The National Retail Federation has welcomed legislation agreed to by key members of the Senate that would give businesses more time to use Paycheck Protection Program money and spend it on safety equipment and improvements in addition to employee wages.
“We appreciate that Congress recognizes that businesses struggling with how to respond to COVID-19 need more flexibility,” NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations David French says. “Retailers want to reopen as quickly as they can, but the No. 1 priority is to reopen safely. This measure will allow retailers to take the time to make sure their stores are safe for their workers and customers, and allow them to invest in equipment and modifications important to ensuring safety.”
Under the Senate bill, businesses would be given 16 weeks to spend funds from the program and still have the Small Business Administration loans forgiven. That’s up from the eight-week period set when the program was established to assist small businesses with fewer than 500 employees as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. In addition, businesses would be allowed to use the money to pay for personal protective equipment such as face masks or gloves, and on “adaptive investments” such as expanding drive-through windows or installing sneeze guards.
The bipartisan legislation is the result of an agreement between Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Ranking Member Ben Cardin, D-Md.; committee member Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety. The bill could see passage in the Senate as soon as Friday.
NRF also supports a House measure expected to see a vote next week that would give businesses up to 24 weeks to use the funds and repeal a requirement that they spend at least 75 percent of the money on payroll.
French said either bill would give small retailers more time to implement guidelines for safe reopening NRF has developed under its Operation Open Doors initiative. The guidelines address four key areas including health and safety, people and personnel, logistics and supply chain, and litigation and liability.
NRF asked lawmakers to expand the Paycheck Protection Program “to cover the worst months of the economic slowdown” in a May 6 memo sent to members of Congress, noting that the program is set to expire June 30. “It’s clear that extended public health restrictions and a slow return to normal work, public gathering and travel patterns will result in small businesses having limited customers and revenue far beyond June 30,” the memo said.