May 14, 2020

Van Hollen, Merkley, Murphy Announce New Work Share Proposal to Help Employers and Workers Weather the Storm

Unemployment Numbers Out Today Show Nearly 36.5 Million Americans Have Filed for Unemployment Since Early March

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) announced new legislation to help small businesses, nonprofits, and workers weather the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and support a safe reopening. On a press conference call, the Senators laid out the details of their proposal, the Rebuilding Main Street Act, which would expand the existing work share program to allow employers to share their payroll costs with the federal government, while receiving grant help to cover other fixed costs such as rent and needs for reopening safely like cleaning and protective equipment.

Employers and workers across the country are reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic shutdown. While Congress worked to pass four bipartisan legislative packages, large segments of the workforce and business sectors have not benefitted from the economic relief programs. The Senators’ proposal encourages and expands work sharing – an existing program supported by the CARES Act that still has far too much untapped potential – and provides additional support for employers and employees struggling during this time.

“During this crisis, I’ve spoken daily with small business owners, and one thing is clear – they need more help,” said Senator Van Hollen. “While we’ve taken important steps to support struggling businesses, we need to better match federal help with the real-world challenges they face as they seek to reopen safely. The Rebuilding Main Street Act tackles this problem and gives hard-hit employers the flexible support they need to gradually bring their employees back to work and cover their fixed costs as they build back their businesses. With millions of Americans unemployed – and businesses across the country fighting for survival – we must act now.” 

“Throughout this pandemic, I’ve been in frequent touch with small business owners and workers in every corner of Oregon, and what I’ve heard time and time again is the need for flexibility and financial support as they work to re-open their business,” said Senator Merkley. “Any effort to rebuild our economy must happen from Main Street up, not Wall Street down.” 

“Small businesses in Connecticut are the backbone of our state’s economy, and they are being crushed right now due to COVID-19,”said Senator Murphy. “While we’ve been able to provide critical relief to some small businesses, we know that it’s not enough. We need bold and innovative proposals to help small businesses weather the storm and rebuild Main Street America once we’re out of this pandemic. That’s what this proposal does. I’m proud to partner with Senators Van Hollen and Merkley to help America’s small businesses get the relief they need and stay afloat during this pandemic.” 

fact sheet on the Rebuilding Main Street Act is available here

“The Rebuilding Main St. Act solves the riddle of how to both preserve payrolls and businesses, and in so doing, it paves the way for a gradual, phased-in opening followed by a more robust recovery,” said Jared Bernstein, Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Rebuilding Main Street Act is a smart and flexible program that gives employers the flexibility they need to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, while keeping their workforces in place and ensuring their workers maintain their salaries and benefits. This is an approach to building resilience and creating the certainty that business owners and their employees need to pivot and sustain during these uncertain times,” said Amanda Ballantyne, Executive Director, Main Street Alliance.

“Big businesses shouldn’t be the only ones survive this Covid 19 depression. That’s why Maryland small businesses – and their workers – need the Rebuilding Main Street Act,” said Maryland State Senator Jim Rosapepe (D-College Park), Budget and Tax Committee Vice Chair and Member of COVID-19 Legislative Oversight Workgroup.

“This is a brilliant expansion of Maryland’s existing work sharing program which will support local business from Annapolis to Ellicott City, Sykesville and Mount Airy.  Working with Sen Van Hollen’s team has been an extremely rewarding -- true teamwork for the people of Maryland!  I applaud the authors for listening to local voices and offering this plan to reopen Main Street,” said Maryland State Senator Katie Fry Hester (D-Ellicott City), who is on the Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee and leads the Senate’s Bipartisan Small Business Work Group.

“The nation continues to face a public health crisis that has spurred an economic crisis unlike anything we’ve seen since the Great Depression. To help stanch the economic bleeding, Congress must think creatively and act boldly; the risks of doing too little far outweigh the risks of doing too much. We must prioritize policies aimed at keeping workers and small businesses afloat right now. Policies like the Rebuilding Main Street Act, which would use the large-scale deployment of an existing but underutilized part of the Unemployment Insurance program called Short-Time Compensation or Work-Sharing alongside a new grant program for firms to cover fixed costs, would help put us on a path to a stronger economic recovery. I commend Senators Van Hollen, Merkley, and Murphy for their leadership on this issue, and I urge Congress to make ongoing relief to workers and small businesses a top priority in the next legislative package,” said Heather Boushey, President & CEO and Co-founder of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. 

"Many countries have shown that work sharing can be an effective tool to protect workers from unemployment in a downturn. While work sharing has been part of many states unemployment insurance systems for decades, it is seriously under-utilized. The Van Hollen bill provides companies with a strong incentive to use work sharing rather than layoffs as a response to weak demand. It will also help to make employers aware of this option,” said Dean Baker, Senior Economist and Co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Visiting Professor at the University of Utah.

"Work sharing can help to limit the lasting damage from the COVID-19 crisis. In this situation, we should be moving aggressively to encourage work sharing instead of layoffs and the Rebuilding Main Street Act does exactly that," said Katharine Abraham, Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland and former member of the Council of Economic Advisors.