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Steve Hall, Matt Reiffer and Katharine Mottley from ACEC's Advocacy team joined Engineering Influence for our very first video podcast to give a government relations update on their Rescue, Recover, Rebuild grassroots advocacy campaign and the current status of the PPP program.

Transcript:

Host:

Welcome to another edition of Engineering Influence, a podcast by American Council of Engineering Companies. Today we are bringing a new kind of twist to our podcast. We're in the world of Zoom and COVID-19. We're going to try to do something visual this time and have a government affairs update with our own Steve Hall who has been practically on Zoom since the day started to um bring us up to date on what's going on with the Paycheck Protection Program. I want to give you guys a little bit of an idea of where things stand here as far as the association goes and with our industry on the PPP program. In our latest member survey on May 8th, we found that 88% of respondents reported applying for the program. And 94% of those said that they'd been approved for the PPP program and another 4% are awaiting approval.

Host:

So it was very popular with the industry and 94% let's see here. And just under two thirds, 64% of those firms plan to use all of the loan funding while 22% plan to use some of it and return to rest only 2% right now or are considering returning all of the funds. So it's a program is being accessed by our industry, many other industries. It is a monumental effort by the SBA. This is not an agency that's actually designed to do something like this to take this amount of volume of applications and this kind of money and try to get it out to the economy. It's been going well but there've been issues with guidance. Treasury and SBA have been slow to get some certainty out there with certain aspects of their FAQ. And things have changed over the past couple of days. And Steve, if you want to kind of bring us up to date on, on where the program stands and, and what Treasury and SBA have done and what really, you know, it was going on with the program right now.

Steve Hall:

Yeah, thanks Jeff. Now we're seeing some encouraging developments really over the past week and a lot of anxiety up until now, and it's lingering a bit, but over two issues really. The issue of, of certifying good faith in terms of economic uncertainty, in other words, is, is the firm worthy to, to receive this loan. And I think what we saw released last week was encouraging basically loan holders at $2 million and below are essentially defacto certified by virtue of the size of the loan. And then the guidance goes on to say that for borrowers above that $2 million SBA is going to work with them through a process to help them to to figure out if they can meet that certification threshold, but a much more encouraging tone, a much more deferential tone than perhaps we had seen in, in previous weeks.

Steve Hall:

Where there was a great deal of concern generated about you know, what SBA and the federal government take a very punitive approach to borrowers really outside of what we thought was within the intent of Congress. I think Congress really wanted to be very deferential to to borrowers and try to structure the program as such. So that was a good step on that question of certification and and I expect that we hope we'll be seeing some additional information come out on that. The next issue was loan forgiveness. You know, the core of the program and we did see some information come out earlier this week. You know, the, the application for forgiveness and the kind of data and criteria that SBA is looking for, which gives us a sense of what it was, what it's going to take to get some, most, all of your loan forgiven and some guidance with that.

Steve Hall:

I think we are expecting to see additional guidance, more comprehensive guidance forthcoming. But again, this has been helpful to our firms, to our CPAs, to, to get at least an initial sense of what the agency is looking for to satisfy that question. So, you know, good news over the last week, not a complete catalog of information that we need and where you're hoping to see that relatively soon. And as if history is any judge, you know, it may be that con or SBA and treasury continue to put out guidance in small traunches and then refine that guidance responding to questions from organizations like ACEC. And then at some point we may actually have to go back to Congress if there are structural problems or challenges that are really beyond SBAs per view to to fix where we have to amend the law. We'll do that. But we'll work hand in glove with our members before we do that and work with our CPAs. We've got a lot of very smart people working with us to you know, go through this information and to come up with recommendations that we need to deliver both to the agency and to Congress.

Host:

Because it is a popular program. And I think that the universal call or answer from, from the private sector is that they want it to be a success. So that there's a lot of, you know, it's not a adversarial relationship with, with, but the SBA and Treasury, it's more just informing them of what we need, what we need to actually make this program work as it's intended. So it's good to see that that guidance come out. And again, you know, as we get this information, of course we're putting it out anywhere we can. So we have our Coronavirus Resource page of course, which is on acec.org. It's right on the homepage when you see that. And, and we're making sure to put all this information into our normal communications to members. There's going to be a weekly message coming out from our CEO, Linda Darr. It's going to be focusing on a lot of what Steve just mentioned here and everything's been linked and it's all available for you.

Steve Hall:

And Jeff, just to add to that you know, the education side of ACEC is teed up and ready. We've got a panel of CPAs that will take part in a free webinar. Once that additional guidance comes out, we expect that we'll be well attended and we will redo it as often as we need to and as often as new guidance comes out but you know, but the organization really geared itself around getting that information in the hands of our members as soon as possible so they can make good business decisions. And and we're certainly going to continue with that.

Steve Hall:

And I know that you've been, like I said earlier, you know, you've been busy all day on Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting. We are right in the midst of a larger advocacy push under the Rescue, Rebuild and Recover kind of theme and it's been a virtual grassroots effort. Letters, emails, meetings, Zoom meetings with members of Congress. How many meetings do you think you've been on right now with, with members of the House and Senate with ACEC members across the country?

