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, May 7, 2020.

Chamber members are invited to join weekly legislative update calls hosted by our Advocacy team to hear the latest on COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts at the federal, state, and local level as well as other legislative matters concerning our community.

We also have a COVID-19 Information Hub with up-to-date resources to support your business.

KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR YOUR BUSINESS

Federal

  • A Phase 4 relief package being developed by House Democrats could provide $1 trillion in financial aid to state and local governments and safety-net programs.
  • $175 billion of the $310 billion from the second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding has been distributed. Replenishment of this program could be included in Phase 4
  • The Department of the Treasury announced that the second quarter of 2020 will see a record-breaking $3 trillion in borrowing.
  • Republican leadership indicated that they will not support a Phase 4 package that does not include liability protections for employers during the pandemic. 

State

  • Governor Wolf issued guidance that details procedures businesses must follow to conduct in-person operations in counties allowed to move to the yellow phase of reopening on May 8.
  • PA’s tax revenues fell $2.2 billion in April, falling 50% below official estimates. The virus could cost PA a reported $4 billion in tax revenue.
  • More than $5 billion in unemployment compensation benefits have been distributed to more than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians since March 15.
  • PA is seeking a federal loan to bolster the Unemployment Compensation (UC) Trust Fund.
  • The PA House voted unanimously to require the Governor to present a statewide plan for COVID-19 testing and to give local health departments greater flexibility to implement testing.
  • The PA House also passed bills to exempt cash payments from the CARES Act from state and local taxation and to require state agencies to answer questions from the public and the media during emergency declarations.

Local

  • Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia exceed 16,000 with over 700 deaths and nearly 1,000 individuals being treated for the novel coronavirus in Philadelphia hospitals.
  • Mayor Jim Kenney delivered his revised budget address last week, with proposed changes to shore up a $649 million budget deficit.
  • Changes include increases in property tax, parking tax, and the wage tax for suburban commuters and the freezing of planned reductions in business taxes and the wage tax rate for city residents.
  • In addition, funding has been cut to the Commerce Department, the Quality Jobs grant and forgivable loan program has been repositioned as a small business relief and recovery program, and the Office of Workforce Development will cease to exist.
  • The Chamber responded, in collaboration with other local trade organizations, to the Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Rent Control ordinances introduced in City Council on May 1.
  • The Chamber is finalizing virtual gatherings with Councilmembers Brooks and Bass and City Controller Rhynhart in coming weeks.

DETAILED LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Federal: Updates from Washington D.C.

State and Local Government Aid and PPP Replenishment

House Democrats are currently developing their proposal for the next phase of economic relief and assistance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The package could deliver as much as $1 trillion in financial aid to state and local governments and safety-net programs by providing separate tranches of aid to municipalities, counties, and states.

The next relief measure is also expected to provide additional assistance for small businesses by expanding, extending, and providing additional funding to the popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  As of Friday, May 1, $175 billion of the $310 billion from the second round of PPP funding was distributed. The average PPP loan size during the second-round funding was $79,000, down from average $206,000 in the initial round of the small business rescue program. The program is expected to be depleted by high demand later this month. Information on PPP loan activity is available through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program Report, which details the second round of approvals from April 27 to May 1.

Federal Relief Results in Unprecedented Borrowing

Republicans, meanwhile, have begun to voice their concerns with any continued spending to combat the health and economic crisis. This week, the Department of the Treasury announced that the second quarter of 2020 will see a record-breaking $3 trillion in borrowing, representing an unprecedented level of deficit financing to respond to the economic threat caused by the virus. In a single quarter, the government will borrow more than twice as much as it did all of last year. As such, Senate Republicans are intent to pause and evaluate before considering proposals to provide additional federal relief.  The Senate returned to session this week to focus on federal nominations instead.

Nevertheless, Republicans are listing their priorities that must be included in the next relief package in exchange for additional state and local aid. Last week, Republican leadership indicated that they will not support a Phase 4 package that does not include liability protections for employers during the pandemic. For those essential businesses that have maintained operations and those that will begin to reopen when state restrictions are lifted, there are significant concerns that businesses will be susceptible to litigation if a customer or employee contracts COVID-19. In a recent survey released by the Institute for Legal Reform, more than 60% of registered voters support protections for businesses from lawsuits related to the coronavirus. Meanwhile, President Trump has suggested that he will not sign the next phase of relief into law without a payroll tax cut.

Democratic leadership opposes both business liability protection and payroll tax cut measures, illustrating the growing partisan divide that will need to be overcome to enact any relief package. Democrats are also highlighting aid for other provisions including an array of social services, hazard pay, direct payments to individuals, food assistance, the Postal Service, rural broadband, unemployment expansion, and rent and mortgage relief.

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

State: Updates from Harrisburg

Governor Issues Business Reopening Guidelines

On Monday, Governor Wolf issued guidance that details procedures businesses must follow to conduct in-person operations in counties allowed to move to the yellow phase of reopening on May 8. All businesses, including non-profits, permitted to conduct in-person operations are subject to this guidance. The guidance includes specific information on cleaning and disinfecting premises, limiting the number of employees in common areas and customers on premises, providing masks and sanitizing supplies for employees, installing shields or other barriers at registers and checkout areas, and creating a plan in case a business is exposed to probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

Pennsylvania Revenues Decline

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, Pennsylvania’s tax revenues fell $2.2 billion in April, falling 50% below official estimates.

