Photo shows a group of people walking with the U.S. Capitol in the background
Chris Andresen, left, and others during the Home Furnishings Association's 2019 Washington Fly-in.

What is Washington doing to help?

Home Furnishings Association members are wrestling with difficult questions as the coronavirus crisis continues to threaten their livelihoods. Stay open or temporarily shut down? What happens if retailers simply stop paying their suppliers? To whom do we tell our stories to be heard? And what is our government doing to help us stay in business?

Members asked those questions and more Wednesday in an HFA webinar with the association’s lobbyist in Washington, D.C. lobbyist, Chris Andresen.

Here are some of the questions submitted by listeners and Andresen’s answers:

Will there be a payroll tax cut?

I would say no. The packages we saw sent up to Congress (Wednesday) by the administration, the payroll tax cut proposed earlier was not included in that, so I think (the Trump administration) heard the message from Congress that was not something they were interested in.

What if retailers just stopped paying manufacturers?

That falls on the Treasury and Small Business Association right now to the extent of the government. (The National Retail Federation) brought up the issue of what do we do with supply-chain impacts and rent and all these things still coming due. The federal government is doing what it can. It can’t cover everything, particularly if, say, you’re paying rent to a private entity. The reality is the way this is being envisioned, those specific supply-chain business costs would be something that would be applied to these Treasury or SBA funds. Obviously, the question remains the longer we wait, the more expensive it gets. We don’t know exactly what this consequence (of not paying) will be. This is why Congress is looking at another (relief) package after this one passed today. Once Congress works on passing his third one – assuming it’s passed and signed in seven to 10 days, what impact will that have and then what impact do we see moving forward, especially if we’re taking (these relief efforts), as the administration says,  in 15-day increments? And just as important, what do we do when your business is operated on daily segments and not 15 days?

That’s why it’s important to get your stories to congressional leadership and individual representatives and senators because that’s what’s really driving this – concrete examples of, ‘Hey, this is going on and affecting this segment.’ Then we can go back and adjust and get that problem solved.

Do we need to ask Congress not to close our businesses, small or large? How about a forbearance agreement to banks to back off?

I would say that’s something being discussed on the federal level with the banks specifically. As it comes to national policy or any sort of recommendation for businesses to close, I can tell you this: Tony Fauci (director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is working closely with the White House) is somebody advocating for some sort of nationwide lockdown procedure. That’s why you saw in recent days CDC guidelines drop from 50 to 10 as a compromise. Retailers should make a decision, how at risk are you and your employees and your customers to this outbreak? What services are you providing, especially when it comes to paychecks for people to afford their own living situations? Obviously, there’s a legitimate case to be made that our industry needs to stay open no matter what size we are. Look, this is cascading. We see San Francisco there is now a shelter in place for six of its counties, and many other places across the country are going that way.  It comes back to our government needs to hear your stories. I’m in touch with many associations, the National Governor’s Association, National Association of Counties, the League of Cities. We need to hear from you to send those stories so we can get them in front of people.

Will there be some sort of national consistency to closings? What about small businesses?

The odds are against the Secretary of Labor doing that. He does have the authority in regard to (businesses with) fewer than 50 people staying open or not. Whether there’s been a national decree or not, I have not heard that. If you’re struggling, get us that story. We can get it over to the (Department of Labor) and they can make that decision.

What can we ask any senator if we have his or her ear?

Certainly for any federal response to be flexible.  All of you all dealing with this just like lawmakers – in real-time. We don’t know what the endpoint is for business and employees. So we want them to have greater flexibility. Keep working (on relief packages). Come back on some of  these tax proposals for businesses. We need more money, more liquidity. The more we do it upfront, the less we have to come back later.

Should we remain open in rural areas? What about your delivery teams going to three to eight homes a day?

If you have people who want to work and sell and have your delivery trucks deliver, there are no federal rules right now preventing you. But businesses need to be sensible and flexible. As a furniture retailer, we can do that. The reality is that people are in their homes for an unknown period of time and they are going to want their furniture. This is a service that we can provide. Stay open and serve your market unless the government tells you otherwise.

[HFA’s COVID-19 resources page]

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