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BPAA Federal Policy Update - February 15, 2021

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COVID-19 Relief Updates

 

  • House Democrats Introduce COVID Aid Legislation Last week House Democratic committee leaders debuted key components of a $1.9 trillion COVID aid bill, based on President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, addressing the health and economic hardships brought on by the pandemic. The bill covers a raft of topics such as a new national vaccination plan, school reopenings, and long-term pandemic-induced unemployment. Under the complex reconciliation process, the House Budget Committee and full House will soon combine each of these packages into a single bill for passage by the week of February 22nd. After the House finishes its work, the U.S. Senate will take its own pass, applying parliamentary restrictions that may force Democrats to strip out popular provisions like a $15 minimum wage.
    • House Small Business Committee (Bill TextSection-by-Section): The new House Small Business proposal includes a major victory for the restaurant industry in the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $25 billion fund to support eligible food and drink establishments during the pandemic. Restaurant advocates had sought $120 billion. Grants may be used for payroll, mortgage, rent, utilities, supplies, food and beverage expenses, paid sick leave, and operational expenses. The program includes several rules designed to focus aid on small-to-mid sized, independent restaurants.
    • The Committee’s $50 billion package maintains big bets on the Paycheck Protection Program created in last year’s CARES Act, offering low-interest forgivable loans to pandemic-hit small businesses via retail-level banks. Congress and Treasury have already tweaked the PPP many times since its creation, and this bill is no different.
    • Restaurant Revitalization Fund
      • Provides $25 billion for a new program at the SBA offering assistance to restaurants and other food and drinking establishments. $5 billion of this amount is set aside for businesses with less than $500,000 in 2019 annual revenue.
      • Grants may be used for a wide variety of expenses, including payroll, mortgage, rent, utilities, supplies, food and beverage expenses, paid sick leave, and operational expenses.
      • Grants are available for up to $10 million per entity, with a limitation of $5 million per physical location. Entities are limited to 20 locations.
      • Grants are calculated by subtracting 2020 revenue from 2019 revenue. During the first 21 days, applications from restaurants owned and operated controlled by women, veterans, or socially and economically disadvantaged individuals will receive priority.
    • More industry-specific aid: the bill sends an extra $1.25 billion to the Shuttered Venues Program, created in the December COVID aid package to support closed live entertainment venues.
    • Elsewhere, the bill funnels an additional $15 billion to the Targeted Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Advance program, which offers $10,000 grants and low-interest loans to severely-impacted small businesses. Finally, the bill creates a Community Navigator Pilot Program to help business owners access the increasingly-complicated COVID-19 aid landscape.
    • BPAA will continue to provide more information on these relief measures as they move forward in Congress.

 

  • House Aims to Vote on Relief Plan Week of Feb. 22, Hoyer Says Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says he thinks the House will vote on a stimulus package the week of February 22. Hoyer says there is a “chance” lawmakers would come back early to consider the legislation. NOTE: The House is set to take up on Friday the 2021 budget passed by the Senate after an all-night session that helped clear the path for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan. Reported by Bloomberg.

 

  • Pelosi Expects Covid Relief Will Be Signed Into Law Before Unemployment Programs Expire House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expects Democrats will pass their next coronavirus relief package before programs buoying jobless Americans lapse next month, she said Thursday. The House hopes to approve its $1.9 trillion aid plan “by the end of February so we can send it to the president’s desk before unemployment benefits expire” on March 14, the California Democrat told reporters. The pandemic-era policies set to run out add a $300-per-week federal unemployment supplement, expand benefits eligibility to self-employed and gig workers, and extend the number of weeks Americans can receive benefits. Nine House committees this week started to write and advance their portions of the relief bill, which Democrats are expected to pass through budget reconciliation without Republican votes. Pelosi said she expects the panels crafting the legislation will finish their work this week. Read More at CNBC

 

  • Democrats Advance Bailout for Locked-Down, Poorly Managed States with No Strings Attached - Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.) House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.) issued the following statement after Democrats advanced a $350 billion bailout for state and local governments and $570 million in additional paid leave for federal and postal workers. The partisan legislation passed the Oversight Committee without a single Republican amendment. Read the Oversight and Govt Reform Press Release here.


