Texas Chapter ISA COVID-19 Updates

US Center for Disease Control Website
Texas Department of Health Services Website

July 31, 2020 update

Our nation, state and all of us in our communities face serious challenges from this global pandemic. ISAT is open for business and will keep on working hard to bring you the latest tree related information. Here are the latest Texas tree care related updates:

Check here for the latest effective openings from the Governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas – The Governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas will safely and strategically restart and revitalize all aspects of the Lone Star State—work, school, entertainment, and culture.  https://gov.texas.gov/organization/opentexas

July 24, 2020

COVID-19 Impact Projections on Texas’ Economy

Crew Safety During COVID-19 from the Society of Commercial Arborists

Paycheck Protection Program Gets One-Month Reprieve
August 8 deadline More here

According to the Journal of Accountancy, by the end of June, the Small Business Administration had approved nearly 4.9 million loans totaling more than $520 billion. About $130 billion remains unused, however, so the extension gives any eligible businesses that have not yet applied an opportunity to get any money they’re eligible for.
Although Congress has discussed other changes to the program, as of the end of June, the terms remain as they were. The only change is the extension of the application date. It seems likely Congress will come up with a new stimulus program in the coming days, but no one is sure what that might look like.

June 22, 2020 from TCIA

On June 22, President Trump issued a presidential proclamation establishing temporary entry bans for new H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and certain J-1 nonimmigrants, as well as their spouses and dependents. The ban goes into effect on June 24 and expires on December 31, 2020. Additionally, the proclamation extends the president’s April 22 proclamation banning entry for certain immigrants through December 31, 2020.
The bans apply to foreign nationals who are not present in the U.S. when the proclamation takes effect and do not hold valid U.S. visas or travel documents. The proclamation does not apply to “any lawful permanent resident of the United States; any alien who is the spouse or child…of a United States citizen; any individual seeking to enter the United States to provide temporary labor or services essential to the United States food supply chain; and any individual whose entry would be in the national interest as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees.”
These actions are intended to prioritize U.S. workers during the nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 economic fallout. With that goal in mind, TCIA is disappointed the administration chose to address this issue with a blanket ban on H-2B visas. Time and time again, it has been proven that H-2B visa holders do not take jobs from Americans and that employing H-2B visa holders leads to better outcomes for American workers and their employers. It is important to note that existing H-2B visa rules already impose a variety of protections designed to ensure visa holders do not displace US workers, including wage and recruitment mandates.

Already, hundreds, if not thousands of businesses and trade groups have voiced their opposition to the Administration’s ban on H-2B and other visas. TCIA knows our members remain committed to hiring American workers, but we fear this ban will hurt growth in our industry for the duration of the ban. TCIA joins the H-2B Workforce Coalition in urging the Administration to review its proclamation and reduce the impact it will have on not only the tree care industry, but the green industry as a whole.

We will continue to monitor this developing issue and alert our members to any updates. TCIA believes the best way to protect American businesses is by improving the H-2B and other visa programs, and we will continue to advocate for policies and reforms which will advance tree care businesses.

June 22, 2020

COVID-19 Symptoms vs. the Flu, a Cold, or Allergies Video Here
By Dr. Michael Greger, MD – You can download the whole video series ‘How to Survive a Pandemic’ here

June 18, 2020: New OSHA Guidance on Tracking COVID-19 at Work

Until recently, employers in only a handful of industries had to provide significant reporting on COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. But as of May 26, new Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines require a much wider range of employers to determine whether employees caught the coronavirus at work or while performing work-related activities. If so, managers must record the illness on OSHA Form 300.

To comply with OSHA’s new guidance, whenever an employee becomes ill with COVID-19, the employer must conduct a mini-investigation. Some employers are exempt from the new rules, according to OSHA: “Employers with 10 or fewer employees and certain employers in low hazard industries have no recording obligations; they need only report work-related COVID-19 illnesses that result in a fatality or an employee’s in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.”

