Retailers call on Congress to create pandemic insurance program

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The National Retail Federation is calling on congressional leaders to pass legislation that would provide robust protection for businesses in the form of insurance to cover significant losses due to a pandemic, as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the economy.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the organization expressed support for a pandemic risk Insurance bill that would provide coverage, similar to how the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act covers those affected by acts of terrorism.

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“This approach would serve as a cornerstone to a proactive and prospective approach to managing the risk of a widespread and catastrophic pandemic or epidemic in the future,” said the letter, which was also signed by 16 other business organizations. “Already, while we are still struggling with the severe collateral consequences of COVID-19, U.S. businesses wishing to renew their insurance coverage have been told that the pandemic risk insurance and reinsurance market has no capacity.”

The letter noted that even those businesses that are currently covered would not be as fortunate if there is another wave of COVID-19 in the winter.

“A federally insured pandemic risk insurance program would provide businesses of all sizes with the certainty that they need to renew leases, invest in real estate, order inventory, plan for capital improvements, and hire and re-hire workers in the coming months,” the letter continued.

“When businesses couldn’t obtain coverage for acts of terrorism after 9/11, Congress stepped in,” NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations David French said in a statement. “It’s time for Washington to do the same for pandemics. Retailers and other businesses across the country have seen unprecedented losses related to COVID-19 that weren’t covered under most current insurance policies and won’t be covered if there’s a second wave of the virus next winter.”

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The letter expressed gratitude for the relief already granted to businesses via the CARES Act, which launched a forgivable loan program for small businesses. The nearly $350 billion that the CARES Act designated for these loans was quickly depleted, however, and lawmakers have struggled to pass legislation to replenish the pool.

Schumer announced Tuesday that fellow leaders and the White House have agreed to terms for a new bill that includes an additional $310 billion for the program, as well as addressing other concerns such as money for hospitals and increased coronavirus testing.