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Beltway Buzz, April 3, 2020

Phase 4 Legislative Response? While the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is only one week old, some federal policymakers are already discussing a subsequent “Phase 4” legislative response to dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. Both President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have indicated that they are in favor of moving a massive infrastructure package as part of a subsequent COVID-19 bill. In an April 2, 2020, conference call with reporters, Speaker Pelosi stated that such infrastructure spending would not be limited to just roads and bridges, but would also include items like clean water and broadband projects, community health centers, and mobility (the Buzz is not sure what that means). Speaker Pelosi has also indicated that she would like to include more funding support for state and local governments, as well as a “vote by mail” initiative for national elections. However, in public remarks made on April 3, Speaker Pelosi seemed to walk back some of those goals and instead said that a subsequent legislative package should double down on the CARES Act by providing more unemployment insurance and more direct payments to individuals. At least for right now, both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are less enthusiastic about the need for more legislation. The full Congress is not expected back in Washington, D.C., until April 20, 2020, so there may be some time before any new legislative efforts really gets rolling.

COVID-19 Policy Update. Though Congress is out of town, the labor and employment policy machine was as busy as ever this week in cranking out important policy developments:

  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act. On April 1, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) took effect. On the same day, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division issued a temporary rule implementing the FFCRA. The new temporary rule clarifies issues such as how to count employees for purposes of the 500-employee threshold, when intermittent leave can be taken, and how small businesses can be exempted from coverage. Katrina Grider and Sarah J. Platt have the scoop on the new reg.

  • Unemployment Insurance. With unemployment insurance (UI) claims hitting 6.6 million last week, many are wondering when the new unemployment benefits provided under the CARES Act are going to kick in. This includes senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), who sent a letter this week urging U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia “to make sure that every unemployment office in the nation has the necessary staffing and technology to address the unprecedented number of requests for benefits.” While all 50 states have entered into the necessary agreements with the DOL in order to receive additional UI funding, they all have differing capacities and bureaucracies, so it is not known at this time how soon the new UI benefits will make it into workers’ hands.

  • Tax Guidance Arrives. Normally, nobody likes to hear from the Internal Revenue Service, but the agency provided some good news to employers this week in the form of guidance concerning employer tax credits related to the paid leave provisions of the FFCRA, as well as the employer payroll retention credits provided by the CARES Act.

  • Treasury Guidance on PPP. The CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provides $349 billion in lending to help keep small businesses running and their workers employed. The Department of the Treasury has issued guidance to help employers navigate the program.

  • RFE Flexibility. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a 60-day extension for responses to Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny.

NLRB Stays Busy.  While the DOL has been cranking out guidance and regulatory materials, the National Labor Relations Board has been busy lately too. This week the Board made two major announcements.

  • Representation Elections Resume. Approximately two weeks after issuing a moratorium on representation elections as a result of COVID-19-related safety concerns, on April 1, 2020, the NLRB announced that such elections would resume beginning on April 6, 2020. Thomas Davis and Ruthie L. Goodboe explain how the Board’s about-face may impact the scheduling of elections and how the elections are actually conducted.

  • New Representation Rules Finalized. On March 31, 2020, the Board finalized changes to its procedures concerning blocking charges, the voluntary recognition bar, and Section 9(a) recognition in the construction industry. Thomas M. Stanek and Justin B. Caresia have the details.

No Fooling. Wednesday, April 1, 2020, marked the 231st anniversary of the first ever meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives. The meeting was convened by the first Speaker of the House, Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, in Federal Hall in New York City—the same building where George Washington would be inaugurated as the first President of the United States just a few weeks later on April 30, 1789.

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About this Author

James J Plunkett Government Relations Counsel in the Washington, D.C. office of Ogletree Deakins
Senior Government Relations Counsel

James J. Plunkett works as a Senior Government Relations Counsel in the Governmental Affairs practice of Ogletree Deakins.   

Jim was previously the Director for Labor Law Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce where he focused on legislation, regulations, and policy decisions that impact the workplace.  This included activity concerning the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as international labor issues.

Prior to joining the Chamber, Jim was an associate at a national law firm...

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