Congress declares World War III on coronavirus

The entire Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry team is working from home as we do our part to promote social distancing and flatten the curve. There’s been no downtime, however. My days are filled with back-to-back conference calls with elected officials, association colleagues, and business leaders, all of whom are doing their best to think creatively and nimbly about how best to prevent a total economic catastrophe during this global pandemic. Here’s a quick update:

Pass this bill. Now.

The United States Senate, after some unfortunate delays, has reached a deal on a $2 trillion relief package to spare the U.S. economy from even greater damage. I thank Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Sen. Martha McSally for their diligence to get a deal done and for their regular and consistent accessibility to Arizona’s job creators.

I know the dollar amount of the bill is stunning. But the response has to be proportionate to the size of the crisis.

Make no mistake: This bill is not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have, especially if we’re going to prevent a total economic catastrophe.

For businesses with up to 500 employees, the bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) includes about $350 billion in loans that could become forgivable grants to support employer payrolls, mortgages, rents, utilities, paid sick or medical leave, insurance premiums, and other costs to keep a business running.

For mid- and large-sized companies tattooed by this downturn, like airlines, the bill includes direct economic relief totaling $500 billion through loans and loan guarantees.

The bill also includes $150 billion for the health care sector; $150 billion for state, local, and tribal governments; expanded unemployment benefits for displaced workers; direct cash support to Americans (up to $1,200 for individuals, $2,400 per couple, and $500 per child); $30 billion in emergency education funding; and other essential elements.

This bill is the legislative equivalent of declaring World War III on coronavirus.

Once the bill clears the Senate, we need the U.S. House to act fast. Thankfully, based on the regular conference calls the Chamber membership has been having with Arizona’s House members, our delegation is ready to move quickly and ensure that any final legislation is focused squarely on addressing the crisis at hand, and not using the bill to advance some other unrelated policy goals.

This bill will be one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in the nation’s history. Now is not the time to dawdle.

Legislature comes together

No one could have guessed back in January that the second session of the 54th Legislature would come to such an abrupt halt. But in the face of a public health emergency, legislative leaders in both parties did the right thing in passing a conservative budget for fiscal year 2021 and closing, at least temporarily, the session.

Legislators have plenty of bills that were sidelined by the quick wrap-up, as well as items that they would have liked to have been included in a budget. The Chamber, along with advocates on behalf of a host of other interests, is in the same boat. There’s always next year, though. Now’s the time to batten down the hatches.

The Chamber thanks each legislator for reaching a budget agreement, for passing a $55 million COVID-19 relief package, for passing with bipartisan support a bill to ensure Arizona leverages federal health care dollars (the bill, H.B. 2668, was signed by Gov. Ducey on Wednesday) and for ensuring the Legislature has the ability to reconvene the session to adjust to new revenue data or to adopt new public-health-related policies, and even to do so remotely if necessary.

Greater certainty now to avoid confusion later

Gov. Doug Ducey deserves credit for issuing an Executive Order that proactively establishes a clear, statewide policy on “essential” services and operations. With this policy in place, businesses and workers alike can proceed with assurance that they won’t have to navigate a patchwork of policies across the state if efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 have to escalate. The Executive Order takes responsible steps to safeguard the public’s health while doing all we can to ensure the Arizona economy continues to function. It’s a model approach that ensures there is no interruption to essential operations, including to manufacturing and supply chains that are critically important to ensuring store shelves stay stocked and critical parts and supplies get to where they need to go.    

Regulatory relief when it’s needed most

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Ducey administration has been nimble in ensuring that efforts to protect the public’s health and the economy don’t get tied up in red tape. Regulatory rollbacks have been a theme throughout his entire tenure.

New rules, for example, allowing alcohol to be ordered with food delivery purchases might seem like a small thing, but for the thousands of restaurant and bar employees across the state who’ve been sidelined by this virus, it could be the difference between survival and collapse.

The governor also deserves credit for quickly securing approval from the federal government to expand access to medical care for the state’s AHCCCS population, and for moving to exempt certified registered nurse anesthetists from certain regulations.

The federal government has extended some smart regulatory relief, as well. Credit to the Department of Transportation for waiving the hours of service rules on commercial truck drivers aiding relief efforts, and for extending commercial driver’s licenses that are up for renewal during this crisis. If the trucks aren’t rolling, then the nation will suffer even more.

As someone who just extracted two kids from an unplanned extended spring break in Los Angeles, I can tell you the freeways there were eerily light on traffic, but the truckers were—and are—still on the job.

Communications to keep you informed

Make sure you’re up-to-date with the latest perspectives from the business community on the impacts of the coronavirus by being a regular subscriber to the Chamber Business News daily email. Chamber Business News also features a coronavirus resource page that has information for anyone looking for helpful information during this period.

I also encourage you to follow us on Twitter at @azchamber for breaking news and information, as well as for my nightly Skype video show we cobble together in the face of straining bandwidth and a lack of technical expertise that reviews the day’s headlines in a brisk 15-minutes-or-less.

Glenn Hamer

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