As the economic impact of COVID-19 entered a second week, Congress went to work on formalizing a third supplemental relief package — one that has targeted relief for small businesses, and specific mention of relief for “specialty crops” in agriculture.
“While we’re still waiting for the package to be finalized, we’ve been encouraged by the language we’ve seen thus far,” said Joe Bischoff, Ph.D., the Society of American Florists’ senior lobbyist. “We believe the package will provide significant relief for the vast majority of the floral industry that is struggling to pay their bills and employees.”
The language currently circulating outlines expansion of small business loans and terms, including:
- Defines eligibility for loans as a small business, 501(c)(3) nonprofit, a 501(c)(19) veteran’s organization, or Tribal business concern described in section 31(b)(2)(C) of the Small Business Act with not more than 500 employees, or the applicable size standard for the industry as provided by SBA, if higher.
- Includes sole-proprietors, independent contractors, and other self-employed individuals as eligible for loans.
- Allows businesses with more than one physical location that employs no more than 500 employees per physical location in certain industries to be eligible and is below a gross annual receipts threshold in certain industries to be eligible.
- Specifies allowable uses of the loan include payroll support, such as employee salaries, paid sick or medical leave, insurance premiums, and mortgage, rent, and utility payments.
- Defines the covered loan period as beginning on February 15, 2020 and ending on June 30, 2020.
- Establishes the maximum 7(a) loan amount to $10 million through December 31, 2020 and provides a formula by which the loan amount is tied to payroll costs incurred by the business to determine the size of the loan.
- Provides the authority for the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to make loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.
While many groups advocated for small business relief, SAF and the floral industry were among the most engaged and vocal, particularly among specialty crops, in support of USDA getting the necessary funds to help growers through this very challenging time. Current language includes:
“For an additional amount for the ‘Office of the Secretary’, $9,500,000,000, to remain available until expended, to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus by providing support for agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus, including producers of specialty crops, producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools, and livestock producers, including dairy producers.”
“While there is still much work to be done, we believe USDA should use some of the funding to ensure that the domestic flower growers are able to bounce back after this crisis and remain vibrant,” Bischoff said.
Congress is expected to pass the third supplemental package later this week.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor (DOL) has just issued its first set of summaries and guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—the relief package that was passed last week— which the agency has been tasked with implementing:
Even with these initial publications, there are still a number of unanswered questions that will need to be resolved before the law goes into effect on April 2. DOL is expected to issue further guidance and interim rules in the coming days and weeks.
Stay tuned to SAF’s website and social media outlets for further updates and analysis.
Katie Butler is the senior vice president of the Society of American Florists.