All other companies must make a record on the OSHA 300 log if these three criteria are met, according to guidance from the Society for Human Resource Management:

A confirmed case of COVID-19.
Work relatedness.
Illness resulting in death, days away from work, restricted work or the transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid or the loss of consciousness.
Most people who test positive for the novel coronavirus will miss work and meet the third criteria. The hard part for employers is determining whether a positive test is work related. Employers must make reasonable efforts to determine if the exposure is work related.

What efforts are considered reasonable? This can be tricky, but the SHRM has some advice:

Ask the employee about how he or she believes COVID-19 was contracted. Don’t ask whether family members have contracted it, but if the employee volunteers this information, it could indicate the infection was not work related.
Ask about the employee’s work and nonwork activities.
Investigate the employee’s work environment. Have other employees in the same area tested positive? Did the employee’s job duties bring him or her into contact with the public? Were the work areas so crowded that proper social distancing was not practical?
Investigations to answer these questions should be limited or companies risk crossing a privacy line or violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example.

Base your conclusion only on information that’s reasonably available at the time you’re investigating. Should you learn more information later that’s related to the employee’s COVID-19 illness, you’ll need to update your recordings of occupational illnesses relevant to your work-related determinations.

OHSA reassures employers concerned about the burden and their liability according to OSHA rules, noting, “Employers, especially small employers, should not be expected to undertake extensive medical inquiries, given employee privacy concerns and most employers’ lack of expertise in this area.” It also says, “Recording a COVID-19 illness does not, of itself, mean that the employer has violated any OSHA standard.” Liability in general remains a confusing and controversial topic, however, along with the issue of how to treat workers who don’t want to return to a workplace, citing safety concerns. Companies should get legal advice before making major decisions.

June 15, 2020: SBA Releases Revised PPP Loan Forgiveness Application June 16, 2020 and introduces an EZ PPP Loan Forgiveness Application

On Tuesday, June 16th, the SBA released a revised and much shorter PPP Loan Forgiveness Application as well as an EZ Loan Forgiveness Application. Additionally the SBA released additional guidance with revisions to earlier interim final rules. So yes – you read correctly – interim final rules 3 and 6 have now been amended. If these times were not plagued with stress and rather daunting, humor might be found in the irony of that sentence. Below is a recap to assist.

Revised PPP Loan Forgiveness Application –
The application has been reduced from 11 pages down to five and also addresses changes made with the PPP Flexibility Act which went into law on June 5th. Application highlights include:
• Clarification for S Corporation owner employees – retirement costs are indeed eligible payroll costs while health insurance is still ineligible.
• Safe harbors for excluding wage reductions and FTE reduction can be applied as of the date of the loan forgiveness application and does not have to hinge on the 12.31.20 date.
• Borrowers do not have to wait until 12.31.20 to apply the safe harbors and can apply sooner.
• Instructions for Form 3508
New EZ PPP Loan Forgiveness Application –
The new EZ application is a mere three pages with the second page being certifications and the third page being an optional demographic information form. However, this form may be tough for you to qualify. You qualify if you:
• Are self-employed (Sch C) and have no employees; OR
• Did not reduce the wages of employees by more than 25% AND did not reduce the number of hours of your employees; OR
• Experienced reductions in business activity as a result of health directives related to COVID-19 AND did not reduce the wages of your employees by more than 25%.
• Instructions for Form 3508EZ
Revised Interim Final Rules –
With the PPP Flexibility Act, the duration of the loan increased from eight weeks to 24 weeks. This created questions on whether the maximum compensation would increase proportionately as well. The revised interim final rule indicates it does not for some and creates a disparity between a non-owner employer and an owner.
• Maximum compensation for an employee rises from $15,385 over the eight-week period to $46,154 if the 24 week period is chosen.
• Maximum compensation for a Sch C or Sch F owner is $20,833 if the 24 week period is chosen. This represents the maximum original amount of loan request allowed for 10 weeks. The compensation calculation is your 2019 Sch C net profit x 2.5/12. The maximum compensation for an eight week period, remains as $15,385.
The interim final rule was also revised to match the Flexibility Act as it pertains to new loans received on or after June 5th to be a five year term, and the requirement for payroll costs to qualify for full forgiveness to be 60% rather than 75%.

