We hope you had a nice enjoyable (long) weekend. The daily update is back and while we’re at it, special thanks to Silver Cross Hospital for continuing to bring us the daily coronavirus update. See below for some info on the ongoing aid discussions, a new PPP forgiveness announcement, and stories on insurance coverage and fraud.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Latest on Relief Discussions
President Trump’s last-ditch effort to secure another enormous package of emergency coronavirus relief is being threatened by an unusual group: his GOP allies in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly thrown cold water on the idea of spending trillions more dollars to fight the pandemic, citing the opposition of roughly 20 Republicans in the upper chamber warning of the long-term effects on the federal debt.
On a conference call Saturday, Senate Republicans relayed those concerns to party leaders and top Trump officials, trumpeting their objections to a $1.8 trillion package proposed by the White House a day earlier and ensuring that the only path to passage is on the shoulders of Democratic votes — a strategy McConnell has rejected virtually out of hand.
On Saturday’s conference call, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) characterized the $1.8 trillion proposal as a “death knell” for Republicans seeking to promote themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility. “I liked the package that we had on the floor,” Blackburn told reporters Monday in the Capitol, referring to a much smaller proposal, providing roughly $300 billion in new stimulus, that received a vote last month. “It was the right approach.”
Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, is downplaying the internal divisions, noting that Senate Republicans mustered 52 GOP votes for that smaller bill, with only one Republican defector.
Speaker Pelosi, meanwhile, is facing her own pressure to seal a deal that can reach Trump’s desk before the elections. And it’s not only moderate Democrats and Republicans — those facing the toughest reelections next month — who are urging the Speaker to accept the latest offer from Mnuchin. A leading progressive voice in the House also took to Twitter over the weekend to press Pelosi to take the deal and pass the package through the House, saying it would put all the focus on McConnell and Senate Republicans.
“People in need can’t wait until February,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who like Pelosi represents a liberal San Francisco Bay Area district.
“1.8 trillion is significant & more than twice the Obama stimulus. It will allow Biden to start with infrastructure. Obama won in ‘08 by doing the right thing on TARP instead of what was expedient,” he added, referring to the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program passed by Congress in October 2008. “Make a deal & put the ball in McConnell’s court,” Khanna said.
SBA & Treasury announce simpler PPP forgiveness application
The U.S. Small Business Administration, in consultation with the Treasury Department, has released a simpler loan forgiveness application for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of $50,000 or less. This action streamlines the PPP forgiveness process to provide financial and administrative relief to America’s smallest businesses while also ensuring sound stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
Organizations who received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans under $50,000 can now access a new forgiveness application designed to simplify the forgiveness and loan review process, as announced by the Small Business Administration (SBA). This streamlined PPP forgiveness form does not require businesses to show the calculations used to determine their loan forgiveness amount. However, SBA may request information and documents to review those calculations as part of its loan review process.
Important to note – this is not “automatic PPP loan forgiveness,” as borrowers are still required to submit documentation to lenders on payroll costs, rent/lease payments, and utilities. Additionally, there is a restriction for any otherwise eligible applicants if they have affiliated businesses receiving PPP loans totaling $2 million or greater
Court Case Coming Up Over Insurance Coverage
Owners of more than two dozen Chicago area restaurants and bars will have their day in a Chicago federal court as they battle a Wisconsin insurer over business-interruption claims stemming from government-ordered lockdowns tied to the COVID-19 crisis. The cases make Chicago a critical stage for determining whether business insurers should be on the hook for losses suffered by policyholders because of the pandemic and government actions in response.
Their claims against Fond du Lac-based Society Insurance, a niche firm that insures hospitality industry businesses, have been consolidated under the supervision of U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang in Chicago. The suits against Society are the only ones of the multitude filed against insurers across the country that have been consolidated thus far.
The decision makes Chicago a critical stage for determining whether business insurers should be on the hook for losses suffered by policyholders as a result of the pandemic and government actions in response. Such claims, which insurers say are fundamentally not what their policies are meant to cover, collectively constitute one of the most dramatic and potentially costly litigation battles in recent history for an industry accustomed to the courtroom.
Many commercial property insurance policies expressly exclude coverage of losses stemming from a virus or a pandemic. In the U.S., 83 percent of business policies have that exclusion, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Society’s policies, however, were among the 17 percent without a virus exclusion, according to court filings. That gives the plaintiffs a better chance to prevail, attorneys say. In court filings, Society argues that its policies require a “physical loss” in order for policyholders to qualify for coverage. The insurer says the closure orders by state and local governments don’t meet that test.
