Government Affairs & Lobbying Update: COVID-19

Our state and federal lobbying teams continue to closely monitor developments associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. Please reach out to us with any questions regarding the information presented below. 

STATE UPDATES

Executive

As we covered in an earlier update, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the first steps toward reopening the state economy this week. The reopening plan was detailed in two executive orders.

The first (EO 20-111) extended the Governor’s statewide stay-at-home order and vacation rentals ban to May 4, four days past their original expiration dates. The order states the vacation rental ban issued March 27 will be further extended — the Governor made clear that vacation rentals will not be permitted until the second phase of the reopening plan.

Phase one of the “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step.” plan is outlined in the second order (EO 20-112). It allows restaurants and retailers to open their doors but limits them to 25% capacity. Outdoor seating at restaurants will be allowed if parties are seated six feet apart.

The guidelines also allow for health care facilities to resume elective surgeries, which the Governor put on hold through a March 20 executive order.

There are strings attached. Hospitals must maintain bed capacity for a possible resurgence of the virus; have an adequate stock of personal protective equipment; and agree to assist long-term care facilities in preventing nursing home outbreaks.

Other businesses that didn’t make the cut in phase one include bars, pubs, nightclubs, gyms, and fitness centers. The order also re-ups restrictions on those flying into Florida from COVID-19 hotspots, such as New York, which will also remain in place. An executive order issued in late March requires travelers from outbreak regions to quarantine for two weeks.

The public is encouraged to continue following social distancing guidelines. Those with underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to severe cases of COVID-19 are “strongly encouraged to stay at home to limit the risk of exposure.”

On Saturday, the Governor, alongside Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, Orange County Florida Department of Health Director Dr. Raul Pino, and Orlando Health Medical Chief Quality Officer Dr. George Ralls, held a roundtable discussion in Orlando with local salon and barbershop employees. They expressed concerns about keeping their businesses closed throughout the first phase of the reopening plan. “I think at the end of the day, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when with the salons,” DeSantis said. “We just want to be judicious, consult with medical folks, and make sure it’s safety first.”

Department of Children and Families
DeSantis and DCF Secretary Chad Poppell announced benefit increases for Floridians participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) during the pandemic would continue in May.

Benefit amounts for the programs, known colloquially as food stamps, are based on household size and income. The maximum benefit is $768 a month for a family of five, however, the average household in the program receives $528 a month. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that it would provide the average household with the maximum benefit during the pandemic.

Poppell also provided an update on benefit applications received by the department’s Economic Self-Sufficiency program. Since DeSantis’ public health emergency declaration in mid-March, ESS has received nearly one million public assistance applications and peak call volume more than doubled. Poppell said ESS has processed about 70% of the applications.

Department of Corrections
The Florida Department of Corrections extended the visitation ban at all correctional institutions through May 17, though the department said the ban could be further extended.

Department of Revenue
Florida Department of Revenue Executive Director Jim Zingale penned an emergency order (20-52-DOR-003) extending the deadline for certain corporate income tax returns and payments. The order lists new due dates for corporations with a fiscal year ending Dec. 31, Jan 31 or Feb. 29.

For all three, returns are now due on Aug. 3.

Deadlines to make tax payments or request extensions differs between the three. For corporations with a tax year ending Dec. 31, the deadline is now June 1, a month back from the original deadline of May 1. There is no change in payment or extension deadlines for tax years ending Jan. 31 and Feb. 29 — they are still due by June 1 or July 1, respectively.

Public Service Commission
The Florida Public Service Commission approved plans submitted by Florida Power & Light Company, Duke Energy Florida, and Gulf Power Company allowing them to pass fuel savings on to ratepayers in a lump sum rather than a smaller decrease parsed out over a year.

May residential bills for customers using 1,000 kWh of power — an industry standard measurement — will drop by $23.07 for FPL customers; $26.84 for Duke customers; and $56.39 for Gulf Power customers. Bills will return to prior levels in June.

The PSC also approved a similar plan from Tampa Electric Company that would spread most of the savings across June, July, and August, with smaller reductions in the final three months of the year. Customers would save $23.37 on June through August bills and $4.50 on September through December bills.

FEDERAL UPDATES

Executive Orders

President Donald Trump signed an executive order this week classifying meat processing plants as critical infrastructure. The order, which utilizes the Defense Production Act, followed reports of possible meat shortages due to coronavirus outbreaks within meat packing facilities. Large pork processing plants, including those run by Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods, shut down in order to contain the outbreak.

Finance
The Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration outlined their effort to assist small lenders and their small business customers in securing Paycheck Protection Program funds. The SBA set aside April 29 to accept applications from those groups exclusively, since many small businesses missed the window in the first round of PPP funding. Separately, the Small Business Administration issued answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the PPP, clarifying definitions, exemptions and exclusions, and permissible uses for PPP funds.

The Internal Revenue Service issued an update on stimulus check deliveries, reminding Supplemental Security Income and Department of Veterans Affairs who have https://www.hud.gov/press/press_releases_media_advisories/HUD_No_20_058not yet filed their tax return this year that they must inform the IRS of any dependents in order to receive the additional $500-per-dependent stimulus payment authorized by the CARES Act. They can do so through an IRS web form. The deadline is May 5.

The Federal Reserve made its liquidity programs available to a wider range of participants. Yesterday, the Fed announced that all Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lenders approved by the Small Business Administration—including credit unions, community development financial institutions, SBA-licensed small business lenders, and some fintech companies—will have access to its PPP Liquidity Facility (PPPLF). The Fed also expanded the scope and eligibility for the Main Street Lending Program: making more businesses eligible for loans, lowering the minimum loan size to $500,000, and creating a third loan option that allows increased risk-sharing for lenders to borrowers that have greater leverage. On Monday, the Fed announced an expansion of the scope and duration of its Municipal Liquidity Facility (MLF), offering to purchase up to $500 billion of short-term notes issued by US states, counties, and cities.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a new interpretive rule and a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions on Wednesday to make it easier for consumers with urgent financial needs to get access to mortgage credit. The interpretive rule clarifies that consumers may modify or waive certain required waiting periods under the TILA-RESPA disclosure rule and the Regulation Z rescission rules. The FAQ answers questions about when lenders must provide appraisals or other written valuations to mortgage applicants under Regulation B, implementing the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). 

Housing
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would dedicate $685 million in CARES Act funding to help Americans living in public housing. The funding will be awarded to Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) across the Nation. PHAs may use the funds to prepare for, prevent or respond to coronavirus outbreaks. A detailed allocation breakdown issued by HUD lists 75 Florida PHAs will receive funding under the plan.

WE ARE GRATEFUL FOR YOU

This week, we are GRateful for our client Lockheed Martin, whose employees are donating PPE to local communities in need. Read more about their efforts

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

COVID-19 Task Force
GrayRobinson's COVID-19 Task Force is aimed at helping businesses and local governments address evolving legal and regulatory challenges and emerge stronger from the pandemic. Keep up with our Task Force updates here.