move efficiently and successfully toward hiring, manufacturing, and sales.
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.
Congress should allocate at least $6 billion in direct economic relief for non-profit organizations, museums, aquariums, zoos, and performing arts centers. This funding should be used to provide grants for operational support, distance learning, and pandemic recovery planning and implementation.
Support community-based economic recovery by providing $10 billion in Economic Development Administration grants for Destination Marketing Organizations and small businesses to promote healthy travel practices and encourage visitation to businesses, attractions and communities where it’s safe to travel.
Institutions and students of higher education are facing urgent needs relative to COVID-19. The American Council on Education has estimated that higher education Institutions will require $58 billion. The $14 billion for students and higher education institutions in CARES Act, while significant, may not represent enough to prevent institutions from implementing layoffs or, worse, closures. As such, Congress should:
- Extend the relief provided by the CARES Act by continuing both zero-interest deferred repayments for borrowers and the suspension of collection activities for borrowers with defaulted loans until June 30, 2021. These provisions should be extended to all federal student loans;
- Invest at least $15.6 billion in the nation’s workforce development system, including programs authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that are designed to serve adults, dislocated workers and opportunity youth, as well as Wagner-Peyser and Adult Education and Family Literacy; and the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act; and
- Extend the CARES Act exclusion from income provision for employer-paid student loan repayment assistance to apply to payments made beyond this calendar year on certain qualified education loans.
- Continue to provide direct assistance to hospitals and health care providers on the frontlines of the pandemic. Funding should not be exclusively tied to direct treatment related to COVID-19, it should also provide relief for prevention and preparation costs;
- Enact MACPAC’s language on DSH third party payment;
- Make permanent the new telehealth flexibilities allowed during the pandemic, particularly those that would allow providers, including Medicaid providers, to care for patients across state lines;
- Protect states from the effects of the Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation (MFAR); and
- Waive the Medicaid Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion for Medicaid for the duration of the national emergency and subsequent six months.
Transportation & Infrastructure
Although congressional leaders are not currently focused on infrastructure spending as part of an economic recovery bill, the Chamber and CEO Council continue to support such investments in projects of regional and national significance that will stimulate our economic recovery and provide long-term economic benefits. For a more comprehensive overview of our transportation and infrastructure priorities, please see our previously issued statement to our congressional delegation.
Of core importance in these efforts are funding for the Philadelphia International Airport and our regional transit systems.
- $13 Billion in Supplemental Assistance to Airports. With passenger traffic through U.S. airports down over 95 percent from this time last year, airports need additional federal funds to assist them in this pandemic.
- $1.475 billion in Supplemental Assistance to Amtrak. Additional federal relief is needed for Amtrak maintain minimum service levels and significant revenue losses due to the pandemic. Many of Amtrak’s routes are experiencing ten percent of the ridership levels from a few months ago.
- $23.8 billion in Supplemental Assistance to Transit to help the nation’s public transit agencies further address immediate and long-term financial impacts. SEPTA, for example, faces a wide range of financial challenges including staggering farebox revenue and ridership losses and prolonged impact on sources of state and local operating and capital subsidies, as well as costs related to ongoing and future social distancing, vehicle and station sanitizing, and employee screening and virus testing protocols.
- Clean water and wastewater infrastructure investment 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. All utilities receiving funding should be required to demonstrate how funds will be used to improve infrastructure; those that cannot do so should be given incentives to consolidate to pool resources for investment.
As Congress begins the process of markups for FY21, please see the Chamber and CEO Council’s FY21 appropriations requests outlined here in our March 2020 letter to our regional congressional delegation.