Next week, Congress returns to for a final session before it adjourns for the August recess break. Historically, after the August recess in a presidential election year, Congress returns only briefly to fundraise and finish off any outstanding legislative business. This year is different.
The logistics convening congressional business safely has become a major challenge since the onset of the pandemic and hardly any fundraising opportunities exist in Washington. Therefore, these next two or three weeks could prove very consequential because it may be the last bite at the legislative apple until after the election.
Congress is widely expected to consider a large piece of legislation to address the ongoing public health and economic crisis before it adjourns. Important elements of the last economic stimulus bill, the CARES Act, are set to expire at the end of the month, including the increased unemployment compensation of $600 per week. Both Republicans and Democrats have major priorities to tackle before hitting the campaign trail, so a deal could be in the offing.
As independent grocers continue to experience both ongoing and unexpected challenges in its tireless work to feed the American public during the pandemic, NGA is lobbying Congress to address four major policy priorities for the independent supermarket industry. In a letter that NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara sent to Congressional leadership, he laid out the following four NGA lobbying priorities for the upcoming legislation:
- Reward Essential Frontline Workers – The grocery industry workforce is on the front lines of responding to the coronavirus crisis. Millions of Americans rely on these employees to provide grocery and pharmacy services at great personal sacrifice, despite challenges related to childcare, transportation interruptions and health concerns. Congress should include legislation, like H.R. 6841, the AG CHAIN Act, that excludes frontline workers from paying income and payroll taxes.
- Fix Unemployment Compensation – The increase in unemployment benefits created a disincentive for employees to continue working or return to work. If Congress decides to extend the increase in unemployment compensation beyond July 31, there must be a cap on total unemployment benefits not to exceed a percentage of an applicant’s previous compensation.
- Protect Essential Businesses from Frivolous Lawsuits – Despite the great lengths that independent grocers have gone to protect their employees and customers, opportunistic trial attorneys are taking advantage of the crisis to file unfounded lawsuits against essential businesses like grocery stores on behalf of clients who contracted COVID-19. Congress must include legislation like H.R. 7528, the Get America Back to Work Act, which protects businesses and their employees from frivolous lawsuits by providing protection for business that took reasonable steps to comply with public health guidelines from the CDC or other health authorities.
- Strengthen Federal Nutrition Programs – Congress must make the Online SNAP program more accessible to independent grocers. Legislation like the Expanding SNAP Options Act would go a long way in tackling the technical and capacity challenges in offering SNAP over e-commerce platforms. The popular Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (or “Double Up Food Bucks”) should get an emergency funding boost due to shrinking state and fundraising budgets.
NGA’s Government Relations team remains committed to pushing for the inclusion of all four of these priorities in the next coronavirus relief package. We appreciate our members record-setting engagement (over 4,000 letters!) on these issues by penning letters and making phone calls to your elected representatives. Please visit grocerstakeaction.org to help NGA’s lobbying team accomplish these priorities.