March 2021
Prepared and Distributed by The Midwest Hardware Association, Inc.
White House Promises Next Round in $15 Minimum Wage Fight Will Begin This Week

By James Walker, NEWSWEEK (3/15/21)
The White House has promised that its second push for the $15 federal minimum wage will begin this week as it plans to line up Senate votes for a second attempt at passing the pay hike.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told MSNBC on Sunday that the Biden administration would be talking with allies on Capitol Hill this week about a “legislative strategy” for getting the votes needed to pass the $15 minimum wage.

He added that it would have been “quite incredible” if the White House had managed to get the $15 minimum wage passed through the budget reconciliation process with the rest of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.

Speaking to The Mehdi Hasan Show on Sunday, Klain said: “We’re definitely going to push for the minimum wage. We’re in the fight for 15.”

He later added:  “Raised in the first 50 days. That would have been really quite incredible. But we are going back at it to try and find a legislative strategy, to try and get the votes together to pass the minimum wage.

“We’ll be starting to work on that this week at the White House. We’re going to talk to our allies on Capitol Hill, our allies in the broader fight for 15, and figure out how we line up votes, and how we move it through the legislative process.”

Newsweek has contacted the White House for further comment and information on the $15 minimum wage talks.

The proposed federal minimum wage hike was effectively blocked by the Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough and the Biden administration in February.

MacDonough ruled that the wage increase was outside the remit of budget reconciliation rules, and Vice President Kamala Harris refused to overrule the unelected official, despite it being well within her power to do so.

When Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) made a final attempt to include the $15 minimum wage hike in President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, his proposal was defeated in a 58-42 vote.

Seven Democrats and one independent voted with Republican lawmakers to curtail the wage hike.

Releasing a statement after the parliamentarian’s ruling, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said:  “President Biden is disappointed in this outcome, as he proposed having the $15 minimum wage as part of the American Rescue Plan. He respects the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process.

“He will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best path forward because no one in this country should work full time and live in poverty.”
Visa and Mastercard Delay Swipe Fee Increase for Another Year

Card networks step back under pressure from trade groups and lawmakers

By Jackson Lewis on March 16, 2021

CHICAGO - Visa and Mastercard are delaying plans to increase swipe fees until April 2022, according to the two companies.

“Recognizing U.S. businesses are still facing many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Visa has decided to significantly modify its planned April 2021 business release to delay the implementation of a number of interchange rate changes,” a Visa spokesperson said in a statement provided to CSP Daily News.

The card networks originally planned to increase their interchange fees, which are charged to the retailer whenever a customer uses a credit or debit card to pay for a transaction, in April 2020. Today marks the second delay in implementing the swipe fee increase due to the pandemic.

“We are encouraged by the signs of economic recovery that we’re seeing in the U.S. and in other markets with the continued approval and availability of effective vaccines. Mindful that some merchants are still facing unprecedented circumstances, and consistent with our earlier commitment to be thoughtful on the timing of implementation, we are delaying our previously announced interchange adjustments in the U.S. until April 2022,” a Mastercard spokesperson said in a statement provided to CSP Daily News.

NACS, other trade groups and lawmakers have been pressuring the card firms to delay the swipe fee increases due to the pandemic's effect on business growth.

“Just as increased vaccination efforts start to give our Main Street business hope for a summer reopening, your companies propose slamming struggling merchants, and by extension consumers, with fee increases,” Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said in a recent open letter to the card networks. “Raising your fees would undermine efforts to help the economy recover and further reduce Americans’ purchasing power.”

While the matrix of fees is complex, the net impact is estimated at increases of $768 million a year for Visa and $383 million for Mastercard, or a total of $1.15 billion, according to analysis by global payments consulting firm CMSPI.

Swipe fees vary widely according to type of card, type of transaction and size of merchant, but average out to 2.25% of the transaction amount for Visa and Mastercard credit cards, according to the Nilson report, a trade newsletter that follows the card industry. The fees have increased dramatically in recent years, more than doubling from $25.6 billion a year in 2009 to $67.6 billion in 2019 for Visa and Mastercard credit cards alone, according to credit card research firm Nilson. Overall processing fees paid by U.S. merchants to accept all card payments totaled $116.4 billion in 2019, up 88% over the previous decade, it said.
The American Rescue Plan Extends FFCRA Tax Credit, But Not The Mandate

From the March 15, 2021

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “Plan”). The Plan is the most recent stimulus bill enacted to address the COVID-19 pandemic and it comes almost one year to the date the first COVID relief bill containing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was passed.

