Notes from the Chamber’s 3.20.20 Conference Call with Rep. Jesse Topper
The Legislature has been working to gain clarification on the Governor’s shut down order for non-life-sustaining businesses. Enforcement is reportedly to begin tonight (3.20.20) at midnight.
Available online (Rep. Topper, Chamber & Governor Websites) is the full list of businesses (compiled by the Federal Department of Labor & Industry) outlining which businesses are considered life-sustaining and which are not.
Rep. Topper is hoping for additional clarification through business codes as assigned by the Dept. of Labor and Industry and hopes that information will be forthcoming soon.
Businesses may submit questions about their “life-sustaining” status online (links available on through the Chamber website – home page and info will be appended to this document.) Also available is the link to information for businesses wishing to file a waiver for approval to continue operations. (Also available on the Chamber website.) Waiver requests are being answered within about 24 hours based on mitigating circumstances.
The situation is changing by the hour – some updates for today include waiving of penalties related to sales taxes due today, as well as some modifications to the pre-payment of sales tax and AST pre-pay requirements.
LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES UPON RETURN TO HARRISBURG
- Education (Rep. Topper is Chair of K-12 Sub Committee) – they will be looking at the school code and relief for the requirement of 180 days and other issues impacting schools and students.
- Labor & Industry – Small business relief initiatives, legislation to address unemployment benefits for small business owners not currently eligible, potential financial stimulus or loan program similar to the Federal programs
- Health – Balancing the serious issue of the economy with the very real health threat – planning for emergency response, testing sites, etc.
Question: How is shut-down defined? (i.e. someone permitted to work inside their closed/locked office/store/etc.) – Rep. Topper believed that it is within the spirit of the shutdown order to allow businesses to continue to function while being “closed” – i.e. not open to the public and with limited contact with groups of people. Businesses are encouraged to work remotely when possible; merchants should be able to continue online sales while their store is closed. Rep. Topper felt that this kind of clarification will be forthcoming and is being requested by state legislator, stressing that the purpose behind the closure of businesses is to slow down the spread of the virus.
Question: What should businesses do that may have multiple operations, some which seem to be allowed on the DLI list and other portions are not. Rep. Topper felt that businesses should pursue portions of their business that are allowed and shut down other portions that are not deemed to be “life sustaining.” (e.g. a hardware store that sells guns can stay open, but not sell guns.)
Question: How will the Federal government compensate businesses who continue to pay employees for their full 40-hour weeks during the shut-down period (rather than putting employees on unemployment) – Rep. Topper said that is a question for our US Congressmen and Senators. (The Chamber will follow up with those legislators next week.)
Question: There was concern during this week’s announcement that hotels would have to close; that industry has been clarified as exempt (i.e. hotels and lodging properties may stay open.) This was in part due to the sudden shut-down and the potential of stranding folks who were already traveling; also, to accommodate truck drivers who need lodging and are required to take rests (PennDOT requirements.)
Golf Courses are currently on the closure list in Pennsylvania, which will have a significant financial effect on those facilities.
Question: Businesses engaged in fundraising (e.g. school fundraisers, candy, etc.) – Can those items be delivered/distributed? Rep. Topper felt that the fundraising distribution could be made in a drive-through-type format (limiting contact between people.)
Question: Is it reasonable to continue online sales and shipping? The US Postal Service is expected to continue to function in the near future, so online sales/shipping should be safe for now. (Though no one has a crystal ball, and depending on the spread of the virus, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that PA or the US could ultimately be in a “shelter in place” status.
Question: Asking for clarification on day care/early learning facilities – which can stay open and which must close (including some in homes with only a few children.) Rep. Topper’s understanding was that day care facilities servicing children of parents in the health care field or first responders/emergency services are except from closure. (Can confirm by filing a waiver.) But it is confusing to businesses trying to navigate the process.
Question: If State Police are enforcing the business shut down declaration, how does a life-sustaining business prove that they are allowed to be open? Rep. Topper felt that it would be law enforcement’s responsibility to prove the business was not allowed to be open, but that was his personal opinion. He advised that businesses that are open be prepared to explain where they fit within the list of businesses permitted to continue operating.
John Carlin, Quality Inn Breeze Manor shared information about a valuable webinar on the PRLA website on the issue of unemployment compensation for businesses who need to lay off workers. The process is streamlined in this crisis. Kellie will put a link to the webinar on the Chamber website.
In closing, Rep. Topper stated that there are many rumors out there, and we can only expect things to get worse before they get better. The first confirmed case of the virus in his district was reported today (Franklin Co.) but it will ultimately be here as well. Businesses/individuals should be prepared for the possibility of a further shutdown, recognizing that things are literally changing by the hour. We need to be flexible and do our best to adjust to the challenges that are ahead of us.
The Chamber sincerely thanks Rep. Topper for taking the time to speak with our members today, and for his continued hard work and leadership in this crisis. We will surely be speaking with him again in the coming weeks.
APPENDIX I: Resources for Businesses
Here is a downloadable pdf list of the defined “Life Sustaining Businesses”:
FOR QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT CONSTITUTES A “LIFE-SUSTAINING BUSINESS” : Please go to https://dced.pa.gov/ for information about whether or not your business is considered life-sustaining under Governor Wolf’s order issued on March 19, 2020. Keep an eye on DCED’s website for updates. We urge you to take measures that promote social distancing and follow all Pennsylvania Department of Health and CDC guidance in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
EXEMPTION REQUESTS – DCED is working on an electronic exemption form that will be accessible from the web. Until this is up and running, if you feel like your business is life-sustaining and is not permitted to continue operations as outlined on the life-sustaining business list, please email email@example.com. We will be collecting your email addresses and sending out information on the process as soon as it’s available.
SBA LOAN ASSISTANCE Governor Tom Wolf announced on March 19th, the availability of low-interest loans for small businesses and eligible non-profits in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.
Businesses may obtain information and loan applications by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (1-800-877-8339 for the hearing impaired), or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loan applications can also be downloaded at www.sba.gov/disaster. Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via the SBA’s secure website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH RELATED QUESTIONS Please call 1-877-PA Health and be sure to hit OPTION 2 for health related questions. You can also email RA-DHCOVIDQUESTIONS@pa.gov.
TAX RELATED QUESTIONS Please email our Center for Local Government Services at email@example.com.
UNEMPLOYMENT QUESTIONS Please go to the Labor and Industry web site and fill out their Contact Us form: https://www.dli.pa.gov/Pages/default.aspx. Also see their service guide: self-service guide. If you need further assistance, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.