In This Edition…
- Wisconsin COVID-19 Relief Bill Signed Into Law
- WEDA Advocates for Additional Federal COVID-19 Relief
- Gov. Tony Evers Extends Safer at Home Order
Wisconsin COVID-19 Relief Bill Signed Into Law
Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday signed a comprehensive coronavirus relief bill that was overwhelming approved by the Legislature earlier in the week. The new law (2019 WI Act 185), which suspends the state’s one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits, also captures hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the bill was drafted as a reaction to the federal COVID-19 legislation recently passed by Congress.
“It combines aspects from the governor’s proposal with input from both parties of the Legislature. This legislation is important to the history of our state as we came together to respond to the crisis created by COVID-19,” he said in a statement.
While Gov. Evers and legislative leaders called the bipartisan legislation a step in the right direction, they hinted that additional legislation to address the pandemic may be needed in the future.
While the legislation does not include additional funding for WEDC to support businesses struggling with the COVID-19 economic fallout (which WEDA requested in a memo to policymakers last month), it does include language directing the Corporation to submit to the Legislature and governor – before June 30, 2020 – a report that includes a plan for providing support to Wisconsin’s major industries that have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, including tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, forest products, construction, retail and services.
Other provisions in the legislation include:
- PPP Tax Treatment – Updates the state tax code to conform with provisions of the federal CARES Act. This includes exempting the forgivable portion of a Paycheck Protection Program loan from state taxation.
- BCPL Loans – Authorizes the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to offer state trust fund loans to non-profit municipal utilities during the coronavirus emergency, and for up to 60 days after the emergency expires.
- Product Liability Exemptions – Exempts manufacturers, distributors and sellers of emergency medical supplies and equipment that donate or sell (at cost) their products in response to the COVID-19 crisis from civil liability associated with injury or death caused by those products.
- Property Tax Interest Payments – For property taxes payable in 2020, the legislation provides local communities with the ability to waive any interest charges and penalties for late payment.
- Unemployment Insurance Waiting Period – Waives the current one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits with respect to benefits that begin on or after March 12, 2020.
- Employer UI Accounts – Provides that unemployment insurance claims related to the COVID-19 emergency (claims occurring after March 12, 2020, and before December 31, 2020) will not be charged to an employer’s unemployment insurance account.
- Work Share Plan Requirements – Temporarily suspend, through December 31, 2020, certain requirements of voluntary work-share plans submitted by employers.
WEDA Advocates for Additional Federal COVID-19 Relief
Since the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States began, Congress has acted swiftly to pass three packages of legislation to help preserve public health and stimulate the economy.
While the COVID-19 initiatives in place provide unprecedented financial support for businesses of all sizes, WEDA is concerned the actions taken by Congress underestimate the economic fallout of the pandemic and its impact on small businesses in Wisconsin and across the county. A case in point is the complete exhaustion of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding. In fact, the SBA has stopped accepting applications for both the PPP and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
As a result, WEDA is strongly advocating for Congress to immediately authorize an additional $250 billion for the PPP to meet the tremendous demand of small businesses devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
WEDA also recently sent a letter to the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation urging Congress to include the following provisions in the potential next phase of federal COVID-19 legislation:
- Make 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organizations eligible for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This provision is critical, as it would allow economic development organizations, chambers of commerce and business trade associations to access funding needed to ensure they remain operational and continue to assist businesses during the COVID-19 economic recovery.
- Eliminate all match requirements for Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant funding programs – including the $1.5 billion the agency received through the CARES Act – for the next three fiscal years. This provision is important, as most communities and organizations do not have the resources to meet grant matches during the COVID-19 pandemic, nor will they in subsequent years.
- Establish a grant program administered by the EDA to provide essential operational funding for local and regional economic development organizations. Funding for economic development organizations is in jeopardy, and this grant program would help keep EDO doors open as they work to rebuild the nation’s economy.
- Create a permanent category of Disaster Recovery Bonds for use by communities in Wisconsin and throughout the country to help them rebound from the COVID-19 economic crisis. By creating this tool, it would provide a much-needed source of funds and enable communities to leverage private investment to make necessary infrastructure investments.
- Consider additional flexibility under Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) programs. Greater program flexibility could allow CDBG funds to be deployed more quickly to communities in Wisconsin and throughout the nation.
Gov. Tony Evers Extends Safer at Home Order
Gov. Tony Evers yesterday directed Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm to extend the current Safer at Home order from April 24, 2020 to May 26, 2020, or until a superseding order is issued. The extended order implements several changes, including new business activity and safety directives, travel guidelines and the closure of K-12 schools for the remainder of the current school year. Click here to read the Governor’s press release. The entire order can be found here.
In a statement, Evers said more robust public health measures must be in place before the Safer at Home order can be lifted.
“These steps will help us reduce the risk of a second wave of the virus. If we open up too soon, we risk overwhelming our hospitals and requiring more drastic physical distancing measures again,” said Evers.
Changes to the Safer at Home order in the new extension include the following:
- Safe Business Practices for Essential Businesses and Operations: Essential Businesses and Operations must increase cleaning and disinfection practices, ensure that only necessary workers are present, and adopt policies to prevent workers exposed to COVID-19 or symptomatic workers from coming to work.
- Safe Business Practices for Retailers that Essential Businesses and Operations: Retail stores that remain open to the public as Essential Businesses and Operations must limit the number of people in the store at one time, must provide proper spacing for people waiting to enter, and large stores must offer at least two hours per week of dedicated shopping time for vulnerable populations.
- Supply Chain: Essential Businesses and Operations that are essential because they supply, manufacture, or distribute goods and services to other Essential Businesses and Operations can only continue operations that are necessary to those businesses they supply. All other operations must continue as Minimum Basic Operations.
- Non-essential Businesses: Non-essential businesses will now be able to do more things as Minimum Basic Operations, including deliveries, mailings, and curb-side pick-up. Non-essential businesses must notify workers of whether they are necessary for the Minimum Basic Operations.
- Golf Courses: Golf courses may open again, with restrictions including scheduling and paying for tee times online or by phone only. Clubhouses and pro shops must remain closed.
- Travel: People are strongly encouraged to stay close to home, not travel to second homes or cabins, and not to travel out-of-state if it is not necessary.
- Local parks and open space: Local health officials may close public parks and open spaces if it becomes too difficult to ensure social distancing or the areas are being mistreated.