Steve Hall:

Gosh, I think we're North of total North of 70 meetings so far. And and these are happening. I've been on a few today and I know my colleagues Matt Reiffer, Katharine Mottley have been participating in these as well. And really the message has been coming back has been very encouraging, you know, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. They get it. I mean, they want, they very much want to support a recovery agenda built around infrastructure and you know, there's lingering questions as there always is about how to pay for it. But a great deal of interest in doing this. I think you know, as you've heard me say before, I think Congress is still in emergency response mode and still thinking near term needs. I think what, what may be emerging as the next package of assistance may actually be built around assisting state and local government agencies, DOD, transit agencies things of that nature.

Steve Hall:

Obviously that's something we're very supportive of, you know, anything that will prevent, you know, current projects from being interrupted or shutting down. We want to be supportive of and there does seem to be an inkling of bipartisan support emerging from this approach. So that may be the catalyst for the next package. You know, as, as Katharine indicated, there's sort of hopeful expectation. We might see something in June on that package and and then hopefully, you know, Congress then switches gears and thanks a bit longer term, you know, in a multiyear recovery agenda, you know, built around what Congress has to do this year. They've got to do a surface transportation bill to replace the fast fact by September 30, and they've got to do a big water package. And the Senate stepping out, they, they have reported all of those bills out of committee unanimously. Which is great to see. And and that gives you know, the congressional leaders in the Senate the option to package all of them together into one big package or to move them separately if they wish, but actually to get something done this year, but they got us, they got to move quickly because the clock is ticking.

Host:

Yeah, it's not in their favor. And you mentioned, you mentioned Matt and Katharine and I think they have joined us, so I'm going to switch over to a view and bring them in. And thank you both for joining in. So we have really the the, the feet on the, the, the boots on the ground here for the PPP and surface transportation effort. So Matt and Katherine, thanks for joining the interview here. Steve was going over, a lot of the PPP work has been done. A lot of the guidance coming out and of course the webinars and the meetings with members of Congress, part of our advocacy program. I mean, I know you've been on some of the meetings as well. How do you think they've gone, this is new, it's virtual instead of going actually into somebody's office and talking to somebody, you have a screen like this where you know, you have maybe 10 people or less and a member of Congress. How, how has it compared to what, you know, the traditional shoe leather lobbying that you guys do?

Katharine Mottely:

You know, Jeff, I think that's a really interesting question. I mean it is a different kind of connection. On the one hand you don't get that face to face. You, you can't really read the body language and get and get sort of that better sense of the story behind what they're telling you. On the other hand, I think it has sort of opened up these meetings to a larger swath of our members. The meetings that I've been on have had, you know, 25 members from the state with their senators and for some of them some of those folks may not have been able travel to DC on a normal basis anyway. So, you know, I think that sort of greater access for both, for our members and for the legislators can be a good thing.

Matt Reiffer:

I would agree with that. In the, in the few that I've been on what's nice is you get the Congressmen or the Senator's undivided attention for a block of time. When you're meeting in DC, almost inevitably you get interrupted by votes or committee meetings or markups or important briefings or something. But particularly for the house members who have largely been back in their districts you know, they're not, they're not getting pulled away into those sorts of things. So you get, you know, 20 to 30 minutes of their undivided attention, which is really tremendous. And there, you know, they are so eager to hear about what's going on with their constituents, where their local businesses. So it was valuable for them to hear not just here's our advocacy priorities, but you know, here's what we're working on. Here's what we're experiencing, here's what we're concerned about, you know here are plans for, you know, reopening our offices or keeping our employees safe. Here's the, you know, here's what we're doing, worksite protocols and safety, you know, just a range of things that they care about. And then, yeah, how are the aid packages that we've already approved working for you? Are they helpful? What do we need to change? Cause they want to know. So this has been really valuable input for them.

Steve Hall:

You know, Jeff, Matt made a really good point there with respect to, you know, how certainly our members reviewed on these calls. You know, because there are great conversations with lawmakers and the lawmakers and seeing each one of those faces on the screen and they're often zoom calls like this. Each one of those faces represents a firm that employs many people. So that, that, that ACC member talking is not really talking just for himself or herself. But for all of the folks that work in the firm and and that reality is not lost on lawmakers and the staff that participates on these calls these, these, these contacts resonate and really do have meaning.

Host:

And it's just not, the meetings are fantastic. So I think it provides a, it's a new way of reaching out and talking to your member of Congress in person, virtually in person. Like I said, Katharine, if you have 25 people on a call, it's hard, you're hard pressed to find, you know, 25 people don't get them into an office. Even, even a, even a ranking where a senior Member, you know, their offices aren't big enough to fit 25 people in normally. So being able to get people on a screen, you know, you get more, more bang for your buck there. But then we're also doing the traditional, you know, letter writing. We're doing, you know, emails to Members of Congress and of course, social media activity. Matt, I mean we, we've, we've topped a significant number of compared to, I think the last major push was on tax reform and I think we've kind of eclipsed the number of, of emails and messages sent. What's the last you have the last tally available? I know, I don't, don't want to spring it on you, but I know that

Matt Reiffer:

I don't, but I can click over and check and get them.