The employer leave obligations contained in the FFCRA ended on December 31, 2020. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which was passed on December 27, 2020, did not extend the FFCRA obligations; rather, it gave employers who were covered under the FFCRA the option to voluntarily decide to provide “qualified” paid sick leave or paid family leave wages to their employees and continue to receive a tax credit for such wages until March 31, 2021.

Although there was discussion about extending the FFCRA mandate and extending it to employers of all sizes, the Plan does not mandate employers provide COVID-19 related leave and continues to limit the tax credit to employers covered by the FFCRA (which for private employers, means employers with less than 500 employees).

For those covered employers that choose to voluntarily provide leave, the Plan extends the date employers can receive tax credits for qualified wages paid to employees from March 31, 2021 until September 30, 2021. Unlike the Consolidated Appropriations Act that did not expand the qualifying reasons for leave and limited qualifying wages to any unused entitlement under FFCRA, among other new provisions, the Plan expands the qualified leave reasons and provides new allotments of paid time that can qualify for tax credits.

Click Here for FAQs on the changes made by the plan.
Sales Trends January 2021
Here are the most recent Illinois, Minnesota-Dakotas, and Wisconsin hardware store sales trends, gathered from association members using the MHA's monthly accounting services. The figures derived for each region include sales data from the following number of stores:

Illinois - 21 stores
Minn.-Dakotas - 13 stores
Wisconsin - 72 stores
Did someone else get unemployment benefits under YOUR EMPLOYEE'S NAME? Here's what you can do.

AP: Sarah Skidmore Sell
Unemployment fraud in the U.S. has reached dramatic levels during the pandemic - the Labor Department inspector general’s office estimates that more than $63 billion has been paid out improperly through fraud or errors since March 2020.

Criminals are seizing on the opportunity created by the pandemic. Using data stolen from prior data breaches, the criminal makes a claim using someone else’s identity to access an increased pool of benefits. About $550 billion was spent in support of those out of work in 2020, compared with an average of $32 billion in the previous five years. States, often overwhelmed with claims, navigating new rules and using outdated systems, have struggled to keep up.
The problem cuts deep for victims, who can face delays getting their legitimate benefits, are at risk for further fraud and are left to resolve much of the problem themselves.

Experts say everyone should be on alert. Here’s what you should know about how to spot unemployment fraud, protect yourself and what to do if you are a victim.

The signs:  How to tell if someone claimed unemployment under your name.

Illinois Governor Pritzker Changes Reopening Guidelines-Again

By Alec Laird, MHA Illinois Lobbyist and Vice President, Government Relations for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association

Governor Pritzker announced a metrics-based, vaccination-informed framework for Illinois to advance to Phase 5 of the state’s Restore Illinois Plan. He also announced that all Illinois residents age 16+ will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting April 12th. Currently, every region of the state is in Phase 4 of the five-phase Restore Illinois mitigation plan. The newly announced metrics offer Illinois a bridge between the state's current Phase 4 restrictions and the “new normal” operations of Phase 5. This “Bridge Phase” will serve as a transition period with higher capacity limits and increased business operations.

The Bridge Phase will begin once 70% of residents 65 and older have been vaccinated and there are no reversals in the COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths for a 28-day monitoring period. Once 50% of residents 16 and older have been vaccinated and stable or declining COVID-19 metrics are recorded during a 28-day monitoring period, Phase 5 will be implemented, removing capacity limits altogether.

Additionally, this updated guidance establishes new capacity limits for settings determined by risk level. In an update to current Phase 4 mitigations, individuals with proof of full vaccination—defined as 14 days after receiving a final vaccine dose—or a negative COVID-19 test (PCR) 1-3 days prior to an event do not count against capacity limits.

eHELPS readers may find the updated mitigation metrics for Phase 4 and Phase 5 HERE.

Metrics to Move Forward
Vaccination metrics:  Once 70% of residents 65 and older statewide have received their first dose of the vaccine and no increase in COVID-19 metrics is recorded, the state could move into the Bridge Phase. Once 50% of residents 16 and older have received their first dose of the vaccine and no increase in COVID-19 metrics is recorded, the state could move into Phase 5.

COVID-19 metrics:  The state could advance if there is a non-increasing trend in hospital admissions for COVID-19 like illness, COVID-19 patients in the hospital and mortality rate while ICU bed availability must remain greater than or equal to 20%. The state will consider new knowledge of variants, vaccine effectiveness and the potential necessity of a booster shot as we move forward.

