It was a busy weekend for news as we now have the green light for a third covid vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine received two ok’s over the weekend meaning shipments could get out as fast as today. The next round of pandemic relief aid passed the House early on Saturday and heads to the Senate where, as we reported last week, the minimum wage push will end. Finally, a new PPP change will raise the amount that sole proprietors, independent contractors, or the self-employed can apply for.
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CDC Panel Endorses Emergency Use of Johnson & Johnson Vaccine
Johnson and & Johnson is beginning to ship doses of its COVID-19 vaccine following authorization over the weekend, with 3.9 million doses going out this week. “We think, literally, within the next 24 to 48 hours, Americans should start receiving shots in arms,” Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said on NBC’s “Today” on Monday. “They’re literally rolling out with the trucks as we speak.”
The addition of a third authorized vaccine adds to the doses in the U.S. arsenal, but supplies of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine will be limited at first. The 3.9 million doses shipping this week is the entire stockpile, and there will be no additional shipments next week, administration officials said.
The company expects to ramp up somewhat by the end of March, with 20 million total doses by that point and 100 million by the end of June. Production delays, though, have limited the initial offering. Asked about delays, Gorsky said: “Let’s remember, this started literally as a genetic code information that was passed on in email 12 months ago.”
“Since then, we’ve been able to do extensive clinical trials involving up to 50,000 patients,” he added. “Trial sites around the world. I really can’t think of another time in our history where we’ve been able to ramp up at this kind of pace.”
While Johnson & Johnson did not have the headline-grabbing efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, at 66 percent, it was still 100 percent effective in trials at stopping hospitalizations and deaths and was tested during a tougher period when new variants were circulating. The vaccine also only requires one dose, instead of two, and is easier to store, potentially helping ease distribution challenges and reach new areas.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday cleared the nation’s third coronavirus vaccine after an agency advisory panel voted 22-0 to recommend authorization on Friday. Following then on Sunday, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory committee voted to recommend Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use for people ages 18 and older in the United States. The 12-0 vote with one recusal from CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices set up the final acceptance from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky before shipments could begin.
House Passes $1.9 Trillion Covid Aid Bill
The House passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package, sending the legislation to the Senate as Democrats faced intraparty rifts over the future of a worker-pay increase. The measure passed early Saturday largely along party lines, 219-212, with two Democrats joining all Republicans in opposition.
Lawmakers will likely alter the legislation before passing it in the Senate, meaning the House will then need to approve the amended bill before sending it to the president’s desk. Democrats are racing to finish the package before March 14, when certain types of federal unemployment assistance are set to expire.
The legislation, which was modeled after Biden’s proposal, includes provisions to provide a third round of direct stimulus checks of up to $1,400 for individuals, a $400 weekly unemployment insurance boost through Aug. 29, and $8.5 billion in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to distribute, track and promote public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.
The direct payments of up to $1,400 for individuals or $2,800 for married couples are the largest pandemic impact payments yet. The two rounds last year maxed out at $1,200 and $600. Individuals with incomes of up to $75,000 and married couples earning up to $150,000 would be eligible for the full amounts, while the payments would phase out for individuals making up to $100,000 or $200,000 for couples.
Other key parts of the massive package include $350 billion for state and local governments, $130 billion to help K-12 schools reopen for in-person classroom instruction, and an expansion of the child tax credit to $3,000 per child or $3,600 for children under 6 years of age.
One component of the bill that the House passed early Saturday is doomed to be left on the cutting room floor once it reaches the Senate: an increase in the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $15. Senate Democrats will drop a plan to raise the national minimum wage and subsequent proposals about tax penalties and tax incentives that lawmakers had explored as a replacement for raising the minimum wage so that they can complete the relief package before March 14, when federal unemployment benefits expire.
U.S. Chamber Takes New Actions to Support and Empower Employers to Help Accelerate Vaccinations, Protect Workers, and Stop the Spread of Coronavirus
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce today launched the Rally for Recovery Commitment (www.committorecovery.com), supporting and empowering businesses and business organizations nationwide to take basic but important steps to accelerate vaccinations, protect workers, stop the spread of coronavirus, and defeat the pandemic. The Rally for Recovery Commitment is the latest step in the Chamber’s ongoing and expansive efforts to ensure business leaders have the tools and resources they need to inform and protect their employees, communicate to their customers, support their communities, and get our country back to health.
