H-2B Visas—Administration Continues Discussions on Immigration Ban
Discussions on President Trump’s plans to expand his April 22 proclamation restricting certain types of immigration to the U.S continued this week. It was anticipated that President Trump would announce a second order banning additional nonimmigrant labor from entering the U.S., but as of this morning, no proposal has been announced. As the Administration continues discussions with the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security as to what types of guest workers should be restricted, several members of the Senate sent a letter to President Trump that urged him not to suspend H-2A and H-2B workers. This effort was led by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Cornyn (R-TX).
The United States Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the Administration outlining the importance of nonimmigrant labor to an economic recovery. The letter discusses the importance of H-2B forestry workers in performing essential services. Additionally, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner, Nicole Fried, sent a letter to President Trump outlining the value of the forest products industry and urged the President not to suspend H-2B forestry workers.
FRA will continue to monitor this situation and let our members know how H-2B guest workers that perform forestry work are impacted by restrictions placed on immigration by the Administration.
Paycheck Protection Program Update
Yesterday, the full House of Representatives voted 417-1 to pass legislation (H.R. 7010) that would make significant improvements to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Two key components of this bill would provide borrowers more time to spend funds secured under the PPP and allow more flexibility in the types of costs PPP funds may cover. Specifically, the House measure would give companies 24 weeks or until the end of the year, whichever comes first – to still qualify to have their PPP loans forgiven. Businesses would also have up to five years, instead of two years, to repay any money owed on a loan. Importantly, the bill would also ease the existing requirement that at least 75 percent of PPP funds be used toward payroll. Under H.R. 7010, 60 percent of PPP funds would have to be used on payroll, with the other 40 percent available to apply towards rent, utilities, and other expenses.
The Senate returns next week from its Memorial Day recess. Similar, but not identical, legislation is pending in the upper chamber, so negotiation between House and Senate leadership on a final bill will be required. However, House and Senate leadership has signaled that they are committed to passing legislation next week to modify the PPP. Many businesses that received funds when the program was initially rolled out in April are bumping up against the eight-week window in current law within which they are required to spend their loans. This eight-week deadline is problematic for businesses that have not been able to open or have been only partially open during the pandemic.
The most recent report of the PPP, released on May 23, shows that more than 4.2 million loans have been approved, summing to more than $511 billion. Most of the loans, 64 percent, account for 10.4 percent of the approved loan amounts. $135 billion remains to be given out in PPP loans.
Economic Injury Disaster Loan Cap Reduced
Earlier in May with no public notification, the Small Business Administration (SBA) lowered the cap on loans secured under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program to $150,000. This represents a considerable reduction from the authorized loan amount under the program of $2 million. Sources at the SBA have indicated that overwhelming demand for the program is the primary reason for the cap reduction. In addition, there is a sizable backlog of loan applications that require processing and, as such, the SBA is now focusing only on EIDL loans to the agriculture sector.
The unannounced action by the SBA caught the attention of the business community as well as Members of Congress. A Senate letter was recently sent to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza urging a course correction. We anticipate issues raised in this letter to be addressed in COVID relief measures Congress may take up later this summer.
ATA Report Shows Increase in Drivers Pay
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) released a report on May 21 showing that driver compensation and benefits increased from 2017-2019. The report states that average driver pay, including bonuses increased by $6,000 in 2019 when compared to the 2017 study. The study also showed that 90 percent of the survey respondents provide paid leave and health insurance. “These results show that fleets did exactly what we would expect them to in the face of a tightening market for drivers. They raised pay and increased benefits in order to attract talent,” said Bob Costello, chief economist for ATA.