Please spend a few minutes reviewing this updated version of the Guidelines for Wine Tasting Room Operations in Response to COVID-19. It has been refreshed and carefully modified by industry task force members from across the state. The six pages include links and referrals to support documents that answer nearly all of the frequently asked questions that will help your hospitality team members ensure a safe working environment and a positive guest experience.
Some growers and winemakers may have heard about the Food Security and Farmworker Safety (FSFS) Initiative being financed with $30 million funneled to Oregon after passage of the federal CARES Act that was signed into law on March 27. FSFS was established to provide reimbursements to agricultural business owners for certain expenses incurred in complying with Oregon OSHA’s Temporary Administrative Rule Addressing the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. The text of that important rule, which has been in effect since May 11, can be found in the Oregon Wine Board’s COVID-19 toolkit.
The FSFS initiative is summarized clearly in this overview from Crosswater Strategies, government affairs advisors for the Oregon Winegrowers Association. More specifically, FSFS is designed to help agriculture producers cope with new or increased costs associated with farmworker housing, workplace sanitation and transportation.
More information is available here and this link takes you to the application form. Business owners are invited to submit the form right away to open their file with the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) even though additional reimbursable costs will be incurred during the season and supporting documentation can be submitted later.
Program applications and receipts for expense reimbursements will be accepted until Oct. 25 with a maximum benefit per business of $21,000, which includes the $1,000 maximum for transportation. However employers are encouraged to submit all reasonable worker housing, sanitation and transportation receipts in case the program is undersubscribed and additional reimbursements become possible in excess of $21,000.
Growers and winemakers can direct general questions about the program and its reimbursement requirements to this e-mail address. Jonathan Sandau (email) from the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and Eric Hartstein (email) from OWEB have offered themselves as resources to business owners with more specific questions about FSFS. Jonathan’s and Eric’s remarks during a wine industry meeting yesterday can be found at the opening of this Zoom recording.
As some of you may recall from previous OWB announcements, the president signed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (PPPFA) into law on June 5. H.R. 7010 makes some important revisions to the original PPP legislation giving business owners more time to apply for loan forgiveness while also relaxing some terms of the loan agreements. Remember that any unforgiven amount is treated as a 1% interest loan.
Provisions to note in the PPPFA include:
Extension of the covered period: The period that loans can be forgiven extends from eight weeks to 24 weeks from the loan’s origination date.
Reduction in the payroll ratio: The amount of the loan that must be spent on payroll costs has been lowered from 75% to 60%.
Allowance of a payroll tax deferment: A borrower is able to defer all of their 2020 Social Security tax burden into 2021 and 2022, even if the PPP loan is forgiven prior to Dec. 31, 2020.
Extension of the rehiring deadline: the rehiring deadline has been extended from June 30, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020, giving businesses more time to restore workers and their wages. If someone’s wages were reduced by more than 25%, employers have until June 30 (a “safe harbor”) to make changes so the new wage rate will represent a cut of less than 25%.
Flexibility for borrowers who lose FTEEs (full-time equivalent employees): the loan will not be reduced if the borrower is able to document an inability to rehire eligible workers or cannot rehire similarly qualified employees before Dec. 31, 2020. There will be no penalty if workers decline to be rehired. Similarly, employees that are terminated for cause, resign or voluntarily request schedule reduction will not cause a reduction in loan forgiveness. In all cases correct documentation is essential.
The forgivable amount will also not be reduced if a loan recipient demonstrates an inability to return to the same level of business activity that existed before Feb. 15.
There remains a total balance available of about $148 billion in PPP funding, so new loan applications are still being accepted by lenders but only until June 30. Take a look here for the most recently revised application, which was updated just last week. This document and many others related to PPP loans can be found in the OWB’s COVID-19 toolkit.
Two final announcements:
The Willamette Valley Wineries Association announced the second in its “Prepping for Harvest” series of Zoom meetings. The next session is tomorrow, Thursday, June 18 at 10 a.m. and registration is open to all industry members. Leda Garside from ¡Salud! will join as guest speaker to talk about vineyard worker testing for COVID-19 and ways to support our workforce during the pandemic. The 49-minute recording from last week’s first call in this series can be found right here.
ODA, Oregon OSHA and the Oregon Health Authority jointly drafted this six-page guidance document to help employers plan in advance for the possibility that COVID-19 may present itself and spread within their workplaces. Wine industry representatives will be meeting with staff from those three state organizations in the next few days to discuss some of the ways in which grape farming and cellar operations differ from other food processing work and where wineries may require accommodations.