July 20, 2020

Congress To Begin Negotiations On Next COVID Relief Bill

Lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate will start negotiations this week on another COVID-19 relief bill. The U.S. House already has passed legislation totaling $3 trillion in aid, but Republicans in the White House oppose a package of that size.

That bill also lacks one of Republicans’ top priorities. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) repeatedly has made it clear that federal liability protections related to COVID-19 are his top priority for inclusion in the legislation.

An outline of legal reforms was floated today. Specifically, it has been reported that Sen. McConnell wants to:

  • Federalize causes of action for personal injury arising from COVID-19 exposure at defendants’ premises;
  • Protect businesses that make “reasonable effort” to follow public health guidelines; and
  • Impose procedural safeguards from lawsuits, including implementing a heightened “clear and convincing” burden of proof.

As a reminder, MSCI is part of a coalition that asked federal lawmakers to pass temporary provisions that protect:

  • Businesses, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions that follow applicable public health guidelines from COVID-19 exposure claims;
  • Healthcare workers and facilities providing COVID-19-related care and services;
  • Manufacturers, donors, distributors, and users of vaccines, therapeutics, medical devices, personal protective equipment, and other supplies, such as hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, that are critical to the COVID-19 response; and
  • Public companies targeted by unfair COVID-19-related securities lawsuits.

Meanwhile, White House officials have told Republican congressional leaders that President Donald Trump will not sign a bill that does not include a cut in federal payroll taxes. Other provisions that federal lawmakers might consider include:

  • Individual stimulus to taxpayers;
  • Direct funding to state and local governments;
  • In addition to including more resources for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and expanding loan forgiveness, there may be efforts to repurpose existing PPP funds with the goal of helping more underserved communities;
  • Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) modifications;
  • Capital gains holiday;
  • Unemployment benefits /or a rehiring tax credit; and
  • The Healthy Workplaces Tax Credit, which, according to The Hill, would provide a refundable tax credit against payroll taxes for 50 percent of the costs incurred by a business for COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfecting, extra cleaning, and reconfiguring work spaces to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Want to make your voice heard on the contents of this legislation? The National Association of Manufacturers has launched a grassroots campaign asking manufacturers to contact their elected officials to include a proposal to make general business tax credits temporarily refundable as a means of providing additional liquidity support.

The grassroots campaign follows a letter NAM, MSCI, and more than 100 business organizations sent to House and Senate leaders asking for the acceleration in the use of tax benefits such as general business tax credits.