The Rally for Recovery Commitment encourages every company and organization to continue to do their part to help protect our employees, customers, and communities, so that together we can reignite the economy and defeat the pandemic. The commitment includes examples of steps employers can take from continuing to encourage masking, providing vaccination information to employees, paid time-off for employees to get vaccinated, and communicating the importance of vaccines in the local community. As part of the effort, the Chamber is expanding its efforts to develop and distribute guides and resources to help employers achieve these goals.
“The business community has stepped up again and again to help our country endure and eradicate the pandemic and the U.S. Chamber is proud to serve and support these heroic and often unsung efforts,” said Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO-Elect of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The Chamber is committed to helping the White House lead a widespread campaign to defeat COVID-19. Working together with our members that span every size of company and every sector of the economy, as well as our state and local chamber partners across the country, we urge every American business to continue take important steps in accelerating vaccinations, protecting workers, slowing the spread, and reopening the economy safely.”
The U.S. Chamber and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation have been at the forefront of providing accurate and data-driven guidance to American businesses and communities throughout the pandemic. The Rally for Recovery Commitment is the latest in a series of resources available to American workers and business from the U.S. Chamber, including information to help small businesses access financial support, resources to help all companies navigate the reopening process, and a comprehensive COVID-19 Vaccines Digital Resource Center to help business leaders and associations navigate vaccine questions, including state-specific guidance and information, employer vaccine communication and strategy guidance, and reliable safety and efficacy information.
PPP Changes Today
If you’re a sole proprietor, independent contractor, or self-employed entrepreneur, now is the best time to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan. Today, the Small Business Administration is expected to release an update to the sole proprietor version of the PPP loan application, accounting for a rule change that allows companies with no employees to get more money from the PPP than they were previously allotted. Companies with fewer than 20 employees also now have an exclusive window in which to apply for funds, through March 9th. The changes are part of a spate of revisions requested by the Biden administration aimed at making the now $284.5 billion forgivable loan program more equitable and accessible to the smallest businesses.
Here’s how it’ll work: Starting as soon as Monday, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals may apply for a PPP loan equivalent to the figure listed on line 7 of their Schedule C form–that is, their gross income. Previously, businesses needed to list their net income, or line 31 on the form, which removes taxes and other expenses from the calculation. This is a massive upside for these businesses.
Can existing borrowers apply for more money?
First, it’s unclear if the upsizing of the loan will be retroactive for those who’ve already received a first-draw PPP. In a town hall discussion on Thursday, Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer, noted that this question may get cleared up by forthcoming guidance the SBA is expected to offer along with the updated application. Under current rules, Bradley notes, you wouldn’t be able to go back and get that additional money. But he adds, the SBA may alter this rule.
At the very least, Bradley says, even if it’s not retroactive, you’re basically guaranteed to get more money for your second draw than you did for your first. Note that you still need to demonstrate a 25 percent revenue drop in any one quarter in 2020 compared with 2019, or a 25 percent loss for the full year of 2020 over 2019.
Does the forgiveness test change for these borrowers?
Under the PPP, businesses are required to apportion 60 percent of their loan proceeds to payroll costs, while the remaining 40 percent can be spent on an array of expenses including rent, PPE, and tech gear. For sole proprietors, independent contractors, and the self-employed, Bradley points out that it’s generally assumed that all of their loan proceeds are actually their payroll costs. In other words, you don’t currently need to split your loan up so that 60 percent is spent on payroll while the rest is devoted to other allowable expenses, because “the assumption is that the whole thing is going to support your income,” he says.
That assumption might not hold since gross income–that is, before taxes and expenses–is inherently greater than your net income, suggests Bradley. If the point of the PPP for Schedule C filers is to replace the net income you would have received had the pandemic not occurred, it doesn’t track, then, to suddenly have a higher number than what you actually earned prior to the pandemic. In the end, Bradley suggests, it may be hard to justify a blanket treatment of loan proceeds. But that’s up to the SBA to assess.
