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US Chamber of Commerce meets virtually with Saipan, Guam counterparts

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THE United States Chamber of Commerce met virtually with its counterparts on Saipan and Guam last week to discuss matters that are pertinent to the private sector, including the Paycheck Protection Program and unemployment.

"One of the big challenges that we've seen is that chambers of commerce are some of the very, very few organizations that are specifically excluded from the [PPP]," said Ron Eidshaug, vice president of the U.S. chamber's Congressional and Public Affairs Division.

Eidshaug said the chambers of commerce should be included in the program. But, he added, "we hear that including chambers of commerce in the [PPP] is just hanging on by a thread."

On the topic of unemployment, Eidshaug said the trust fund issue has been a cause of major concern.

The extra $600 that was allotted for the unemployed and to employees who work for less than or close to minimum wage has expired.

Eidshaug said there is a strong argument that this extra $600 helped keep the economy from totally cratering this past spring.

But at the same time, he said, many employees are making more money on unemployment than they are working.

"In and of themselves, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But where it becomes a big challenge is when businesses are ready to call those workers back to work. The businesses are then in the position of taking that extra money out of their employees' pocketbook," said Eidshaug, noting that this can cause conflicts between the employer and the employed.

"We've kicked around some different ideas. We've tried to sell some ideas on Capitol Hill to prorate the amount of some dynamic system in dynamic payments to make sure that people have the assistance they need, without the unintended consequences of preventing people from going back to work. That's another important issue," said Eidshaug.

Then there are some unemployment trust funds that have gone broke, which, Eidshaug said, would cause automatic tax increases in certain states.

"I don't know if that's the situation in Guam or Saipan, but that's one thing that we're looking at very closely," he said.

And then there's the liability issue.

"We are really, really concerned with frivolous lawsuits. Certainly, bad actors out there do not deserve liability relief, but businesses that are trying to do everything that they can to protect their workers, protect their customers, protect their suppliers, they should receive some sort of liability protection. Businesses that are following CDC guidelines, state guidelines, territorial guidelines should receive some sort of liability protection," he said.

Ensuring that liability relief remains in any phase four package is crucial, he added.

He said the cost of the package has been debated in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, with the House Democrats looking into another $3.5 trillion, and the Senate Republicans still determining a figure.

"The two sides are very, very far apart on some of the issues like state and local aid," said Eidshaug.

Regarding aid for schools and healthcare facilities, it was noted that personal protective equipment, hand sanitizers, and cleaning supplies have grown expensive.

"There [are] deals to be made there. At the end of the day, the size of the package is going to be probably the biggest issue that's out there. I would expect that we're not going to see a lot of movement until after Labor Day into mid-September," Eidshaug said.

He added that the U.S. Congress has largely been gone from Washington and not a lot of progress has been made due to several political happenings, such as the national conventions for both the Democrats and the Republicans, as well as national holidays.

"In addition to the work that we're doing, trying to get something done on Capitol Hill, we've also been working on a lot of the return-to-work issues and trying to understand what businesses need internally," he said.

"We're trying to make sure that we're on top of the issues that are coming up and are trying to hear from the business community about all the issues that are causing our workers concern, our businesses concern, and our suppliers concern."

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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