Each step was calculated and measured for effectiveness. IT HAS NOW BEEN a little over three months since I last traveled for work.
At the beginning of March, I was with a dealer in Jefferson City, the state capital of Missouri, lobbying against a fast-moving right to repair bill. The scene was something that now seems ludicrous – hundreds of people, including busloads of school children, from all over the state crammed into narrow hallways waiting for their chance to quickly visit with lawmakers in tiny, cramped offices. The dealer I was with said it felt like we were a pack of vultures waiting to pounce on lawmakers and scavenge a moment of their time. One week later the Capitol was closed, lawmakers were sent home and the bill we were working on was dead.
This was a scenario replicated across the entire country among nearly every sector of industry and in our private lives as our collective hive of activity ground to a halt. Our vocabulary was quickly expanded to include hackneyed phrases like social distancing, community spread, and self-quarantine. The concerns we had just a few short months ago now seem like distant memories as we’ve navigated through a chapter in American and world history that will not quickly be forgotten.
A tremendous amount of government energy has been exhibited in the past three months. In a time of crisis, gone is the glacial pace of deliberation usually seen at state and federal levels of government. In the swift-moving current that replaced it, businesses and entire industries seemed capable of being swept away without quick, decisive action. The Western Equipment Dealers Association has done more than keep its head above water through it all.
The governmental response to the crisis has unfolded in four stages marked by legislation, rulemaking, and even flippant guidance, all of which was and will continue to be subject to rapid change.
The first stage focused on the welfare of employees and what businesses were deemed essential and could remain open for business. The essential business designation was a state-level decision.
WEDA acted quickly, sending letters to each governor in the states served by WEDA requesting that equipment dealers be included in the list of essential businesses. Federal guidance from the Department of Homeland Security was also being put together. The association sent communications to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture requesting dealers be included as essential businesses in any federal guidance issued.
All of our requests were met with positive outcomes as equipment dealers were specifically deemed essential businesses at the state and federal level. Th at information was communicated to WEDA’s membership along with safe passage letters for dealership employees to carry in the event they were stopped by local authorities.
As businesses pieced together information about whether they could remain open, the other focus was on keeping employees safe who continued to work. The association was heavily involved in sharing best practices for workplace safety measures and distributed information about those best practices.
The second stage of government’s response to the crisis included the first phase of economic relief and health care legislation that expanded federal employee leave provisions. Known as the Coronavirus Supplemental, Congress allocated the sum of $8.3 billion as worldwide coronavirus cases surpassed 100,000. With the level of impact from the coronavirus yet unknown, this first phase of legislation in hindsight seems paltry.
The House of Representatives took the lead on Phase II of the federal government’s response and quickly passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. As you recall, phase II of federal legislation focused on FMLA and paid sick leave as well as funding for hospitals. At the time, it seemed like a refundable
payroll tax credit for employers would be sufficient help to businesses while the virus passed over us. WEDA teamed up with Seigfreid Bingham to provide an in-depth analysis of the changes for dealers.
As the crisis continued to grip the country and stay-at-home orders began to jeopardize the going concern of many businesses, Congress realized the need for dramatic and bold action to avert an economic disaster.
The Senate crafted phase III of the federal relief packages, known as the CARES Act. The passage of a $2.5 trillion package by Congress included direct relief to individuals, and businesses received assistance under the PPP and EIDL programs.
With three major federal pieces of legislation passed within a month, there were many overlapping provisions and confusion about eligibility for certain programs. Curt Kleoppel and I were featured guests during a webinar conducted by Lessiter Publications (Farm Equipment magazine) on the recently passed legislation to help dealers dissect the legislation and make sense of how it applied to them.
Kleoppel, who is WEDA’s treasurer, is president of Equipment Dealer Consulting, LLC. EDC is a long-term association partner that provides financial services to association members.
Since the initial PPP details were made public in the legislation, there have been numerous revisions and guidance issued that has created more confusion than clarity. At the time of writing this article, Congress passed another piece of legislation extending PPP deadlines and revising eligibility thresholds for forgiveness. It’s unlikely this will be the last word on the matter either.
Congress is in the process of considering a phase IV economic relief package to curb the economic effects of this crisis. The House has passed a $3.5 trillion package without as much bipartisan support as the first three phases of legislation and it remains to be seen whether Senate Republicans will hold their noses and abandon their fiscal conservative principles to vote on another round of economic relief.
After more than three months of fear and uncertainty, many of us are yearning for a return to normalcy.
The fourth stage of this crisis involves the reopening of businesses and the relaxing of stay-at-home orders. As with any transition, there are adjustment pains and disagreements over the details, which can be expected with such sudden changes in a relatively brief period of time. However, while it seemed as though we were headed in the direction of getting back to what was before the crisis, the recent spike in coronavirus cases is changing the landscape once again.
The association has been involved in numerous efforts with our partners at the state chambers and business groups to advise governors about the phased-in approaches to reopening and WEDA will continue to do so as needed.
Both individually and as a nation, we are being tested. We are currently grappling with the largest pandemic since 1918, the highest unemployment since the Great Depression, and we are now experiencing civil unrest not seen since the height of the Civil Rights era.
These represent a cavalcade of challenges for our country. In A Farewell to Arms Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” I am reminded of those words during this time and have high hopes that we as individuals and as a country will become strong as well. It is also interesting that during the same post-World War I era, former President Warren G. Harding promised “a return to normalcy” during his successful campaign to the White House.
Despite the challenges we currently face, we will return to normal at some point and the strength, we gain from overcoming these challenges will pave the path of our prosperity moving forward.
Article Written By Eric Wareham
ERIC WAREHAM is the vice president of government affairs for the Western Equipment Dealers Association. He is a graduate of the Willamette University College of Law and Augusta State University. Eric may be reached by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.