 

Labor & Minimum Wage Updates

 

  • On Monday, February 8, The House Education and Labor Committee released their portion of the relief package which increasing the federal minimum wage each year until it reaches $15 per hour in 2025.  House Democrats are showing that they plan to try to increase the minimum wage despite ongoing debate as to whether it would hold up to the Senate Byrd Rule, which prevents any policies from being included budget reconciliation process unless they have a direct budgetary effect.
    • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) & Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have both stated that they do not support increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. This is key with the Senate being 50-50 and democrats only having the majority because of the tie breaking vote that would be casted by Vice President Harris. President Biden has expressed uncertainty over whether the minimum wage provisions would work under reconciliation or be struck down at the hand of the Senate parliamentarian. "I don't think it's going to survive," Biden told CBS. 
    • Despite this, Democrats in the House have shown that they plan to include the Raise the Minimum Wage Act anyway. “Let’s be clear. We are never going to get 10 Republicans to increase the minimum wage through ‘regular order,’” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee. “The only way to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour now is to pass it with 51 votes through budget reconciliation.” However, without Manchin and Sinema’s support, Democrats do not have a clear path forward to pass the legislation.

 

  • Key players to watch in minimum wage fight The battle over whether to keep a minimum wage hike in President Biden’s COVID-19 relief package is heating up, with key players on both sides of the issue digging in for the fight. The debate is threatening to create deep divisions among Democrats as they move forward with an economic rescue package without GOP support.
    • Outside groups are also exerting pressure on progressive and moderate Democrats to boost the rate from $7.25, where it’s stood since 2009, to $15 an hour. Here are the main players to watch on the minimum wage fight.
      • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): Sanders, one of the biggest proponents of increasing the minimum wage, is vowing that the final version of the coronavirus relief package will include language raising the rate to $15.
      • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.): Manchin, a pivotal centrist swing vote, has said he opposes a nationwide wage hike to $15 an hour.
      • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.): Sinema recently said the wage increase should not be included in the coronavirus relief package.
      • Read the full list and article here at The Hill.

 

  • Minimum Wage Hike Faces Challenges in Senate A $15 minimum wage would boost pay for many workers, cause job losses for others, and slightly increase the deficit, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report that did little to clarify whether senators could pass the measure.
    • A proposal to gradually increase the hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would increase the deficit by $54 billion over 10 years, the CBO reported. The report could hamper Democrats’ plan to pass the measure as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
    • The measure would result in a net pay increase of $333 billion over a decade for those affected, according to the CBO. That includes $509 billion in pay increases for workers who would get a raise, and $175 billion in reduced pay for those who would lose their jobs or get reduced hours. The measure would increase unemployment by 1.4 million by 2025, but 900,000 people would be lifted out of poverty. A White House spokesperson said the Biden administration considered the job loss estimate as overstated. Read more at Bloomberg Government.

 

  • Reality Check for a $15 Minimum Wage President Biden says his priority is creating new jobs and he wants “to grow the economy for all Americans.” But look at how the Congressional Budget Office sizes up his proposal for a $15 federal minimum wage. Phasing in this mandatory wage floor by 2025, according to the CBO’s new average estimate, would result in a loss of 1.4 million jobs.
    • The idled workers would be disproportionately younger and less educated, and CBO projects that half of them would drop out of the labor force. Prices would also rise for goods and services that rely on entry-level labor, “such as food prepared in restaurants.”
    • The federal budget deficit through 2031 would increase $54 billion, CBO says, as the government spent more on unemployment benefits and health-care programs. Low-wage employees lucky enough to keep their jobs would get a raise. CBO says 17 million workers would be “directly affected” by the $15 minimum, and poverty “would be reduced by 0.9 million.” This is not a free lunch, no matter how often Mr. Biden and Bernie Sanders say so. Those gains would come at a high cost for the young and unskilled who will have a harder time grabbing the first rung of the economic ladder. Read more at Wall Street Journal.

