Merkley, Colleagues Introduce Proposal to Help Small Employers and Workers Weather COVID-19 Economic Storm

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI), and a number of House members, are introducing the Rebuilding Main Street Act—legislation to help small businesses, nonprofits, and workers weather the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and support safe reopening.

The bill would expand the existing work share program, which allows employers to share their payroll costs with the federal government, and provide grant help to cover other fixed costs such as rent and needs for reopening safely, including cleaning and protective equipment.  Instead of being faced with a binary choice whether to keep or lay off workers, the bill would allow employers to adjust workers’ hours with the government ensuring that workers’ incomes don’t suffer.

After 14 straight weeks in which more than one million workers filed for unemployment benefits, the legislation would help laid off workers safety return to their jobs at reduced hours while continuing to receive a pro-rated unemployment benefit to make up for their lost wages.

“Since the coronavirus hit, I’ve heard from business owners and workers in every corner of my state that our communities need more help to get through this precedent-shattering crisis,” said Senator Merkley. “The path to the other side for small businesses and working families isn’t lining the pockets of the wealthiest and most powerful executives of huge corporations. We need to rebuild our economy from Main Street up. This urgently needed legislation provides a blueprint for small businesses and their employees to drive our recovery.”

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 Rebuilding Main Street Act encourages and expands work sharing—an existing program supported by the CARES Act that still has much untapped potential—and provides additional support for employers and employees struggling during this time.

This legislation is supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including: AFL-CIO, Main Street Alliance, National Employment Law Project, Economic Policy Institute, National Women’s Law Center, Common Defense, Center for American Progress, American Sustainable Business Council, MomsRising, Communication Workers of America, United Steelworkers, and American Federation of Teachers.                                                                                                          

“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.

In addition, this legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA-11), Joe Courtney (D-CT-2), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-IL-4), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-7), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Andy Levin (D-MI-9), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA-32), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-At Large), Jamie Raskin (D-MD-8), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9), Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS-2), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13).

A fact sheet on the Rebuilding Main Street Act is available here and bill text is available here.