As we enter the next phase of the COVID-19 public health crisis, 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 14, 2020.

Chamber members are invited to join weekly legislative update calls hosted by our Advocacy team to hear the latest on COVID-19 relief, reopening, 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

  • House Democrats released their $3 trillion HEROES Act spending package proposal to continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The proposal includes funding for state and local government, nationwide testing and contact tracing, hospitals and health care providers, transit systems, school districts, and higher education institutions.
  • The spending package would not replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) but would extend the period to receive loan forgiveness under the program.
  • Senate Republicans are calling for a pause to spending packages related to the pandemic until they can evaluate the impact of previous stimulus packages. The House bill stands no chance of adoption in the Republican-controlled Senate.
  • Republican leaders have indicated that they will not support a Phase 4 package unless it includes liability protections for employers during the pandemic.

State

  • Several PA counties have challenged Governor Wolf’s color-coded reopening plan.
  • Governor Wolf detailed the consequences of a county’s failure to abide by his executive order including ineligibility for state administered federal stimulus discretionary funds.
  • The PA Senate approved legislation to spend $538 million of the federal CARES Act funding to bolster long-term care institutions and emergency responders.
  • The state Health Department also announced its plan to conduct COVID-19 testing of residents and employees at all long-term care facilities.
  • The PA Transportation Department is currently looking at estimated revenue losses of $950 million and the Turnpike Commission projects total revenue losses will be between $400-500 million.
  • Legislation extending the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) application deadlines by three months is expected to be introduced by Rep. Barrar.
  • The Chamber will be hosting PA Senator Brown and Representatives Bradford and Benninghoff for virtual gatherings in the coming weeks.

Local

  • Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia exceed 18,500 with over 900 deaths.
  • The annual July 4th Wawa Welcome America festival will be hosted virtually in 2020.
  • City Council released the FY21 Hearings Schedule and will be accepting public testimony on the budget on May 20 and 27.
  • The Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Rent Control Bills have been referred to committee; hearings on these bills have yet to be scheduled.
  • The Chamber will host a virtual gathering with Controller Rhynhart on May 19.

DETAILED LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Federal: Updates from Washington D.C.

HEROES Act Proposed by House Democrats

This week, House Democrats released their proposal for the next round of economic assistance and relief legislation, the COVID–19 Housing, Economic Relief, and Oversight Act 2020 (HEROES Act).  The $3 trillion spending package would continue funding efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, directly support individuals and households, and provide assistance to distressed sectors of the economy. The bill does not represent a serious attempt to start a bipartisan, bicameral negotiation for a “Phase 4” package, but rather it serves as a demonstration of the House Democrats’ legislative priorities that they hope will resonate with Americans that have been impacted by the economic crisis and health pandemic. The bill stands no chance of adoption in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The House is expected to vote on the proposal on Friday, which devotes nearly $1 trillion to state and local government, creates a $200 billion “Heroes Fund” to extend hazard pay to essential workers, sends a second round of direct payments to individuals, extends unemployment insurance expansion through January 2021, and enhances the employee retention credit. The bill would also provide emergency paid leave coverage under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Phase 2) to employees of businesses with more than 500 employees, expand paid leave protections to a broader range of purposes, and extend emergency paid leave provisions through 2021. In addition to a vote on the HEROES Act, the House is also expected to vote on rules changes that would allow for proxy voting and remote committee work.

The spending package does not provide additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is expected to run dry for a second time as soon as this week. However, it would extend the period to receive loan forgiveness under the program and expands borrowing eligibility to local tourism bureaus, business associations, and chambers of commerce.

House Democrats released a  title-by-title summary of the relief package. Some additional highlights from the proposal include:

  • $500 billion of direct relief for state governments and $375 billion of relief for local governments
  • $75 billion for a nationwide testing and contract tracing initiative to control the spread of COVID-19
  • $100 billion in grants for hospital and health care providers to be reimbursed for health care related expenses or lost revenue directly attributable to the pandemic
  • $100 billion for school districts and higher education institutions, including $90 billion to a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund that would distribute grants to states to support K-12 schools and public postsecondary education institutions
  • $15.75 billion for operating assistance grants to support the transit agencies that require significant additional assistance to maintain basic transit services.

Senate Republicans Call for Spending Pause and Liability Protections

The House Democrats’ $3 trillion spending proposal represents significantly more spending than previous relief legislation that had already begun to make fiscal conservatives uncomfortable with the prospect of continued spending. Senate Republicans are calling for a pause to spending packages related to the pandemic until they can evaluate the impact of previous stimulus packages. Any counter-proposal from the Senate to the HEROES Act is therefore likely not too come until after Memorial Day recess. Nevertheless, Senate Republicans are laying the foundation for their proposal by stating that they are preparing a major package of COVID-related liability reforms while extending significant new protections to those on the front lines of the response as well as the front lines of the reopening. Republican leaders have indicated that they will not support a Phase 4 package that does not include liability protections for employers during the pandemic, noting that liability protection could be “narrowly crafted” so it would not protect gross negligence.

The Chamber has issued two statements to members of our regional congressional delegation on March 23 and April 3 based on input received from our membership. Parts of those previous statements in addition to new priorities identified by our members will serve as our communications and calls to action to our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. throughout the development of Phase 4 legislation. We continue working to provide more virtual engagements for direct advocacy by our membership with federal lawmakers.

