COVID19 UPDATE
MARCH 27, 2020
As we close the week, I hope you and your employees are safe and healthy. I know you are worried and concerned about the future. I hope the federal stimulus legislation passed today and last week's Families First Coronavirus Response Act will provide you with some financial relief and comfort. This is not a panacea. It is not going to solve the long term consequences of a protracted pandemic. The last two congressional bills passed are universally recognized as short term stimulus efforts to keep people employed and businesses in operation even if not open. I expect there to be more spending bills to come.

I've included more information in today's email about the latest bill and noted upcoming opportunities to learn more as everyone is able to digest the full effect of the bill(s).

We're still engaged with our partners to keep projects moving. One important mention is that it is important that you comply with all CDC, state and local directives on workplace safety, particularly construction work sites. While mostly a responsibility of the construction companies, we have a role to play in complying with their polices and using our influence to make sure the work sites we visit are following guidelines. Failure to do so may very well result in a local mandate to stop work on a project. I cannot stress enough the adverse consequence if that were to happen and be applied to all construction services.

We have been pushing to remain an essential industry exempt from shelter in place orders including plans to send every mayor and parish president the Joint Industry Letter. With that comes the responsibility to adhere to all workplace safety recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID19. See OSHA guidance . Your clients are going to be looking to see that you have policies in place so be prepared.

ACEC and ACEC of Louisiana remain committed to supporting you and helping in any way we can. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions. We have identified many resources we can access and will track down an answer to help you navigate through this.

Remember, we are all in this together. To borrow from the 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, let's prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.
FEDERAL ACTION
SPEAKING OF HOPE.....HOUSE PASSES CARES ACT
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the CARES Act early this afternoon, sending the package to the White House for the President’s signature. 

In addition to the summaries sent to you previously, ACEC is working on webinars for members on key components of the package, notably the business tax provisions and the small business assistance. Information will be provided soon on presentation dates and times.

For your benefit, ACEC staff has taken a deeper dive into the Act and provided the following high points:

Small Business Program Overview
The new law establishes a Paycheck Protection Program to assist qualifying small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals through the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) loan  program . $349 billion is authorized for 7(a) lending from Feb. 15 through June 30, and SBA would fully guarantee the loans. Loans would be available during the covered period for:
  •  Any business, nonprofit, veterans group, or tribal business with 500 or fewer employees, or a number set by the SBA for the relevant industry. We’re seeking clarification on this point – whether SBA will implement the loan program using the traditional size standard for engineering, or something broader.
  • Sole proprietors, independent contractors, and eligible self-employed workers would be eligible.

Eligible recipients could receive loans up to $10 million or 250% of their average monthly payroll costs, instead of $5 million, with interest rates capped during the covered period at 4%. Loans can be used to cover eligible payroll costs -- salaries, commissions, regular paid leave, and health-care benefits -- as well as mortgage interest and utility payments. Firms would be required to make a “good faith certification” that funds will be used to retain workers, maintain payroll, and pay for rent and similar expenses. Funds cannot be used to compensate individual employees at an annual rate above $100,000, or to pay for emergency sick or family leave under the second coronavirus response package.

Loan Forgiveness – key elements
  • Recipients of SBA-guaranteed loans under the Paycheck Protection Program can apply for loan forgiveness over eight weeks for eligible payroll costs and for mortgage interest, rent, and utility payments -- SBA would pay lenders for any canceled debt plus accrued interest.
  • Loan forgiveness would be reduced for businesses that fire employees or cut their pay.
  • Canceled debt would be excluded from borrowers’ gross income for tax purposes.
  • The measure also would authorize and provide $17 billion for the SBA to pay the principal, interest, and associated fees for loans under the 7(a)504, and microloan programs for six months.