The majority of the shortfall is due to the three-month extension of the deadline for filing personal income taxes. The roughly $2 billion that is usually collected in April will not show up until July. Some $400 million is directly related to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

Tax collections for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, are now 7.4% below estimate. The largest sources of tax revenue for Pennsylvania, the sales and income tax receipts, are much lower than expected. The state’s Independent Fiscal Office estimates that the virus could cost Pennsylvania almost $4 billion in tax revenue, assuming that businesses can reopen by May 25.

PA Seeking Federal Loan to Bolster Unemployment Compensation (UC) Trust Fund

The state Department of Labor and Industry has distributed more than $5 billion in unemployment compensation benefits to more than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians since March 15 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, PA Secretary of Labor and Industry Jerry Oleksiak said Pennsylvania is looking to secure a federal loan to strengthen the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.

States can obtain loans through the federal Unemployment Trust Fund to meet their obligations if their own reserves are insufficient to meet these obligations. Secretary Oleksiak recently testified at a hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on the UC system. The hearing discussed delays in processing claims and problems with the UC computer system.

State House of Representatives COVID-19 Legislative Activity

On Monday, the PA House of Representatives voted unanimously to require the Governor to present a statewide plan for testing to ensure the appropriate amount of funding is provided to address the pandemic. House Bill 2455 also gives local health departments greater flexibility to implement testing for the virus. The Senate will now take up the measure.

In addition, the state House unanimously passed House Bill 2408 to exempt cash payments from the CARES Act from state and local taxation.

PA House Approves Bill to Restore Right to Know Office

On Tuesday, the state House approved House Bill 2463 to require state agencies to answer questions from the public and the media during emergency declarations. The legislation now goes to the Senate for approval.

The Wolf Administration has been under fire for not answering Right to Know (RTK) requests during the pandemic, which is required by law.

Under the bill, if an agency has been forced to close its physical location, it must follow procedures established by the nonpartisan Office of Open Records (OOR). These procedures must take into consideration the difficulties faced by Commonwealth agencies due to COVID-19 and any potential future emergency declarations to establish fair policies for responding to an RTK request.

Upcoming State Virtual Event

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

Local: Updates from Philadelphia’s City Hall

COVID-19 Case Data

On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced 370 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Philadelphia to 16,410

The Department of Public Health again noted clusters of positive cases in congregate settings, including nursing homes, behavioral health facilities, and the Department of Prisons. No additional inmates have tested positive. The current total of positive cases at correctional facilities is 29.

The Department of Public Health confirmed 17 additional fatalities in Philadelphia. This brings the number of residents who have succumbed to the virus in Philadelphia to 743. Of the 743 total deaths in Philadelphia, 392 (53%) were long-term care facility residents. 

The Department of Public Health reports 961 patients with COVID-19 are currently being treated in Philadelphia hospitals, with a total of 1,809 people hospitalized in the region (including Philadelphia).

Revised FY21 Budget

Mayor Jim Kenney delivered his revised budget address via video last Friday. The full address can be viewed here: youtu.be/ezduBss5_Vg. Among the changes proposed to shore up a $649 million budget hole are:

  • A 3.95% increase to the property tax rate from 1.39% to 1.45%; increasing the parking tax from 22.5%-27%; increasing the wage tax for suburban commuters from 3.4481% to 3.5019% and freezing planned reductions in business taxes and the wage tax rate for city residents.
  • Additionally, the Mayor has cut funding to the Commerce Department. Due to this, there will be reduced support for some of the City’s partner organizations, reduced funds for international business attraction and storefront improvement, and planned office renovations and new staff will not occur.
  • The Quality Jobs grant and forgivable loan program has been repositioned as a small business relief and recovery program and commercial corridor cleaning efforts will continue as originally proposed. The Office of Workforce Development will cease to exist, with some resources and functions transferred to the Commerce Department as part of their new strategy for economic and workforce development.

Updates from City Council

City Council will not meet this Thursday, May 7

Legislation of considerable import to Chamber members was introduced during the May 1 session. Councilmember Kendra Brooks introduced Bill 200303 that would expand emergency paid sick leave for workers in Philadelphia. Additionally, a number of bills regulating the landlord-tenant relationship and mandating a year-long rent freeze were introduced by Councilmembers Gym, Brooks, and Gauthier pursuant to Bills 200301, 200302, 200304, and 200305.

View the full list of Bills and Resolutions introduced »

In response to the expanded paid sick leave and rent control ordinances the Chamber, along with the African American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ, and DE, the Pennsylvania Apartment Association, HAPCO, and BOMA, sent the following letters to all Councilmembers:

Council Connector Virtual Gatherings

The Chamber is finalizing virtual gatherings with the following elected officials in coming weeks.

    • Councilmember at At-Large Kendra Brooks
    • City Controller, Rebecca Rhynhart
    • 8th District Councilmember, Cindy Bass

Check the Chamber’s website for updated dates and times.

Questions? Contact William Carter (wcarter@chamberphl.com) for more information about local legislative affairs.

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: 

Chamber members are invited to join weekly legislative update calls hosted by our Advocacy team to hear the latest on COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts at the federal, state, and local level as well as other legislative matters concerning our community.

We also have a COVID-19 Information Hub with up-to-date resources to support your business.