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 28, 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

  • The House returns to Washington, D.C. this week under the proxy voting rules passed by resolution earlier this month and activated last week.

  • In the coming weeks, the House and Senate both plan to consider modifications to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to allow increased flexibility in the duration of the covered period and of the requirements for loan forgiveness.

  • Negotiations on the next large relief bill are not expected to begin in earnest until mid-June, once Senate Republican leaders have had the opportunity to evaluate the impact of the previous COVID-19 stimulus packages.

  • Republican leaders are calling for liability protections for employers in the next bill, while House Democrats passed the HEROES Act, which includes almost $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments, but no protections for businesses.

  • The Chamber is advocating for a spending package that includes both business liability protections together with aid to state and local governments. 

State

  • This week, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is sending a short-term, five-month budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year to Governor Wolf who is expected to sign the legislation.

  • The $25.1 billion budget in General Fund appropriations provides flat funding for five months and funding for education at last year’s levels through the entire 2020-2021 fiscal year. The budget includes no new tax increases.

  • The General Appropriations measure, HB 2387, passed by the House on Tuesday, is expected to be taken up by the Senate on Thursday, May 28.

  • In a report released by the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office (IFO), the revised revenue estimate for FY2019-2020 is $31.8 billion, or $3.7 billion below the IFO’s official estimate from June 2019.

  • This week the PA House considered HB 2452 to provide up to $15,000 grants to small businesses facing financial hardships due to the governor’s COVID-19 business closure order.

  • The Chamber is advocating for passage of HB 2369, the Small Business Emergency Assistance measure to provide grants and low or no-interest emergency loans to businesses hit hardest by the crisis.

  • The Chamber will be hosting Representatives Kerry Benninghoff (June 12) and Jordan Harris (June 17) for virtual gatherings.

Local

  • Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia approach 22,000 with over 1,200 deaths.

  • The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is expanding COVID-19 testing standards due to increasing availability of testing at public health and commercial laboratories.

  • Bill 200328, sponsored by Councilwoman Gym, was introduced in City Council seeking to provide workplace protections for employees in emergency health orders and regulations.

  • The Chamber, along with industry partners, sent a second letter to City Council highlighting the need for further analysis regarding the impacts of legislation seeking to regulate the landlord-tenant relationship and mandate a rent freeze. This legislation goes into committee on Friday, May 29.

  • The Chamber will host virtual gatherings with Councilmembers María Quiñones Sánchez (May 28), Katherine Gilmore Richardson (June 2), and Kendra Brooks (June 3).

DETAILED LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Federal: Updates from Washington D.C.

House and Senate Consider Increased PPP Flexibility

The House returns to Washington, D.C. this week under the proxy voting rules passed by resolution earlier this month and activated last week. The House plans to consider modifications to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the CARES Act to allow borrowers forgiveness for expenses beyond the 8-week covered period to 24 weeks or December 31, 2020 and also create more flexibility for loan forgiveness by eliminating restrictions limiting non-payroll expenses to 25% of loan proceeds.  Similar efforts were underway last week in the Senate with broad consensus to consider amendments that would provide increased flexibility to PPP. Instead, the Senate adjourned and is expected to return next week for consideration.

When the Senate returns next week, Republican leaders are expected to continue their pause on consideration of additional spending packages related to the pandemic until they can evaluate the impact of previous stimulus packages.  Negotiations on a large relief bill are not expected to begin in earnest until mid-June. Republican leaders have indicated that they will not support a relief and assistance package that does not include business liability protections for employers during the pandemic. Meanwhile, House Democrats have passed their proposal for the next phase of economic relief and assistance, called the HEROES Act, which includes almost $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments, but no protections for businesses.

Chamber Priorities for Federal Advocacy

The Chamber and its CEO Council believe that the next spending package must include both business liability protections together with aid to state and local governments. Regional businesses, health care providers, education institutions, and nonprofits remain narrowly focused on the health and safety of 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 are 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 businesses acting in gross negligence of these guidelines, on the other hand, should be held accountable.

Together with business liability protections, Congress must provide direct aid to 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 states, counties, and cities where a portion of the fund is dedicated to public K-12 and higher education spending.

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

State: Updates from Harrisburg

General Assembly to Send Five Month FY21 Budget to Governor

This week, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is sending a short-term budget for the 2020-2021 Fiscal Year to Governor Wolf who is expected to sign the legislation.

The $25.1 billion budget in General Fund appropriations provides flat funding for five months. Funding for early education through higher education will be funded for the entire year at last year’s levels. This includes the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), career and technical education programs, and Pennsylvania’s debt service payments. The budget includes no new tax increases.

The School District of Philadelphia should receive $1.69 billion from the state. The District’s FY21 budget assumed a reduction in state funding, so flat funding from the state means an additional $76.5 million in revenue for next fiscal year that was not previously included in its budget.

