Dear friends and neighbors:
As we near the final week of this legislative session, probably the single piece of legislation on which I’ve worked hardest is Senate Bill 5478 to bring urgent relief to businesses large and small that have been hurt most by the pandemic.
I don’t think the importance of this bill can be overstated, given the historic disruption and losses suffered by businesses and workers alike. Many businesses have been shuttered, others are fighting for economic survival, and countless workers have lost their jobs or are working reduced hours because their employers have had to close or scale down operations.
On top of the loss of revenue, businesses face a second crisis: record unemployment costs due to the unprecedented number of workers who have been laid off. These aren’t “normal” layoffs — we’re not talking about businesses that downsized or underperformed or were poorly managed, but businesses that were force to curtail operations because of circumstances outside their control — and the record wave of layoffs has businesses facing record unemployment insurance (UI) costs. As the pandemic ebbs, those fundamentally healthy businesses should be able to bounce back, but these unemployment costs would be an albatross around their necks.
As the lead cosponsor on this bill, I worked with businesses to identify which industries have been hit the worst and used that information to prioritize the most sweeping UI relief in our state’s history — $500 million allocated according to hardship. All told, $250 million will go to employers in economic sectors that were required to close to the public due to COVID-19 measures in 2020 and 2021, including restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms, bowling alleys, retail outlets, and others. Another $250 million would be used to minimize tax increases for employers in sectors that were not required to close but nevertheless suffered significant effects of the pandemic recession and would otherwise see large UI tax increases.
As we build back from the pandemic, the recovery of our communities will rest in large part on the businesses and jobs that drive them — and this bill will make sure our relief dollars go first and foremost to the businesses hardest hit. Since it passed unanimously in the Senate, I expect it to receive similar support in the House.