Host:

Yeah, no, that would be great 'cause I know that the number is significant.

Matt Reiffer:

Get you real time information. Hang on just a sec.

Host:

Yeah. that would be awesome because again, you know, on the, on the acc.org website you know, you'll see it right there. When you land on the page, you'll see advocacy and that takes you to the R3 - Rescue, Recover, Rebuild advocacy site where you can click to tweet. It has issue sheets. It has social media resources for, for grassroots activism. And it's really a one stop shop for everything that you need to take part in this.

Steve Hall:

You know, Jeff during tax reform. And Katharine knows this. I mean, we generated something on the order of 6,000 contacts with lawmakers and which was far and away bigger than we've ever done. And I think when, when Matt last checked this, we were rapidly closing in on that amount. So this campaign is going to go into the summer and I have no doubt that we're going to Go well beyond what we did previously.

Katharine Mottely:

And you know, Steve, just to add to that, I've heard comments from a couple of our members who remember that advocacy effort during tax reform and part of what they've communicated back is that we didn't realize that we could have such an effect. We didn't realize that our engagement through ACC and contacting our members of Congress could result in such a good outcome. And so a lot of them would have remembered that and taken it forward to this time. And they see that what they do and say and the emails they send can make a difference.

Matt Reiffer:

I just checked - we've got 2,060 member firm advocates who have taken action and delivered just about 6,400 messages to the Hill.

Steve Hall:

That may be a new record right there.

Matt Reiffer:

Tremendous outcome.

Host:

And again, yeah, this is, this is, this is in its early stages. It's going to evolve as the situation evolves. You know, we're calling for of course a focus on an infrastructure based recovery agenda. Of course that's going to be focused again and Steve, like you mentioned, FAST Act reauthorization and WRDA - two pieces of legislation that are must do's must pass bills and they're already teed up. Each chamber is working on its own respect of tracks and as you noted in the Senate, they've been marked out unanimously. There's no real bipartisan schism when it comes to WRDA and surface - they are a lot closer than people think. So the, the continued push by our grassroots to get this through is going to be significant.

Steve Hall:

It's going to be critical. Jeff, not to interrupt cause we've, we're, we're hoping to see how spills emerge in the month of June. And so you know, it'd be great if we could double those numbers in the month of June and and give some additional push behind house lawmakers to, to at least get this out of committee in the month of June and get them ready for floor consideration.

Host:

Absolutely. Well we covered PPP, we covered kind of the advocacy campaign and the, and the work you guys are doing on, on, on the individual member meetings, but then also the webinars and everything else that's going on. I mean it's, it seems like every day there's, there's, there's another webinar or three webinars that we're running to, to make sure we're covered. Anything else to think of as we enter kind of an odd Memorial day weekend?

Steve Hall:

Ah, you know, just, just the, the issues we've talked about and then side issues, you know, we're working to make sure that issues relative to from overhead are addressed and protected. You know, there is a, you know, regulatory action on the part of the department of defense that would require firms that receive forgiven loans to provide their federal clients with a credit to offset those loans. We don't think that really was the intent of Congress. We've pushed back and we actually have developed a letter that a number of organizations are signing on to, to help us push back. So that's an ongoing priority and something that Matt has been working with the rest of the team on. And as well as similar efforts in issues and potential concerns on the transportation side with respect to state DOTs and the Federal Highway Administration. You know, in addition to the big issues in Congress, there's a lot of granular issues that we're working on with respect to those issues and you know, tax issues and the tax deductability questions that are outstanding relative to firms that receive PPP loans and something that Katharine has been working on.

Matt Reiffer:

Yeah, I was going to say Katharine and I were a little late coming onto this call because we were just coming off a small firm roundtable with about 40, 45 participants, a really great forum for information sharing and helpful for us to listen to and hear what firms are experiencing. And yeah, there are a lot of interest in both of those issues. A lot of those firms took PPP loans, are interested in forgiveness, interested in the tax component of that as well as the potential impact on their overhead rates in terms of loan forgiveness and how that may be treated for federal state contractors. So yeah, very timely and yeah, very interesting.

Host:

Yeah, it's nonstop with government affairs right now. So I know it's we're coming on to about half an hour. I know you guys have a busy packed schedule, so I really appreciate you all taking the time to to appear on a kind of an oddly I guess just figure we live on Zoom now. Might as well tried to do a video interview instead of just the the, the good old audio podcast that we do. So thank you for being on. And again, this is Engineering Influence brought to you by the American Council of Engineering Companies. Katharine, Matt, Steve have a great Memorial Day weekend. Stay safe, stay healthy and and stay engaged with us 'cause we are off to the races. Just go to acec.org click on advocacy. It's right there on the homepage. It'll take you right there to the R3 advocacy page, all the resources that you need to take advantage of the grassroots campaign we're running. It's all there for you and just take advantage of it. So thank you all for being on.

 

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