Many of you may be asking whether you should begin your loan forgiveness application now or wait. It is unclear if banks will be in agreement to start processing loan forgiveness applications. Additionally – new guidance may be forthcoming.

June 12, 2020: MORE FLEXIBILITY FOR PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM LOAN FORGIVENESS

The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 (H.R. 7010) (PPP Flexibility Act), enacted on June 5, 2020, makes welcome changes to the forgiveness rules for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The PPP Flexibility Act greatly increases the likelihood that a large percentage of a borrower’s PPP loan will be forgiven.   While many details are still unknown, for many, the items in this bill are sufficient to give you a sigh of relief.

The PPP Flexibility Act makes the following changes:

  1. Extends the “covered period” for PPP loan forgiveness from eight weeks after loan origination to 24 weeks after loan origination.  Borrowers who received their loans before this change can elect to use their original or alternative payroll eight-week covered period.
  2. Replaces the June 30, 2020, date for the rehire safe harbor with December 31, 2020. Insight:  Additional guidance is needed to determine if a borrower who elects their original or alternative payroll eight-week covered period would also retain the June 30, 2020, date for the rehire safe harbor.
  3. Expands the rehire exception based on the non-availability of former employees and applies that exception when the need for workers is reduced to comply with COVID-19 standards. Specifically, PPP loan forgiveness would not be reduced due to a lower number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees if:
  • The employer is unable to rehire individuals who were employed by the employer on February 15, 2020, and the employer shows the inability to hire similarly qualified employees for unfilled positions on or before December 31, 2020, OR
  • The employer documents its inability to return to the same level of business activity as it had before February 15, 2020, due to having to comply new COVID-19 standards for sanitation, social distancing or other safety requirements during the period of March 1 through December 31, 2020.
  1. Allows up to 40% of the loan proceeds to be used on mortgage interest, rent or utilities (previously such expenses were capped at 25% of the loan proceeds), while at least 60% of the PPP funds must be used for payroll costs (down from the 75% that was noted in SBA guidance). This applies even if the borrower elects to use the eight-week covered or alternative payroll covered period. If the borrower does not use at least 60% of the loan on payroll costs, partial forgiveness would be available.  Insight:  Partial forgiveness versus cliff was clarified in an interim final rule released June 10th.
  2. Provides a five-year term for all new PPP loans disbursed on or after June 5, 2020. Loans disbursed before that date would retain their original two-year term unless the lender and borrower renegotiate the loan into a five-year term.
  3. Changes the six-month deferral period for loan repayments and interest accrual so that payments on any unforgiven amounts will begin on either (i) the date on which loan forgiveness is determined or (ii) 10 months after the end of the borrower’s covered period if forgiveness is not requested.

Insight:

Although the PPP Flexibility Act doesn’t clearly say as much, it appears that the $100,000 maximum on cash compensation paid to any one employee that is eligible for PPP loan forgiveness would continue to apply, such that the $15,385 cap (for eight weeks) would now be $46,153 (for 24 weeks).

The PPP Flexibility Act does not address whether the loan forgiveness cap for “owner-employees” (i.e., 8/52 of their 2019 compensation) would change to 24/52 of their 2019 compensation.

Notwithstanding some commentary that has been released, the statute does not appear to allow borrowers to request PPP loan forgiveness as soon as they spend all of their PPP funds in the ninth to 24th weeks following receipt of their PPP funds. That is because the CARES Act has been amended to substitute “24 weeks” for “eight weeks,” so absent additional guidance, it seems that borrowers must wait until the end of the 24-week period to request PPP loan forgiveness, unless they elect to use the original eight-week period (regular or alternative payroll covered period).

These changes garnered nearly unanimous, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate because the CARES Act assumed that most businesses would be up and running in a matter of weeks. But more time is needed to incur forgivable costs, because many businesses are at or near the end of their initial eight-week loan forgiveness period, yet they remain partially or fully suspended by governmental orders.