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

State: Updates from Harrisburg

PA Counties Challenge Governor’s Reopening Plan

This week, several counties in Pennsylvania challenged Governor Wolf’s color-coded reopening plan and said they were moving to the yellow phase despite being told by the Administration that they were not allowed to do so.

Governor Wolf held a press conference to denounce the counties and threatened them with the following consequences if they refuse to abide by his executive order:

  • Counties will not be eligible for federal stimulus discretionary funds the state receives and intends to provide to counties with populations of fewer than 500,000
  • Businesses in counties that do not abide by the law will no longer be eligible for business liability insurance
  • Restaurants that reopen for dine-in service in counties that have not been authorized to reopen will be at risk of losing their liquor license and business license
  • County residents receiving unemployment compensation will be able to continue to receive benefits even if their employer reopens

County commissioners in Beaver, Berks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lebanon, and Schuylkill counties have recently indicated that they may move to the yellow phase without approval from the state.

Also this week, the Senate considered SB 327, which would allow Pennsylvania’s counties to determine when and how to reopen from the Governor’s lockdown during the COVID-19 outbreak. Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to veto the legislation.

PA Senate Approves Spending Bill for Long-term Care Facilities and First Responders with CARES Act Funding

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously approved legislation (SB 1122) to spend $538 million of the federal CARES Act funding to bolster long-term care institutions and emergency responders. Pennsylvania was given $3.9 billion in federal funding to address the COVID-19 crisis. $449 million will be used to increase funding for the state Medicaid long-term care payments, $8 million for the state’s Medicaid long-term managed care payments, and $50 million for Community HealthChoices, the state’s new community-based managed care program.

The state Health Department announced its plan to do COVID-19 testing of all long-term care facility residents and employees in an effort to stem the spread of the virus through those facilities.

PA Committee Examines State Transportation Issues Due to Pandemic

On Tuesday, the state Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing to discuss the financial state of Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on the PA Revenue Department, the state Transportation Department is currently looking at estimated revenue losses of $800 million for its construction and maintenance programs, $100 million for its multimodal projects, and $50 million for the liquid fuels distribution to local municipalities, said Acting Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian.

The department is hoping to receive $2 billion in extra federal aid in 2020 and 2021 if Congress approves a stimulus package for state transportation departments.

The Turnpike Commission revenue has declined $120 million since March 1. They projected total revenue losses will be between $400 million to $500 million.

The commission has also delayed its quarterly $112 million payment to the Transportation Department from the initial due date of July to October. The Commission is required to make payments to the department to help fund mass transit.

EITC Measure Moving

On May 5, Rep. Steven Barrar issued a co-sponsorship memo stating that he would introduce legislation extending the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) application deadlines by three months for businesses who are reapplying, those in the middle of their 2-year commitment, and initial applicants.

Currently the application deadline is May 15 for business applicants reapplying to renew a 2-year commitment and for businesses in the middle of their 2-year commitment and July 1 for all other businesses submitting as initial applicants and applicants wishing to submit additional applications on top of their previously submitted 2-year commitment.

Upcoming State Virtual Events

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

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced yesterday 224 additional confirmed cases of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Philadelphia. That brings the total number of confirmed cases to 18,537. The Department of Public Health confirmed 15 additional fatalities in Philadelphia. This brings the number of residents who have succumbed to the virus in Philadelphia to 908. Of the total deaths, 482 (53%) were long-term care facility residents.

Wawa Welcome America

The City announced that the annual July 4th Wawa Welcome America festival will be hosted virtually in 2020. For more information on this announcement, visit WelcomeAmerica.com/media.

Financial Support for Businesses

Updates from City Council

City Council will not meet this Thursday, May 14. Council has released the FY ’21 Budget Hearings and Stated Meeting Schedules.

Public Testimony on Budget

Public testimony on the budget will be conducted virtually on the following dates:

  • School District: May 20 beginning at 3:00 p.m.
  • Operating Budget: May 27 and June 9 beginning at 3:00 p.m.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Bill and Rent Control Bills Referred

Bill 200303 sponsored by Councilmembers Brooks, Gym, and Gauthier, expanding paid sick leave during emergencies was referred to Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services. The committee is chaired by Councilwoman Cindy Bass and includes Councilmembers Bobby Henon (Vice Chair), David Oh, Helen Gym, Derek Green, Isaiah Thomas, and Kendra Brooks.

Bills 200301, 200302, 200304, and 200305, sponsored primarily by Councilmembers Gym, Brooks, and Gauthier – seeking to regulate the landlord-tenant relationship and mandate, among other things, a year-long rent freeze – were referred to Council’s Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and the Homeless chaired by Councilwoman Gauthier. The committee also consists of the Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Jr (Vice Chair), Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez, Cindy Bass, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Mark Squilla, Alan Domb, and Kendra Brooks.

Hearings on these bills have yet to be scheduled.

Last week the Chamber sent letters to all members of Council regarding these bills, urging them to consider the timing of the measures and their cost to local businesses in a time of crisis.

City Hall Connectors Virtual Gathering

The Chamber is finalizing a virtual gathering with the following elected official in coming weeks:

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.