Disaster Loans
The package provides $10 billion to expand the SBA’s disaster loan  program  from Jan. 31 through Dec. 31 to cover businesses, cooperatives, employee stock ownership plans, and tribal businesses with 500 or fewer employees, as well as sole proprietors and independent contractors. The measure also authorizes SBA to advance up to $10,000 to existing and newly eligible disaster loan recipients within three days of receiving their applications. Recipients could use the advance funds to pay sick leave to employees affected by Covid-19, retain employees, address interrupted supply chains, make rent or mortgage payments, and repay debt. They wouldn’t have to repay the advance funds.
Contact your business banking institution to ensure they are a Small Business Administration 7(a) approved lender able to extend loans authorized by this Act.
USACE:
These materials have been developed by medical and construction experts from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help States and municipalities address potential shortages in medical facilities during the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. They are intended to assist Federal and State agencies in assessing and developing potential sites for suitability as alternate care facilities and to rapidly engage contractors to prepare them for medical use. States are encouraged to use these documents to support local requirements without USACE or HHS involvement where possible. 
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
Each covered employer must post a notice of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requirements in a conspicuous place on its premises. An employer may satisfy this requirement by emailing or direct mailing this notice to employees, or posting this notice on an employee information internal or external website.

You might consider language when emailing/posting this notice for some context:

As you may know from news reports, Congress has been rapidly passing legislation in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Most recently, they passed HR6201, Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Effective April 1, 2020, this bill provides for emergency sick leave and/or extended family medical leave under specific circumstances.  The link below will take you to the Department of Labor's (DOL) employee notice which outlines the provisions of the bill and the specific reasons you may be eligible if you are unable to work or telework (work from home) due to the virus. 
 
[Linked document]
 
This is a very new law and the federal government is still providing/determining guidance for employers. Please contact - insert name and contact information - if you have questions relative to application of the law. 
STATE ACTIONS
DOTD:
Update on electronic signatures:

Electronic submissions of 24-102s bearing required signatures must be made by the closing deadline for any given advertisement. The hard copy of originals should arrive by the closing deadline, if possible, or within a reasonable amount of time there after .

Louisiana Economic Development:
Thursday Gov. John Bel Edwards and Secretary Don Pierson of Louisiana Economic Development announced the opening of an LED help desk that provides email and hotline support for Louisiana businesses impacted by COVID-19.

For COVID-19 business questions, LED may be reached at LEDbiz@la.gov or via the toll-free hotline, (833) 457-0531. The COVID-19 hotline is staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Be aware that high call volumes might result in delays. Callers are encouraged to keep trying, leave a voice mail or contact LED via email.

  Explaining the federal coronavirus aid package and what it means for your business
 
  Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 8:30AM CST
A live discussion online regarding recent federal legislation and how it will impact local businesses and our community.
 
The webcast will be moderated by executive editor, JR Ball. Questions may be submitted during the live webinar using Zoom's Q&A.
Stephen Waguespack, President
La Association of Business and Industry
Congressman Garrett Graves
United States Representative
CARING AND SHARING
Week 2 ACEC Member Impact Survey Results:

Top Line Summary:
  • More firms have implemented some type of domestic travel restrictions (79% up from 71%). This has led to an increase in restrictions of all types of travel.
  • Significant increase in the percentage of firms that have implemented some type of telework policy (93% up from 80% in week 1).
  • To ensure work continuation, more firms implemented various methods to work with clients. Social distancing (84% up from 77%) and allowing virtual work (84% up from 73%) still top the list.
  • Large increase in the percentage of firms (24% up to 40%) reporting delays in RFPs/RFQs or Awards due to COVID-19.
  • Large increase in the percentage of firms (44% up to 58%) reporting project delays or cancellations due to COVID-19.

Results from new questions asked March 24, 2020
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 firms (87%) report receiving no assistance from creditors at this time, or at least are not aware of any.
  • Nearly half (47%) of firms believe congress should delay payment of the firm’s share of Social Security payroll taxes, while nearly as many favor increasing interest deductibility for businesses (44%).
  • Suggested “other” steps congress can take to mitigate cash flow challenges include: no interest loans, grants to cover payroll, tax credits and deductions, and Direct Payments / Unemployment to Employees.
Top Worries:
     Cash Flow
     Timing of government assistance
     Project delays and future work cancellations
     Loss of productivity/efficiency due to work from home
     Slowed bank responses to many urgent requests
     Anxiety over the economy
ACEC BLOG WITH COVID19 UPDATES
This blog site adds several articles and information every day relevant to engineering firms and COVID19.