Final Insight:

The PPP Flexibility Act does not address whether employers can deduct the expenses underlying their PPP loan forgiveness. In Notice 2020-32, the IRS announced that employers could not deduct such expenses, but congressional leaders vowed to reverse the IRS’s position in future legislation. On June 3, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal (D-MA), said that in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill he intends to clarify that the loan forgiveness expenses are tax-deductible. But negotiations on that bill are still in the early stages.

May 20, 2020 PPP: IRS and SBA Issue New Guidance

Per the SBA’s latest press release: 
The form and instructions inform borrowers how to apply for forgiveness of their PPP loans, consistent with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).  SBA will also soon issue regulations and guidance to further assist borrowers as they complete their applications, and to provide lenders with guidance on their responsibilities.
The form and instructions include several measures to reduce compliance burdens and simplify the process for borrowers, including:
• Options for borrowers to calculate payroll costs using an “alternative payroll covered period” that aligns with borrowers’ regular payroll cycles
• Flexibility to include eligible payroll and non-payroll expenses paid or incurred during the eight-week period after receiving their PPP loan
• Step-by-step instructions on how to perform the calculations required by the CARES Act to confirm eligibility for loan forgiveness
• Borrower-friendly implementation of statutory exemptions from loan forgiveness reduction based on rehiring by June 30
• Addition of a new exemption from the loan forgiveness reduction for borrowers who have made a good-faith, written offer to rehire workers that were declined.

May 15, 2020: US Government Printing Office: Coronavirus and the Workplace: Resources for Knowing Your Rights and Responsibilities during a Pandemic

Online Learning Resources: Shelter in Place – Learn in Place

Title/DateTopic(s)InstructorsSponsored ByDescriptionLinks
ISA On-Demand Online CoursesIntroduction to Arboriculture,
Tree Anatomy, Urban Forestry, Tree Physiology, Biotic and Abiotic Disorders, Diagnosis, Tree ID, Tree Selection, and many more!
The World's Best ArboristsInternational Society of ArboricultureEducation and research are vital elements in the fulfillment of ISA’s mission to promote the professional practice of arboriculture and foster a greater worldwide awareness of the benefits of trees. ISA staff works with industry professionals and field experts to develop online resources that provide diverse educational opportunities and platforms for the presentation of new research, information, and technology.Learn More Here
ISA Arborist News and Arboriculture and Urban Forestry CEU QuizzesDozens of opportunities to earn CEU's while you are social distancing. VariousInternational Society of ArboricultureTo assist ISA members who hold credentials in earning continuing education units (CEUs), ISA is now providing online quizzes from both Arborist News and Arboriculture and Urban Forestry dating back to the beginning of 2018 at no cost to members.
Please note: CEUs for any given quiz/product may be earned only once per recertification cycle by each credential holder. Only online quizzes apply; mailed quizzes will not be accepted for CEUs. ISA will not issue refunds for previously purchased quizzes.
Online ISA CEU Quizzes here

Learn how to use online CEU quizzes here
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)A look at the paycheck protection program passed in the CARES Act to loan to small businesses.TCIATree Care Industry of AmericaSee the webcast here
ASCA WebinarsMany TitlesVariousAmerican Society of Consulting ArboristsASCA provides online learning to help Consulting Arborists learn and earn CEUs without having to leave their offices. Let experts lead you through timely topics and compelling lectures while you learn new skills and techniques you can immediately put to work for your clients. Since this is online self-directed learning, you can learn where you want and when you want! More Information Here
Climbing ArboristMany TitlesVariousClimbingArborist.comClimbingArborist.com offers a free comprehensive video library of knot tying, tree climbing and rigging techniques (basic and advanced). For novice, advanced and all levels in-between use our site as a tool to resource, practice and master your Arborist skills.More information here
Davey Resource Group Presents: 2020 WebinarsMany TitlesVariousDavey Resource GroupDavey Resource Group, Inc. is committed to providing up-to-date information on a variety of urban and community forestry topics. Our expert urban forestry consultants regularly present at local, regional, and national conferences throughout the world. With our breadth of knowledge and networks, we apply case study examples of how our clients are able to leverage their urban forestry projects into successful endeavors with meaningful results.More Information Here
Forestry and Natural Resources Webinar PortalMany TitlesVariousSouthern Regional Extension ForestryOn-Demand and FreeForestry and Natural Resources Webinar Portal
Topics for ArboristsMany TitlesVariousTreeStuffdotcomYouTubeClick here for the videos
TREE Fund WebinarsMany TitlesVariousTREE FundOn Demand and FreeClick Here for More Information
Don't forget to leave a donation!
Urban Forestry TodayMany TitlesVariousRick Harper, University of Massachusetts Click here for more information