Monitoring period:  COVID-19 metrics will be considered over a 28-day monitoring period before the state can advance to the next phase. The current monitoring period began when all regions of the state moved into Phase 4.
Wisconsin Governor Signs Bill Providing COVID-19 Liability Protections for Businesses

By Misha Lee, MHA Wisconsin Lobbyist

On Thursday, February 25th, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed 2021 Wisconsin Act 4, which includes both COVID-19 liability protections, as well as reforms to the state’s antiquated Unemployment Insurance (UI) system. The legislation cleared the state Legislature with widespread bipartisan support, passing the State Senate 27-3 and the State Assembly 89-0. Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Representative Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) were instrumental in championing the liability protections through the Legislature.

The law provides a civil liability exemption from COVID-19 exposure claims for Wisconsin employers, governments, schools, and other entities as well as their employees, agents, and independent contractors. As a result of Act 4, entities cannot be held liable for ordinary negligence claims associated with a COVID-19 infection. This civil immunity does not apply if an act or omission involves reckless or wanton conduct or intentional misconduct. The immunity applies retroactively to claims accruing on or after March 1, 2020, except for actions filed before the bill took effect on February 27, 2021. A comprehensive COVID-19 response bill vetoed by Governor Evers in early February included the same liability language.

Act 4 is the result of a special session of the Legislature called by Governor Evers following his State of the State address in January. Referencing the massive influx of unemployment claims that the state has received since last March, the Evers claimed that an antiquated system and burdensome regulations were the primary causes of the resulting backlog of UI claims and long delays in processing time. The Governor called on the Legislature to convene a special session to take up his proposed changes to the UI system. While the Legislature approved parts of the Governor’s proposal, they removed a $5.3 million appropriation for the project and several other provisions, and added the COVID-19 liability protections advocated heavily by the state’s Main Street business community.

Wisconsin Budget Committee Announces Public Hearings
On March 10th, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) announced dates and locations on a series of public hearings to be held on the 2021-23 state budget:

  • Friday, April 9th, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
  • Wednesday, April 21st, Hodag Dome in Rhinelander
  • Thursday, April 22nd, University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie
  • Wednesday, April 28th, virtual

Each public hearing will begin at 10 AM and conclude at 5 PM. Members of the public who wish to testify at the virtual hearing are required to register in advance. Written comments on the Governor’s proposed budget can be emailed to the following address: [email protected].

JFC co-chairs Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Representative Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) have said they expect this year’s budget process to follow a similar timeline as the previous budget. The Legislature is hoping to send a budget bill on time to Governor Evers by July 1st. See here to review the 2021-2023 executive budget listed by agency.

Wisconsin Governor Evers Schedules Virtual Budget Hearings
On March 8th, Governor Tony Evers announced a series of virtual public hearings seeking feedback on and discussion of his proposed budget. Each hearing will cover a different set of topics. The Governor’s Badger Bounceback Live Sessions are scheduled for 6 PM on each of the following dates:

  • Thursday, March 18:  Economic Recovery & Opportunity
  • Thursday, March 25:  Accessible & Affordable Healthcare
  • Tuesday, March 30:  Transportation & Infrastructure
  • Thursday, April 8:  What’s Best for Our Kids
  • Wednesday, April 14:  Justice Reform & Marijuana Legalization
  • Wednesday, April 21:  Climate Change & Our Environment

To register for any of the sessions, click here.
Service Spotlight

Forklift Workshop DVD Training
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to have formal and practical training and evaluation for all forklift operators. Once initial training is conducted, employers must then evaluate each operator at least once every three years. The Forklift Workshop DVD Training can help you meet OSHA forklift training requirements.
The Forklift Workshop DVD is an innovative approach on education new and veteran operators on proper forklift safety procedures as required by OSHA. The workshop contains everything necessary, such as a 35 minute DVD, trainer’s tools on CD- ROM, operator’s handbook, quizzes, forklift poster, and more!
Contact Jordan Firkus at 800-888-1817 ext. 301, [email protected] or Andrea Ramage at 800-888-1817 ext. 365, [email protected].


“The Forklift Workshop DVD is a handy tool. It includes basic information to help train new forklift operators and provides a heads up on possible safety issues. The video and material provided make training quick and easy.”

Mike, Manager
United True Value
Oconto Falls, WI

“We purchased the forklift training DVD system after a surprise OSHA visit as a necessity. Among the things we were fined and cited for was failure to have a formal and well-documented forklift training program. We purchased the forklift DVD training program from the Midwest Hardware Association to become compliant and avoid additional penalties.”

Matt Johnson
Johnson's Hardware & Rental
Mora, MN