As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, Oklahoma businesses struggle to operate safely while keeping their doors open.
Fortunately, Congress is working on a plan to provide additional aid and support to businesses and governments fighting to stabilize the economy. In a nationwide crisis, federal action makes up an important part of the response and can help prepare for the inevitable recovery.
However, the actions Congress takes should provide short-term assistance without causing long-term damage. The State Chamber is focused on three priorities in the next relief package.
Besides potential financial aid, the most important thing Congress can do is shield businesses from frivolous lawsuits filed by people who claim a business is responsible for a COVID-19 infection. Working with the State Chamber, Oklahoma's Legislature wisely took steps in the direction during the 2020 session, making our state a leader. But national protection is required as well.
Intentional bad actors should be held accountable for their actions, but upstanding businesses that acted in good faith by following guidance from health and government officials during uncertain times shouldn't have to worry their every action will result in a costly settlement. Business owners and executives deserve to know they can focus on recovery and revenue, not on discovery and depositions.
The State Chamber also encourages Congress to reduce the additional $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits it approved earlier this year. While this safety net has been crucial for workers and their families - especially those who were laid off or whose hours were cut - we cannot let this funding become anyone's long-term primary income. That kind of dependency disincentivizes the people from returning to work and creates instability in the marketplace. It doesn't make sense to force employers to compete with inflated government benefits when hiring the people they need to get the economy running again.
Congress can take steps to prevent an increase in unemployment taxes, allowing employers to focus on getting the economy going again. Prudently, Oklahoma placed a moratorium on benefit increases in the state until the end of 2020, but the measure may not prevent future tax increases to ensure the fund's solvency without similar federal changes.
Finally, it is time to extend the highly successful Paycheck Protection Program to cover 501(c)(6) nonprofit business associations. These organizations provide important community resources that are critical to overall recovery.
The state Chamber will always believe in limited government. But reasonable action in Washington, D.C. - focused where it matters most - can help our nation weather the current crisis and return to strength soon.
Note: This article was first published in The Journal Record on August 7, 2020.