As much of the United States is operating under shelter-in-place orders and other social distancing measures, lawmakers in Congress and in state houses around the country have introduced legislation to help combat the myriad of effects of COVID-19. Keeping with the top global story this week, we take a closer look some of the leading COVID-19 legislative and regulatory initiatives this week.
UPDATE FROM CONGRESS
Early this morning, the White House and Senate Leaders reached an agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus package to help stem the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have led this nearly week-long effort to arrive at what is being called, “the largest rescue package in American history.” Throughout the Senate bill negotiations, Democratic leaders sought "strict oversight" over a $500 billion loan fund that the Trump administration would use to support corporations and municipalities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts.
THE SENATE BILL
Let’s take a closer look at some of the disclosed provisions of the Senate Bill. The Senate legislation would direct money into all corners of the economy, from individuals to small businesses to large industries. It would direct $1,200 to most adults and $500 to most children. Some of the other major provisions of the bill would create a $500 billion lending program for businesses, cities, and states and another $350 billion to help small businesses meet payroll costs. Pundits admit there is little precedent for a program with a similar size and scope.
SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES
The $500 billion in loan programs contained in the Senate bill includes $425 billion for companies, states, and cities. Another $50 billion would go to helping passenger airline companies, $8 billion for cargo air companies, and $17 billion to help firms deemed important for national security. And there would be an additional $350 billion in loan guarantees for small businesses to help them avoid layoffs, and many of those loans could be forgiven if firms meet certain metrics. The Senate will reconvene later today, but no vote on the measure has been set. We will be monitoring these developments closely.
The New York State Assembly passed new legislation on Wednesday that will provide sick leave for all New York residents during the COVID-19 outbreak. Signing the bill, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) said, “No one should have to worry about losing their job should they come down with or are quarantined because of the coronavirus.” All private and public sector employees will be eligible for sick leave and wage replacement while they are quarantined, regardless of whether it's mandatory or precautionary. The degree of paid leave depends on the size of the employer, with a sliding scale for businesses defined as small, medium, and large sized. Among easing other procedural hurdles, the bill will allow these employees to collect Paid Family Leave benefits, supplemented by increased TDI benefits to make their weekly wages whole, for those who earn up to a maximum of $150,000 annually.
NEW YORK TOUGH
One more note from New York. Governor Cuomo, the State Department of Health, and the State Education Department sent letters to retired health care professionals and all schools of nursing, public health and medicine seeking qualified professionals for on-call work during the COVID-19 crisis. Healthcare professionals were directed to sign up with the State Department of Health. The response was inspired, as more than 30,000 recently retired health care professionals have come forward to help. #NewYorkTough
CONGRESSIONAL PRESSURE MOUNTS
A group of 18 members of Congress has asked the property/casualty insurance industry to pay business interruption claims, even where their customers’ policies exclude such coverage. In response, major insurance trade associations responded by affirming that they’re working to provide relief to policyholders but not through the coverage in question. The trade groups insisted, “standard commercial insurance policies offer coverage and protection against a wide range of risks and threats and are vetted and approved by state regulators. Business interruption policies do not, and were not designed to, provide coverage against communicable diseases such as COVID-19.” The association of insurance carriers reassured Congress that the “U.S. insurance industry remains committed to our consumers and will ensure that prompt payments are made in instances where coverage exists.”
MEANWHILE, IN NEW JERSEY
Lawmakers in Trenton have proposed legislation that seeks retroactive coverage for small businesses for COVID-related interruptions. The proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 3844, specifically addresses businesses with less than 100 employees in New Jersey with a policy of business interruption insurance in force on March 9, 2020, regardless of whether the policy had a virus exclusion. The measure was voted out of the New Jersey Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee on March 16, 2020. However, no further action has been taken on this bill. Opponents to the bill cite constitutional concerns about the bill’s direct attempt to revise policies of insurance. We’re keeping watch.
Making Our Way Around the Country
STATE ADMINISTRATIVE ORDERS
State workers’ compensation boards continue to take decisive action to protect their staff, litigants, and counsel appearing for administrative hearings from the effects of COVID-19. In New York, the Workers’ Compensation Board issued a supplemental emergency order to suspend, until further notice, the requirement for original handwritten signatures on several critical forms including Employee Claim (Form C-3); Waiver Agreement (Form C-32); and Section 32 Claimant Releases (Form C-32.1), to name just a few. In Ohio, Lt. Governor Jon Husted (R-OH) announced the Bureau of Workers Compensation will defer premium payments owed by some 249,000 public and private employers for March, April, and May until June 1, saving the state’s business owners approximately $200 million.
IF WE STOP, THE WORLD STOPS
Staying in the Buckeye State, to speed the delivery of food, non-alcoholic beverages, medical supplies, cleaning products, and other household goods, the Ohio Department of Transportation will modify the process for truckers carrying heavy or oversized loads of these products. Across the United States, the nation's 3.5 million professional truckers, who annually haul more than 10 billion tons of freight, or more than two-thirds of the total freight tonnage in the U.S., are working peddle to the metal to keep stores and businesses stocked. Said one tireless trucker, "If the freight's there, it's got to move. If people are going to eat, the trucks are gonna’ move. If they need medical supplies, the trucks are gonna’ move. If we stop, the world stops."
OUR DIGITAL COMMUNITY
This week, Governor JB Pritzker (D-IL) issued an executive order directing Illinoisans to shelter-in-place and maintain social distancing to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Although your writers at The Way are used to crisscrossing the country to bring you the latest governmental affairs affecting our industry, please know that we are working safely from our homes! We hope all of you in our virtual community are doing well, too. To help your company face these times with confidence, we at GB have set up a COVID-19 Resource Center. Send us line if we can help. Stay well. Stay safe. Stay connected. We look forward to seeing you all soon, as we make our way through this pandemic together.