States struggle to avert massive fraud in pandemic unemployment relief programs
The Secret Service and Labor Department have been warning states for months that criminal networks are trying to steal billions of dollars in federal pandemic unemployment aid. But the overburdened and antiquated state systems that send out the checks have been unable to stop a lot of the fraud.
“Using huge databases of stolen personal information, cybercriminals based everywhere from Nigeria to London have pocketed an estimated $8 billion meant for people forced out of work due to the coronavirus so far,” the Labor Department’s inspector general told states last month.
The IG predicts that $26 billion in the federal aid programs alone eventually could be lost to fraud. The system is easy to breach because Congress allowed applicants to receive some payments before providing documents verifying their identities as lawmakers rushed to pump relief into the economy back in March.
Despite the warnings, the federal government largely left it to states to detect which applications are fake. But state workforce agencies, stymied by decades-old IT systems and flooded with applications, have been ill-equipped to find and prevent the fraud, which appears to be far more extensive than the usual attempts to bilk government programs. Now states are asking for help.
Remote Work Will Not Magically End
Transitioning out of the pandemic will be hard. Slack chief executive Stewart Butterfield knew the world was changing the night of March 11, right around when Tom Hanks announced from Australia that he had contracted Covid-19, the NBA suspended its season, and President Trump signed his third proclamation banning travel to the United States. Butterfield’s team had already been working virtually for a week–something that came fairly naturally to the business-communications-tool startup.
Seven months later, Slack still is fully remote. Butterfield has had the same jarring experience so many executives and knowledge-workers have had going into his company’s near-empty headquarters at 500 Howard Street in San Francisco–one of 16 offices the company has in 10 countries. At the Fast Company Innovation Festival on Friday, he said of the nearly vacant 230,000-square-foot office, “It was pretty strange to be in there. A little depressing, to be honest.”
The visit got him thinking about the role of an office beyond the pandemic. Sure, it’s a place for meetings. It’s advertising, marketing, a shiny recruiting tool with a big Slack logo on it. HQ is a projection of power and a cultural touchstone. It’s also–and he said this is of lower value than its other roles–office space, which he referred to as “factory farm, battery-housing for people to sit at desks and use computers by themselves with headphones on not talking to anyone else.”
Butterfield believes that now that employees have tasted the flexibility of not having to commute, there’s no going back to a 40-hour, butt-in-chair workplace for most knowledge workers in competitive fields, citing a pair of logistical and market reasons.
He explained that if Slack required employees to all return to the office daily, and one of its competitors for the same pool of talent continued to allow remote work, he’d lose talent: “Who wouldn’t take that second option?”
“You start to see that as an expectation or requirement and there’s a market-force applied. I don’t know that individual companies are going to be able to opt out and say our employees have to come into the office,” Butterfield said.
There’s also logistics. Many of his city-dwelling employees have relocated to have more space, indoors and out. He’s also hired 20 percent of Slack’s current workforce in the past seven months–all of whom have worked remotely only. He recently brought on the first fully remote member of Slack’s executive team, who is based in Chicago rather than San Francisco, and who, Butterfield says, is “not going to move once there is a vaccine.”
“Once you make those decisions, you can’t go back,” he says. Butterfield admits he doesn’t have it all figured out, but imagines employees using the company’s offices for collaboration and meetings–but staying home on days that primarily include solo work. He says he and other executives have a lot of planning to do to make sure employees can be their most productive in the new reality–whatever it looks like. He says: “To not get the worst of both worlds is going to take a lot.”
Finally, please join the Joliet Chamber, Megan Millen – City Center Partnership Board Chair, and Rod Tonelli – City Center Partnership Economic Development Chair, for a HYBRID luncheon on Thursday, October 29 beginning at 11:30 AM to discuss:
- City Center Partnership Overview
- Downtown Development Project Updates
- Review of Downtown Grants and Impacts
- Preview of some of the exciting things coming to Downtown
Guests will have the opportunity to attend in-person (limited to 50 guests) or virtually via GoToMeeting.com. You can register here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2020-member-luncheon-october-29th-downtown-joliet-the-renaissance-continues-5965
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry