FRA Issue Update - 12/21/20

Today we want to inform you of two important issue updates.

First, highlights of the Fiscal Year 2021 omnibus appropriations package and COVID-19 relief bill, which was unveiled earlier this afternoon. The bill is 5,593 pages, and we are still reviewing, but we wanted to provide FRA Members with a “hot off the presses” quick snapshot of key provisions in the bill that are pertinent to our sector.   Below is a list of favorable items in the final deal—

  • Logger relief—the provision authorizes the Agriculture Secretary to support producers of biofuels or timber harvesting and hauling businesses. A total of $13 billion is earmarked for this provision. For our sector, the following language is included: 

That from the amounts provided in this section, the Secretary of Agriculture may use not more than $200,000,000 to provide relief to timber harvesting and timber hauling businesses that have, as a result of the COVID–19 pandemic, experienced a loss of not less than 10 percent in gross revenue during the period beginning on January 1, 2020, and ending on December 1, 2020, as compared to the gross revenue of that timber harvesting or hauling business during the same period in 2019.

FRA not only worked with our Congressional champions on this effort but also shared market-related data with the Administration and USDA on the impact to certain sectors of our industry that in turn impacted the logging business. This effort is to support the American Loggers Council work and to support FRA’s mission to advocate for a healthy supply chain. 

  • A provision authorizing the Department of Homeland Security to increase the number of guestworker visas. The language in the bill is the following: ….the Secretary of Homeland Security, after consultation with the Secretary of Labor, and upon the determination that the needs of American businesses cannot be satisfied in fiscal year 2021 with United States workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform temporary nonagricultural labor, may increase the total number of aliens who may receive a visa under section 101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(b) of such Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(b)) in such fiscal year above such limitation by not more than the highest number of H–2B nonimmigrants who participated in the H– 2B returning worker program in any fiscal year in which returning workers were exempt from such numerical limitation.
  • Reauthorization of FRA-supported provision directing federal departments and agencies to recognize the carbon neutrality of forest-based biomass energy in any environmental or energy policy.

In addition to these key provisions, language was added to the deal that overrides a damaging Internal Revenue Service notice that was published in November, making Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans taxable as income. Provisions in the deal not only clarify that forgiven PPP loans are not taxable as income, the language also makes clear that deductions are allowed for expenses paid with proceeds of a forgiven PPP loan, effective as of the date of enactment of the CARES Act and applicable to subsequent PPP loans.

Also of related interest, language was added to an existing residential energy efficiency tax credit that qualifies biomass heating systems to the list of renewable energy technologies that qualify for income tax credits. If you are planning on purchasing a wood or pellet stove in 2021, this purchase will allow you to claim a tax credit in the amount of 26 percent of fully installed costs. This provision will certainly accelerate deployment of biomass heating equipment at the residential level, and hopefully provide some demand-pull for our sawmill residuals used to make heating pellets. 

Secondly, another positive development unrelated to the appropriations/pandemic relief package is a successful turnaround of challenges the industry was facing with the Guatemala Embassy blocking the entry of H-2B Guestworkers that had been approved by the Administration as essential workers. For forestry, this refusal to let those approved workers enter the U.S. was causing direct harm to the tree planting season and impairing those businesses from meeting required sustainability goals.  FRA’s H-2B survey provided the Administration with educational information that provided data on the negative economic consequences if Guatemalan guest workers were prevented from entering the U.S. This data resulted in the prioritizing of forestry workers putting them on a fast track with the Guatemala embassy for approval.  Our understanding is these guest workers are getting approved and will meet the timeline to ensure sustainable tree planting is completed. Please help us stay informed. If you have information on this issue, please reach out to Tim O’Hara [email protected]