And From ISA: ISA encourages our members and credential holders to use this time to continue your arboricultural education. Visit the ISA store to learn about ISA’s many educational products such as the Certified Arborist Study Guide, the Municipal Specialist Certification Study Guide, the Tree Climbers’ Guide, the Utility Specialist Certification Study Guide,  earn CEUs through the Collection of CEU Articles and so much more.

Your ISA Credentials:

For in-person certification exams, ISA has issued new exam guidelines beginning May 15, 2020. All exam candidates will receive these in writing once enrolled in an exam.  All in-person exams require a candidate to wear a face mask.  A person without a mask will not be permitted to sit for the exam.  The proctor and/or assistant will not be able to provide these for the test candidates.  Gloves can be worn but are not mandatory and must be disposed of at the conclusion of the exam in front of the proctor.  Hand sanitizer will be on site at the exam for all attendees. For questions regarding in-person exam guidelines, please contact Misti Perez at misti@isatexas.com  or Daniel Cottier, ISAT Certification Liaison at greenmanglobal@gmail.com or (214) 836-1646.  Select Pearson VUE testing centers offering computer based exams are open at 50% capacity as of May 1, 2020.  Pearson Vue requires a face mask be worn while testing per local government requirements for operation during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are unable to provide testing services to those without a face mask and will not be supplying face masks to candidates.  The situation is being closely monitored and the Texas Chapter will update here as we get information from ISA headquarters. Click here for more information

ISA has extended the recertification periods for credential holders set to renew within the next 30-60 days from March 2020.  TRAQ holders will get a six month extension.  ISA COVID FAQ page

Business Tips:

US Chamber of Commerce COVID-19 Resources

TCIA: What Should Tree Care Businesses Know About the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak?

OSHA COVID-19 Guidance
Introduction to OHSA Webinar for Arborists from North American Training Solutions

Assessing the Risk of COVID-19 for arborists from North American Training Solutions

Arborisk’s Guide to Combating Coronavirus
Tree Business Management Strategies for Pandemics
Coronavirus Safety for Arborists

COVID Small Business Action Plan from Constant Contact

 

IRS and Texas Comptroller Information:

IRS COVID-19 Tax – landing page for links to all IRS news releases and guidance related to COVID-19

IRS FAQs – filing and payment deadlines

IRS People First Initiative – additional relief on IRS actions and operations

Texas Comptroller – COVID-19 – currently gives statement regarding sales tax payment penalty and interest waiver

Business Related Webinars:

SCORE – Live & Recorded Business Webinars for Free

All Small Mentor Protege Program (On Demand, Free – Small Business Administration)

Competitive Advantage (On Demand, Free – Small Business Administration)

Financing Options for Small Businesses (On Demand, Free – Small Business Administration)

How to Write a Business Plan (On Demand, Free – Small Business Administration)

Introduction to Pricing (On Demand, Free – Small Business Administration)

Legal Requirements for Small Businesses (On Demand, Free – Small Business Administration)

A Guide to Winning Customers (On Demand, Free – Small Business Administration)

Pricing Models for Successful Business (On Demand, Free – Small Business Administration)

Sales: A Guide for the Small Business Owner (On Demand, Free – Small Business Administration)

Practical Information For Individuals:

Get the latest on COVID-19 go to CR’s Guide to the Coronavirus for even more articles, resources and information.

 

And remember – Social Distancing will end in Texas and we can all get together for more of this! (hint full screen and turn it up LOUD)