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This is Eric Wareham, Vice President of Government Affairs for WEDA. In this episode of the podcast, we are discussing the newly introduced Senate HEALS Act and some negative developments on the Right to Repair front.
This week, Senate Republicans introduced the HEALS Act, which would be the fourth phase of COVID relief legislation if passed by Congress. The bill contains several re-ups for popular programs like PPP and another round of direct payments to individuals. It also provides increased funding for agriculture.
First, breaking down the PPP renewal, the legislation creates a second draw on PPP loans with eligibility limited from the original program. Under the new requirements, an eligible business must have fewer than 300 employees and show a fifty percent reduction in gross revenue. The new loan amount will be 2.5 times the monthly payroll again but capped at $2 million. The requirements for loan forgiveness have also been expanded, with businesses required to use 60 percent for payroll expenses and the ability to use loan proceeds for additional expenses like worker protection and covered supplier costs.
The Senate legislation also includes notable amounts for agriculture with some cause for concern attached. Under the legislation, $20 billion in largely discretionary funding is provided to assist a broad swath of producers, growers, and processors. The legislation adds $14 billion of unused money allocated in the CARES Act to create a total of $34 billion directed to USDA to make available for assistance. As mentioned, the money is largely discretionary and gives Secretary Perdue wide latitude in how to spend the funding, which creates concern for many in Congress who want guarantees than money will flow to their constituents and the commodities they produce such as ethanol or specialty crops that might otherwise be bypassed or overlooked unless the legislation spells out explicit funding allocation.
Also included in the legislation is sought after liability protection for businesses. Under the Senate plan, a five-year liability shield would be created for businesses to protect them from COVID related litigation unless there is gross negligence or intentional acts. Similar legislation has been passed at the state level and would be a welcome relief for businesses already struggling to stay open.
There is substantial increased funding for the Department of Health and Human Services to combat COVID as well. $118 billion is allocated to that department for an array of services to strengthen hospitals and care across the country. Under the same title in the legislation, $2.5 billion is provided to the Department of Labor for state unemployment insurance funds and other purposes.
Of course, the House has already passed their version of a phase IV relief package that contains another $2 trillion in spending beyond the Senate HEALS Act. There are many similarities in the bills and both sides of the aisle seem eager to pass legislation before the August recess and the race to the November elections, so there is a strong likelihood that a compromise will be reached soon.
We move now to our Right to Repair Roundup where the news this past month hasn’t been good. In Massachusetts, right to repair advocates have placed a ballot question on the November election ballot that would expand the right to repair law passed in 2013 in that state. The new ballot measure would expand access to vehicle telematics. The auto industry is hitting back hard with a multi-million dollar ad campaign against the ballot measure. While this measure does not apply to farm equipment, it is drawing attention to the issue and we have seen that farm equipment is never far behind the auto industry when it comes to right to repair. The interesting thing to note here is that the ballot question exists and is costing the auto industry millions despite the fact that the auto industry signed a memorandum of understanding with right to repair advocates several years ago to avoid additional legislation and ballot measures. It seems that right to repair advocates are not living up to their word.
Another setback this month came when the Democratic Party released a draft of their 2020 platform. Under the section pertaining to agriculture, the party platform specifically endorses right to repair. Given the current polling showing large democratic gains at the state and national level, this is concerning and WEDA will continue working with existing and newly elected policymakers to educate them about industry efforts to make repair available without allowing modification.
On a final note, we turn to Oklahoma where one policymaker has stated he will continue to introduce right to repair every year he is at the capitol. Representative Logan Phillips of House District 24 survived a primary challenge and is one step closer to reintroducing right to repair in Oklahoma if he wins in the general election, which is now less than 100 days away.
Despite any bad news or turn of events we face, at WEDA we are still dedicated to the proposition that we do what is best for the dealer and we’ll continue doing just that. Hope everyone is enjoying their summer.
Written By Eric Wareham, WEDA VP of Government Affairs