 

  • Latest on OSHA Safety Standards: On January 21, President Biden signed an executive order that tasked OSHA to determine whether there is a need for emergency temporary standards for worker protections from COVID-19. Prompted by the President’s executive order and COVID-19 National Strategy rollout, OSHA released guidance for actions employers should take to protect and educate their workers during the pandemic. The guidance will likely form the basis for emergency temporary standards from Biden’s executive order.
    • A key part of OSHA’s recommendations in the recent guidance is a list of 15 elements of an “effective COVID-19 prevention program.” The steps include measures such as:
      • Conducting a hazard assessment relating to COVID-19 exposure;
      • Identifying control measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 (such as distancing, masks, barriers, work-from-home, staggered shifts, etc.);
      • Adopting policies that encourage sick workers to stay home and not come into work;
      • Communicating and training employees on the policies and procedures implemented; and
      • Making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees. For now, employers can focus on vaccine education to increase employee understanding of the importance of vaccines and determine the employer policy regarding vaccines.
    • These recommendations do not create new standards or regulations. However, these will likely become standards, given Biden’s order to OSHA to issue any emergency COVID-19 standards by March 15, 2021.
    • Additionally, President Biden has called for Congress to create an OSHA COVID-19 workplace safety standard in his proposed $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package, the “American Rescue Plan.” If passed by Congress, it would cover certain workers that would not be covered by the OSHA standards. This could also provide additional funding to OSHA needed to perform the inspections that are expected to ramp up during the spring once and order may be in place and many of the OSHA inspectors are vaccinated.

 

  • DOL Seeks Extension to Review Independent Contracting, Tip Rules The U.S. Labor Department has proposed extending the effective date of the independent contracting and tip-pooling rules the Trump administration advanced in its final days to allow the agency more time for review.
    • The Wage and Hour Division issued two proposals Wednesday that would extend the effective date of both rules by 60 days in accordance with President Joe Biden’sregulatory freeze memo, which puts on hold regulations that have been announced but not yet published in the Federal Register and allows agencies to extend effective dates for rules that were finalized but hadn’t yet taken effect. Both rules would have taken effect in early March.
    • The subagency must seek comment on the proposed extensions as a technical formality as it reviews the rules. Read more at Bloomberg Government.

 

Tax Updates

 

  • House Democrats Introduce COVID Aid Legislation: House Ways & Means Committee (Press release with links to section-by-section summary and bill text)
    • The House Ways and Means Committee’s jurisdiction includes nearly half of the whole aid package, spending nearly $940 billion. The package sets another direct payment of $1,400 to American households (on top of a $600 check set to families in December 2020), extends temporary federal unemployment benefits through August 2021 and grows the weekly benefit to $400, expands lower-income tax credits like the Earned Income and Child Tax Credit for workers and families, reduces healthcare premiums by growing the Affordable Care Act’s premium tax credits and subsidizing COBRA health coverage through the end of the fiscal year, and enacts multi-employer pension reform.   
      • Members of Congress have disagreed on the formula for distributing another round of stimulus checks to households. After much debate, the Committee with the same cutoff by income level as in past aid packages: in other words, individuals earning more than $75,000 or couples earning more than $150,000 will not get checks. But, under this new proposal, checks will decrease at a higher rate at higher income levels.
      • Some members are also concerned that an expanded Child Tax Credit ($3,600 per child under the age of 6 and $3,000 per child ages 6 through 17) won’t reach struggling families fast enough. The benefit will be structured as a monthly payment starting in July 2021. Democrats also want to make this expanded Child Tax Credit permanent, but the current version of this package does not.

 

  • IRS Releases Form for Claiming Pandemic Relief Tax Credits The IRS released a new form that allows self-employed taxpayers to claim tax credits available under a pandemic relief law. The March 2020 Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Public Law 116-127) created paid leave options allowing certain self-employed individuals—those who are unable to work or telework due to pandemicrelated issues—to claim refundable tax credits to offset their federal income tax. Read More at Bloomberg

 

Transition Update

 

  • Julie Su, California’s labor head, nominated by Biden for deputy role amid state’s EDD scandal President Joe Biden nominated Julie Su, the head of California’s labor agency, on Wednesday as the deputy U.S. secretary of labor, potentially putting another Californian in a top administration job and focusing a brighter spotlight on the state’s ongoing unemployment fraud scandal.
    • If confirmed by the Senate, Su would be tasked with helping to lead a sprawling department that oversees laws that regulate worker standards and pay, workplace safety, workers’ compensation, unions, family and medical leave and more. She would work in partnership with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Biden’s nominee for labor secretary, if he is confirmed. Read more here by the Associated Press.
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