The Home Furnishings Association has asked congressional leaders to provide more help for furniture retail businesses.
“Most of our members closed their stores for weeks and experienced steep financial losses as a result,” HFA CEO Sharron Bradley said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “The assistance they and their employees have received from Washington has been critically important. Unfortunately, it is still not sufficient to ensure that they will rebound soon. As you plan further steps to aid our national recovery, we hope you will consider the priorities of our association.”
Those priorities are:
- The RESTART Act.
- Liability protection.
- Loan and rent forbearance.
A fourth priority – correcting a faulty Internal Revenue Service interpretation of the Employee Retention Tax Credit – already has been addressed.
A long-term lending program is needed
The RESTART Act, proposed by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), would accomplish two critical objectives. The first is to extend the eight-week period to 16 weeks when businesses can use loan funds secured through the Paycheck Protection Program to pay employees and earn loan forgiveness. Eight weeks does not give them time to reopen and resume full operations, Bradley said. Until then, many HFA members can’t bring all their employees back to work.
The second important feature of the RESTART Act is to create a new lending vehicle with favorable terms, fewer restrictions and up to seven years to repay loans. Because recovery is likely to require several years, sustained support through low-interest, partially forgivable loans will be needed to help many furniture retailers return to long-term viability.
Protection from unwarranted claims is critical
Liability protection related to the COVID-19 crisis is needed as furniture stores reopen, Bradley said. They will implement social distancing, restrict the number of customers in their stores at a time, promote the use of personal protective equipment, clean frequently and follow other measures as set out by the Centers for Disease Control, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other agencies. They will do everything they can to maintain a healthy workplace for their employees and a safe shopping environment for their customers.
“We are not asking Congress to shield businesses that fail to meet their obligations but to protect those that are doing their best to prevent transmission of a highly contagious virus that still isn’t fully understood,” Bradley said.
“People who are infected may present no symptoms but still can spread the virus to others. That makes it unreasonable for store owners to be held legally responsible if a customer enters a store, fails to keep an appropriate distance from other customers or employees and unknowingly transmits the virus. Masks, gloves and other precautions may help contain the virus, but achieving 100 percent effectiveness is not possible. That should not create opportunities for plaintiffs to press claims in court or demand settlements. So we ask that you craft legislation to relieve businesses of liability concerns as long as they adhere to applicable government guidelines for health and safety.”
Some obligations can’t be met right away
The HFA also asked congressional leaders to provide forbearance of obligations to lenders and landlords. “While some of our members have reached mutually beneficial arrangements with lenders and landlords, many are being held to existing payment schedules just when their cash flow has fallen drastically,” Bradley said. “Heroic efforts to maintain business viability will go for naught if they have to default on existing loans and obligations or potentially face foreclosure or eviction. If Congress orders a brief pause for meeting those obligations – no more than six months – businesses will have time to build revenue and restore employment.”
The HFA understands that there are many needs throughout the country that have yet to be addressed, Bradley said. “State and local governments must have the financial resources required to support public health systems, first responders, law enforcement, schools and other services that businesses depend on to operate in a stable environment. Employees who can’t return to work need help to feed, clothe and shelter their families. We all depend on the medical professionals and others who are on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19,” she said.
“As you see to all these needs with the goal of preserving the welfare of the American people, we ask that you also enact the RESTART Act, provide protection from liability for COVID-19-related claims, and enforce loan and rent/lease forbearance,” she wrote.
HFA members should write to their senators and representatives to press for more help from Washington. They can find contact information here.