PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Economic Development Council hosted a webinar on the impacts of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on area businesses earlier this week and plans another webinar on virus legislation today.
The federal paid leave law is separate from the $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill — Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — that the Senate approved Wednesday and which the House is poised to pass today.
EDC Executive Director Colleen McAleer said Families First Coronavirus Response Act puts new requirements on business owners who are unable to preserve cash during the coronavirus outbreak.
“As we know, for most business owners right now, cash preservation is king,” McAleer said before introducing speaker Christopher Riffle of First Federal.
“And that’s what people are really focused on, trying to bridge this period until we’re able to do businesses again.”
McAleer said the CARES Act included a “substantial amount of funds available for businesses in Clallam County.”
A paycheck protection program will provide loans to businesses that keep their employees on the payroll though June 30, McAleer said.
“You are not required to make any payments on the loan until the end of the year,” McAleer said.
“There’s a lot of stipulations, but it does apply to nonprofits. It also applies to independent contractors and small businesses owners.”
McAleer said the EDC would host another Zoom webinar on coronavirus legislation from 11 a.m. to noon today, Friday, March 27.
State Employment Security Department officials will discuss a shared work program, partial unemployment and “different programs that they have for employers as they’re reviewing what steps they’re going to be taking with their employees,” McAleer said.
The Wednesday webinar covered the nuts and bolts of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides paid sick and family leave for the coronavirus.
The federal legislation was adopted last week and takes effect April 2. It is scheduled to sunset Dec. 31.
Riffle, First Federal’s chief operating officer and general counsel, described a “very fluid and unprecedentedly fast-moving process and environment” around coronavirus.
Riffle said the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act would “create also a lot of confusion about where that money’s going to be going, how do you get your hands on it and what are some limitations.”
“I think, unfortunately, we’re having to react to these things in such as fast pace that the legislation is being passed before the answers to most of our questions are being answered,” Riffle during the hour-long webinar.
“This is going to require a little bit of patience as we start to better understand the inner workings and mechanics of both of these acts.”
Riffle said the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was “phase 2 of what will be at least a phase 3 or 4 response by the federal government to the current crisis.”
The act creates funding for domestic nutrition programs for schools, provides a broad mandate for COVID-19 testing, requires that private insurance companies cover COVID-19 testing, Riffle said.
The legislation also establishes tax credits for money spent under the Emergency Family Medical Leave Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, Riffle said.
During the webinar, it was brought up that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act “does not pencil out for employers” because wages paid will exceed the tax credits.
“That is one of the first things I thought about as I started to learn more about this act,” Riffle said.
“I don’t think that it was passed, really, with an eye on the best interest of the employer at all, and you’ve probably experienced that with other acts that are passed at the federal or state level as well.
“This is only my personal opinion, but this is, I think, passed in a very fast, aggressive timeline to address the very dire and acute conditions that employees are facing both with respect to being infected, possibly infected, people you know and love for being affected and then your kids being affected with the school closures,” Riffle added.
“I think it is an attempt to waylay the employer concerns as best as the act could by offering a payroll tax credit.”
McAleer said the CARES Act would provide more support for employers.
“That bring said, it will take a while for your company to get that money,” McAleer said.
“Yep,” Riffle agreed, “that lag time is going to be really challenging for an unimaginable number of businesses locally and nationally that are affected by this.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].
Terry Ward, publisher of the Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum, is vice chair of the Economic Development Corp. board of directors.