Policymakers Signal Positions on Next COVID-19 Relief Package; Negotiations Expected to Address Business Liability and Aid to Business Sectors

Lawmakers return to Washington on July 20 to begin urgent negotiations on a massive COVID-19 relief package that is expected to address business liability, unemployment benefits and tax incentives before Congress breaks for its August recess. (BGov, July 17 and CQ, July 15)

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin today testified before the House Committee on Small Business, urging Congress to swiftly pass a fourth significant relief package since the pandemic outbreak.  
  • Mnuchin said additional relief should target certain industries, smaller businesses, and lower- to middle-income families that have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic. “Certain industries, such as construction, are recovering quickly, while others, such as retail and travel, are facing longer-term impacts and will require additional relief,” Mnuchin said in his prepared remarks.

Mnuchin added that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable small business loans, should be extended, but on a more targeted basis for smaller companies and hospitality businesses.  (NYTimes, July 17)

Senate Proposal on Business Liability

Senate Republicans are expected to unveil their economic aid proposal early next week that is expected to include some level of unemployment subsidy and address business liability.  (The Hill, July 17)

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has emphasized that federal courts should have jurisdiction over liability claims arising from coronavirus infections to limit the legal exposure of businesses, schools and other organizations as they reopen.  (Washington Post, July 6)
  • McConnell and Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn are working on a measure that would temporarily give businesses, schools, colleges, charities and other organizations a shield from lawsuits as long as they make “reasonable” efforts to follow public health guidelines and didn’t commit an act of “gross negligence” or “intentional misconduct.” (BGov, July 16 and Wall Street Journal, July 16)
  • A draft outline of the Senate’s new COVID-19-related liability protections for businesses proposes a five-year shield from coronavirus lawsuits. The proposal would be retroactive from December 2019 through 2024, or until the expiration of an emergency declaration issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. (The Hill, Fox Business and CBS News, July 17)
  • The newly released Senate summary reflects principals supported by The Roundtable that were part of a multi-sector coalition letter sent to Hill leadership on May 27.  (Roundtable Weekly, May 29)
  • Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer talked about the business liability issue and how it affects CRE in a July 10 CBRE podcast – “Public Policy in the Age of COVID: Shaping the CRE Recovery.” 
  • DeBoer noted during the podcast, “… if businesses don’t have a roadmap on what they’re supposed to be doing to keep people healthy when they come in contact with their business – and I’m talking about schools and hospitals and bowling alleys and shopping centers.  We need to understand what it is that we’re supposed to be doing as a reasonable person in order to not subject ourselves to potential liability claims down the road.”

He added, “We don’t want a blanket shield. We’re not talking about protecting people from negligent activities and certainly not people that are grossly negligent. But we want to understand what we should be doing so that we can … protect the people that work in our buildings and come into our buildings every day. And without that protection, it’s going to be very hard for businesses and people in hospitals and schools and everyone to move forward. So this is critically important.”

Upcoming Negotiations

Senate Finance Committee spokesperson Michael Zona commented yesterday about upcoming negotiations on Phase Four of COVID-19 relief, “A number of tax relief proposals will be part of the discussion.” (Bloomberg Tax and Politico, July 16)

  • Several bipartisan bills currently in the Senate and House would create a healthy workplace tax credit for businesses and nonprofits that incur unexpected costs as they reopen, including extensive cleansing, COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment for employees.  (See more details in the “Healthy Buildings” story, below)
  • The House of Representatives in May passed the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act, the largest financial stimulus bill in U.S. history, to combat the ongoing economic fallout related to the coronavirus pandemic. (H.R. 6800, Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act: one-pagersection-by-sectionstate and local relief summary and Roundtable Weekly, May 22) 
  • Republican policymakers have signaled they are open to another COVID-19 bill, but on a measured basis, and the Trump administration has called for limiting the next relief package to $1 trillion.
  • President Trump this week also said he will not sign a new coronavirus stimulus package without the inclusion of a payroll tax cut, which has not attracted much support on Capitol Hill.  (Washington Post, July 16)
  • The time frame for legislative action on legislation that will likely exceed a trillion dollars is tight.  The House is aiming to recess for the summer on July 30, while the Senate plans to recess on August 7.
  • The Democratic Party Convention is scheduled for August 17-20 in Milwaukee, WI. Republicans are planning to hold their convention August 24-27 in Jacksonville, FL.

Both chambers plan to return from summer recess on September 8.

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