FMI-The Food Industry Association and the National Grocers Association have thrown their support behind new federal legislation that would temporarily suspend taxes for essential workers, including in the grocery industry.
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, yesterday introduced the Financial Relief Noting The Large Impact Of Our Nation’s Essential Employees (FRNT LINE) Act, which would suspend federal income taxes for essential workers up to an annual income cap set at the highest level of pay for an enlisted person in the U.S. Armed Forces. The bill also would suspend federal payroll taxes for essential workers who earn up to $50,000 annually.
According to Ernst, the measure would enable critical workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic to keep more of their hard-earned pay.
“Our essential workers have risen to the challenge and continued in their daily jobs — to care for and protect Iowans, to produce and deliver food and essential goods, and to uphold our nation’s critical infrastructure throughout this pandemic,” Ernst said in a statement. “These frontline workers — our nurses, truck drivers and grocery store workers, child care providers, and so many others — have kept life going and our supply chains intact. These men and women are putting the interests of their fellow Americans ahead of their own. Each and every morning, they wake up and go to work, and they should be rewarded for their selfless service.”
The period of tax relief under the FRNT LINE Act would run from April 1, 2020, to the date that the federal emergency declaration for COVID-19 is lifted, with an automatic sunset on Dec. 31, 2020. President Trump had declared the pandemic a national emergency on March 13.
FRNT LINE defines “essential workers” according to guidance issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In March, CISA named 16 business sectors whose workers are considered vital to the functioning of critical U.S. infrastructure during times of crisis. In the food sector, the following are listed as among “essential” employees: workers supporting groceries, pharmacies and other retailers that sell food and beverages; restaurant carryout and quick-serve food operations; carryout and delivery food employees; food manufacturers and their suppliers, including food processing (packers, meat processing, cheese plants, milk plants, produce, etc.); beverage production facilities; and makers of food packaging.
Both FMI and NGA were among 27 food industry trade groups that signed a letter to Congress last month calling on lawmakers to support Ernst’s FRNT LINE Act.
“The grocery industry and the food supply chain that supports it have worked tirelessly to keep food available to American customers during the COVID-19 pandemic in spite of tremendous challenges,” said Leslie Sarasin (left), president and CEO of FMI. “The FRNT LINE Act appropriately recognizes these efforts and gives our frontline associates well-deserved tax relief for their commitment to ensuring that grocery stores are open and stocked continuously during this national emergency. FMI greatly appreciates Sen. Ernst’s leadership on this important legislation.”
According to a poll of nearly 2,000 registered voters, conducted by Morning Consult for the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), eight in 10 U.S. voters support providing food supply-chain workers with temporary tax relief during the pandemic. Of those surveyed, 81% supported tax relief for grocery store workers, followed by agricultural and food production workers (79%) and farm workers (79%).
“This pandemic has illustrated not only the resiliency of independent grocers, but also how critically important independent grocers are for local communities and our nation’s food security. From meat cutters to grocery stockers, produce clerks to cashiers, distribution center order selectors to truck drivers, the independent supermarkets rallied to support their communities and we are grateful for their willingness to step up during these challenging times,” said NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara (left). “On behalf of the independent supermarket operators, the wholesalers who serve them and their store associates who have worked tirelessly and performed heroically throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we offer our full support of this bill that recognizes those efforts.”
Also voicing support for the FRNT LINE Act was Reynolds Cramer, president and CEO of Boone, Iowa-based supermarket chain Fareway Stores, which operates 123 Fareway Meat & Grocery stores in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota.
“Our employees have done an outstanding job providing an essential service through this pandemic,” Cramer said in a statement. “In addition to our efforts internally over the past few months, we appreciate Sen. Ernst’s efforts to recognize them for their unwavering commitment through this unparalleled time.”
Also on Tuesday, the National Retail Federation (NRF) announced its endorsement of the Healthy Workplaces Tax Credit Act (S. 4214), introduced this week by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. The bill aims to create a refundable tax credit against payroll taxes for 50% of costs incurred by businesses for COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfecting, extra cleaning and workspace reconfiguration. The credit is limited to $1,000 per employee per quarter for a company’s first 500 employees, $750 for the next 500 and $500 for each employee thereafter.
“It is essential that we bring our economy back by ensuring that the consuming public is safe to shop again and that the retail associates that assist them are safe as well,” David French, senior vice president for government relations at NRF, said in a July 21 letter to Senate leaders. “The Healthy Workplace Tax Credit will go a long way to provide some additional liquidity for making the necessary investments in our stores and workers.”
NRF said some midsize retailers have told the federation that the cost of safety measures can climb to $1 million a week, with face masks alone costing $30,000 a day for a 30,000-employee retailer.
The Healthy Workplace Tax Credit Act is similar to legislation introduced in the House last week by Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., NRF said, adding that it has requested the tax credit to be included in a comprehensive coronavirus relief bill being drafted by House and Senate leadership.
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