Legislative leaders said that the short-term budget will allow them to have a better understanding of how much revenue the state will have available for the remaining seven months of FY21.

The General Appropriations measure, House Bill 2387 passed the House 103-99 and it is expected to be taken up by the Senate on Thursday.

At press time, the House also sent to the Senate all of the non-preferred and preferred appropriations bills that are components of the overall state budget – House Bills 2441 through 2445 (the non-preferred, for Pennsylvania’s state-related universities), and House Bills 2467 through 2475 (the preferred appropriations, for various state offices, bureaus, and agencies).

State IFO Releases Revenue Estimate Report

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) released a report providing revenue estimates for fiscal year 2019-2020 and fiscal year 2020-2021.

The economic forecast assumes that:

  • Real GDP (real gross domestic product, excludes inflation) decreases by 6.2 percent (2020) and increases by 6.3 percent (2021).
  • Wages and Salaries paid to Pennsylvania residents decrease by 3.2 percent (2020) and increase by 5.5 percent (2021). Those amounts exclude compensation earned by self-employed and independent contractors.
  • Payroll Employment contracts by 495,300 (2020, annualized basis) and expands by 357,100 (2021) net jobs. These figures exclude self-employed and independent contractors.
  • The Philadelphia CPI-U (consumer price index) increases by 0.5 percent (2020) and by 1.5 percent (2021).

The revised estimate for FY2019-2020 is $31.8 billion, or $3.7 billion below the IFO’s official estimate from June 2019, which is solely attributable to business closures, mitigation and relief efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The IFO noted that roughly $2.1 billion of that shortfall will be recouped in FY 2020-21 due to the extended tax payment deadlines for both individuals and businesses. Despite that, there would still be a shortfall of $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion to be addressed.

Pennsylvania General Assembly Action

This week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives considered several measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers considered HB 2452 to provide up to $15,000 grants to small businesses facing financial hardships due to the governor’s COVID-19 business closure order.

In addition, the Chamber is advocating for passage of House Bill 2369, the Small Business Emergency Assistance measure sponsored by Reps. Valerie Gaydos (R-44) and Jared Solomon (D-202).

HB 2369 would direct the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to administer grants and low-to-no-interest emergency loans to businesses hit hardest by the crisis. The bill would also support Small Business Development Centers (SBCDs), Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs), and local and regional banks that administer these funds.

Upcoming State Virtual Events

Question? 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 237 additional confirmed cases of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Philadelphia since Tuesday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases to 21,975. The Department of Public Health confirmed 5 additional fatalities in Philadelphia. This brings the number of residents who have succumbed to the virus in Philadelphia to 1,248. Of the total deaths, 663 (53%) were long-term care facility residents.

Expanded Testing Standards

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is recommending COVID-19 testing for anyone, regardless of age, who meets this criteria:

  • Known or suspected exposure within the last seven days.
  • A new cough, new shortness of breath, or two of the following symptoms: fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache, new loss of taste or smell.
  • The expansion of testing recommendations comes as a result of the increasing availability of novel coronavirus testing at public health and commercial laboratories. Increased testing for the coronavirus is a key part of the City and Pennsylvania’s plans to re-open safely.

Financial Support for Businesses

City Council Stated Meetings

City Council’s Stated Meeting will take place Thursday, June 4, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. Thereafter, remaining Stated Meetings for this session are as follows:

  • Thursday, June 11, 2020
  • Thursday, June 18, 2020
  • Thursday, June 25, 2020

Information on how to give public comment at stated meetings of City Council can be found at phlcouncil.com/offering-public-comment-at-council-sessions-temp.

The schedule for City Council’s budget hearings can be viewed at phlcouncil.com/budget2021.

Introduced in Council

Bill 200328 sponsored by Councilmember Gym, was introduced during Council’s May 21 Stated Meeting. The Bill seeks to provide workplace protections in emergency health orders and regulations and provide protections for employees against retaliatory actions both for the disclosure of information related to employer non-compliance with such orders and for refusal to work under unsafe conditions caused by non-compliance with such orders.

City Council Committee Hearings

Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development, and the Homeless
SCHEDULED: Friday, May 29, 2020 at 9:30am
Testimony Bills 200301200302200304 and 200305200294 and 200295 – Seeking to regulate the landlord-tenant relationship and mandate, among other things, a year-long rent freeze.

The Chamber, along with industry partners, sent a second letter to all Members of Council highlighting the need for further analysis regarding the impacts of this legislation and requesting a postponement of this hearing.

View a full list of Council’s Committee Hearings »

View information on how to give testimony at public hearings of City Council committees »

All Stated Meetings and Public Hearings will be held remotely using Microsoft Teams and can be viewed on Xfinity Channel 64, Fios Channel 40, or online at: phlcouncil.com/watch-city-council

City Hall Connectors Virtual Gatherings

Upcoming City Hall Connector virtual gatherings include:

Question? 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.