What is a payroll expense for Schedule C filers, really?
There’s also a lack of clarity around what actually counts as a payroll expense for this group of business owners. While Bradley notes that it’s generally assumed that a Schedule C filer’s loan proceeds are considered to be all payroll, the question has never been specifically addressed by the SBA.
If these borrowers aren’t held to the same forgiveness standard as employers–that is, they can use most of a loan’s proceeds for things that aren’t strictly speaking considered payroll–they can spend down their first-draw loans almost immediately. That means, Sidhu says, that there’s nothing stopping Schedule C filers from applying for both their first- and second-draw loans at the same time. He notes that many of these borrowers have amassed huge debts during the pandemic, so it would not be at all difficult for them to find eligible uses for their first-draw loan’s proceeds, besides payroll. They could, for example, pay off back rent on a storefront or unpaid equipment leases, he suggests.
“If you’re a first-draw borrower, and you use the funds according to SBA guidelines–that is, you spend the first-draw money first–you can actually apply for a [second draw] loan, and you can do it in the same timeline between now and March 31,” he says. “It’s really going to make a massive impact.”
Covid-19 Vaccine ‘Passports’ Raise Ethics Concerns, Logistical Hurdles
As vaccine rollouts gain momentum, governments world-wide are looking at ways for people to prove they are inoculated against the coronavirus, raising logistical and ethical concerns about whether others will be excluded from daily life.
The U.K. government recently announced it will consider whether Britons will need proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test to visit bars, return to the office or attend theaters and sporting events.
In Israel, a vaccine passport was launched last week allowing those who are inoculated to go to hotels and gyms. Saudi Arabia now issues an app-based health passport for those inoculated, while Iceland’s government is doling out vaccine passports to facilitate foreign travel. Last month, President Biden issued executive orders asking government agencies to assess the feasibility of creating digital Covid-19 vaccination certificates.
Proponents of the plans say they will enable battered economies to reopen, even as vaccines are still being rolled out, allowing people to enjoy leisure activities and go to work safe in the knowledge they aren’t harming others or at risk themselves. It could also act as an incentive for people to get the shot. But the concept is potentially fraught with pitfalls. It could discriminate against minority communities, who are less likely to accept the vaccines, according to national surveys, or young people, who are less likely to be given priority to receive them. There are questions about the ethics of granting businesses access to peoples’ health records. To get around fears it would turn those who refuse vaccinations into second-class citizens, the government is exploring whether a certificate could also be granted if a person tests negative for Covid-19.
“The thing underpinning all of this is, what are you going to use it for?” said Melinda Mills, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford. “Is it for international travel? Is it for getting a job? Is it for buying milk?”
Program Notices & Reminders
SBA Page Links for Direction and Questions on PPP
1st draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/first-draw-ppp-loans
First draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-paycheck-protection-program-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
2nd draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/second-draw-ppp-loans
Second draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-sd-ppp-second-draw-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
A Chance to Win $50,000 for Your Small Business – FedEx Grant Contest
The 2021 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is now open. Entries close March 9, 2021. Before you enter, have your FedEx account number handy. Or create an account if you don’t have one. Now you have a chance to win $50,000 to help you continue growing your business. Enter the 9th annual FedEx Small Business Grant Contest today.
Enter here: https://smallbusinessgrant.fedex.com/enter-now
More info: https://www.fedex.com/en-us/small-business/grant-contest.html?CMP=SOC-1006521-1-16-1003-1111000-US-US-EN-FXALISBGCKIT200&LINK=LEARNGCLI315120
Finally, following up on the article above with the economic outlook news, we would like to announce our next virtual conference. It will take place on March 11th at 11 AM with John Ferguson, Senior Vice President & Senior Portfolio Manager with Northern Trust.
Economic Trends & Reopening of the Economy
- History: Economic and Market Review through the Pandemic
- Current Events: Market and Economic Signs that we are at an inflection point
- Outlook for the Future: Is this a remake of the roaring 20’s?
Thursday, March 11, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. Register here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-webinar-march-11-economic-trends-reopening-of-the-economy-6016
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry