March 17, 2020

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TechNet Sends Policy Recommendations on Coronavirus to Congress and the Trump Administration

Washington, D.C.– TechNet sent a letter to Congress and the Trump Administration with policy recommendations from the tech industry’s perspective on actions that can betaken related to the coronavirus pandemic.

TechNet’s recommendations focused on how the federal government can support innovation’s role in helping the U.S. through coronavirus, including solutions related to telehealth, the delivery of medical supplies and food with drones, helping students and workers stay connected while they are away from schools and offices, ensuring the continuity of government services via information technology, and providing relief to startups and small businesses, among other suggestions.

“As you continue negotiations to advance policy solutions related to the coronavirus pandemic, we write to share several recommendations from the tech industry’s perspective on actions Congress and the Administration can and should take,” TechNet president and CEO Linda Moore wrote.  “As the White House’s recent coronavirus-related engagement with tech industry representatives has demonstrated, technology has a critical role in responding to this public health challenge.”

The full letter is below and a PDF is available here.

Dear Mr. President, Madam Pelosi, Leader McConnell, and Secretary Mnuchin:

As you continue negotiations to advance policy solutions related to the coronavirus pandemic, we write to share several recommendations from the tech industry’s perspective on actions Congress and the Administration can and should take.

TechNet is the national, bipartisan network of technology CEOs and senior executives that promotes the growth of the innovation economy.  Our diverse membership includes dynamicAmerican businesses ranging from startups to the most iconic companies on the planet and represents over three million employees and countless customers in the fields of information technology, e-commerce, the sharing and gig economies, advanced energy, cybersecurity, venture capital, and finance.

As the White House’s recent coronavirus-related engagement with tech industry representatives has demonstrated, technology has a critical role in responding to this public health challenge.  As we have highlighted on our website, http://technet.org/media/tech-at-work-coronavirus-resources, tech companies have already been at work sharing accurate and timely information with the public; taking care of our people and communities; deploying telework solutions; helping students and teachers continue the learning experience; and providing modern telemedicine solutions, among other efforts.

Below are several solutions for you and other federal policymakers to consider as legislative packages and executive actions are developed to address the impact of the coronavirus:

Advancing Public Health Solutions

Telehealth is now more essential than ever given the combined impact of the coronavirus’s projected strain on our health system, the necessity of social distancing, and the ongoing need for patients to seek other medical care unrelated to the pandemic.  We appreciate the effortsCongress and the administration have already taken in this area.

  • In addition to those, the     Secretary of HHS should encourage all Governors to invoke similar authorities to waive these state licensing requirements     for the commercial sector and allow a doctor, licensed and in good     standing in one state, to perform telehealth consults for patients in their state.
  • The Federal AviationAdministration (FAA) should expedite reviews and approvals of applications to allow drone deliveries of medical products and specimens, as well as food and consumer goods.  The FAA should also consider temporary exemptions allowing these deliveries to take place in urban areas, given how cities have been disproportionately impacted.
  • On March 9, the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued final rules to make it easier for patients to download their health and insurance records to their smartphones. However, the existing six-month grace period before the administration begins enforcing information blocking rules could be accelerated given this pandemic and national emergency.
  • It is important for the administration to make crystal clear that the free coronavirus testing afforded by H.R. 6201, the Families FirstCoronavirus Response Act, among other public health services immigrants may avail themselves of during this pandemic and national emergency, will not impact their green card status as it relates to the public charge rule.

Helping Students and Teachers Continue the Learning Experience Remotely

With schools across the nation closed, helping students, parents, and teachers continue the learning experience remotely must remain a top goal.  This only heightens the need for safe, secure, and reliable internet access that aligns with federal laws such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).  Doing so will ensure children can receive their educational programming, while protecting the personally identifiable information of children and their families — at a time when cybercriminals are stepping up their attacks. To that end, we recommend the following:

  • The Universal Service Funding program, specifically E-rate, be used to provide on-premise equipment, such as routers, modems, remote wireless access points, and other necessary equipment to extend connectivity into the home, while allowing schools and school districts applying for E-rate funds to use them to enhance the cybersecurity of their networks.  Ultimately, it would be best for the students to use equipment — such as Remote Wireless Access Point — that automatically extends the existing school network to students working from home. This means users can access the same service set identifier (also known as the name of a Wi-Fi network), Intranet, and other services as if they were on the school campus.  These measures would allow education-related online traffic to route through the school’s network, while also allowing for cybersecurity-related enhancements that keep the students’ access safe, secure, and compliant with all regulations.
  • The Universal Service Funding program, specifically Lifeline, be used to provide broadband connectivity to qualifying homes, allowing students that are unable to attend school due to closings to be able to access digital and remote learning.

Ensuring the Continuity of Government Services via IT & Telework Solutions

State and Local Services: Around the world, information technology (IT) and IT infrastructure is supporting health care providers, educational institutions, the pharmaceutical industry, and cities and states working to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

  • To help ensure the continuity of essential medical and government services that the tech industry has been a long-standing partner in supporting, the administration should issue official guidance to state and local governments that any shelter-in-place orders include IT and IT services in any exemptions to these government-mandated shutdown requirements.

Federal Services: Because the tech industry serves as a critical partner to the federal government in advancing its missions and facilitating the provision of services to the public, it is imperative that clear guidance be established regarding the safety, economic well-being, and telework abilities of the federal workforce, including its contract or community.  To that end, the following measures should be adopted:

  • Comprehensive, government-wide guidance addressing telework and other employment policies for federal contractors should be issued. Federal contractors should be treated no differently than federal employees with respect to sick leave, pay, telework, and so forth.
  • Financial difficulties incurred as a result of any work stoppage or disruption should not be treated as derogatory factors affecting contractors’ security clearances.
  • The federal government should ensure that its information technology (IT) are adequately funded and prioritized to enable employees and contractors to work remotely and continue providing services to veterans, taxpayers, and the many others who rely on federal government services.

Enhancing the Cybersecurity of State and Local Governments and School Districts

Especially during a public health crisis like this, ensuring the continuity of services and protecting information from cyber criminals take on added importance.  In fact, as Bloomberg.com has reported, “The U.S. Health and Human ServicesDepartment suffered a cyber-attack on its computer system Sunday night during the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to three people familiar with the matter.  The attack appears to have been intended to slow the agency’s systems down…”

Furthermore, the need for telework can present risks and strains not only on the private sector but especially on local and state government agencies on the front lines in dealing with this pandemic while trying to continue maintaining public safety, educating our children through distance learning, providing other services, and otherwise ensuring the continuity of government.  To that end, Congress should pass the following bills to enhance the cybersecurity of state and local governments, as well as school districts:

  • The State and Local Government Cybersecurity Act (S. 1846 by Senators Gary Peters and Rob Portman).
  • The K-12 Cybersecurity Act (S. 3033 by Senators Gary Peters and Rick Scott).

Providing Relief to Workers and Partners in the Gig/On-Demand Economy

A pandemic like the coronavirus poses unique challenges to workers who avail themselves of flexible, independent work opportunities in the gig/on-demand economy.  While many of these companies are already stepping up with efforts to provide paid sick leave, suspending commission payments from their restaurant partners, and providing safer ways to continue essential deliveries of groceries and food to American families, seniors, and vulnerable populations while also social distancing, among other measures, policymakers should also consider the following actions:

  • 1099 Workers: Independent contractors, such as gig economy workers, and others who work for themselves and file their taxes as 1099workers are a critical part of America’s workforce.  Any coronavirus-related legislation should make sure to account for these workers and micro businesses who generate“self-employed income” and provide them with similar relief made available toW-2 workers, including unemployment insurance and sick leave.  We appreciate the inclusion of self-employed workers in the paid leave program through refundable tax credits in H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus ResponseAct.  As this tax credit policy is implemented, we urge the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service to ensure the application and disbursement process for self-employed workers is as streamlined as possible with the goal of deploying this relief to workers in a timely manner.  Additionally, we support direct emergency cash disbursements — which have enjoyed bipartisan support during past crises — and urge you to ensure these workers are eligible for this relief in future legislative packages.
  • Not Disrupt Company-Led Efforts To Provide Sick Leave and Other Services To Workers UsingTheir Platforms: Already, gig/on-demand economy companies have stepped up to support the independent contractors using their platforms in many different ways.  Congress should help ensure that these company-led efforts to promote the general health and well-being of these individuals can continue unabated by providing time-limited, narrowly targeted protection from any legal challenges to companies that are doing the right thing by providing financial assistance to individuals who are unable to work because of health or safety concerns; providing training or information related to an individual’s or the public’s health or safety; and providing medical or cleaning supplies to individuals using digital marketplace company platforms. 
  • Portable Benefits: While there is a broader discussion to continue having about what a modern-day safety net should look like in the age of the gig economy, one model for Congress to consider is the Portable Benefits for Independent WorkersPilot Program Act (S. 541 by Senators Mark Warner and Todd Young and H.R.4016 Representative Suzan DelBene), which can be expanded from its current authorization levels and serve as an additional tool that governors and states can deploy to address the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Provide Relief To Restaurant Partners: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 intended to let restaurants deduct their renovation costs immediately, rather than over many years.  However, the law inadvertently omitted the words “any qualified improvement property” in the relevant provision.  Given the important partnerships between many gig economy platforms and restaurants in communities across the nation, coupled with the strain dining establishments will be experiencing as people stay home due to the coronavirus, Congress should fix this problem now.

Stimulating Business Investment and Providing Relief to Startups and Small Businesses

In order to maximize business continuity and mitigate disruptions during these unprecedented times, businesses require the government to provide them with additional fiscal flexibility.  Congress should enact tax measures that will help employers and employees weather potentially severe economic effects of the coronavirus, while laying a foundation for economic stimulus and recovery. Such measures should include:

  • Payroll tax relief and a repeal of the rule barring net operating loss carry-backs.  These types of approaches to economic revitalization will provide companies with the immediate liquidity they need to continue investing in their workforce and product development — steps that will play a key role in minimizing economic damage in the U.S. and globally.

In times of crisis, American innovators and entrepreneurs always rise to the occasion to marshal existing resources to tackle problems, in addition to developing new ideas and bringing them to the market.  To that end, a legislative package should support startups and small businesses. Legislative solutions include the following:

  • Expanding the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 7(a)loan program, which is offered by banks throughout the U.S., by $50billion, providing near-term relief to America’s small businesses that face payroll, paid sick leave, and other operational challenges due to the coronavirus.
  • The Helping Angels Lead Our Startups (HALOS) Act (H.R. 1909 by Representatives Steve Chabot and Brad Schneider and S. 1063 bySenators Chris Murphy and Pat Toomey) to make it easier for startups to raise capital.
  • The American Innovation Act, which was introduced in the last Congress byRepresentative Vern Buchanan, to consolidate rules to allow new businesses to deduct up to $20,000 of startup and organizational costs.

 Avoiding Disruptions to Digital Commerce and Trade

  • The movement of people across international borders and even within their own communities is one of the most difficult challenges we face during this national emergency and global pandemic, but one of the benefits of our increasingly digital, data-driven economy is that data flows can continue unabated.  We must work with our international partners to prevent any unnecessary disruptions of data flows that could be disruptive to the U.S. economy and potentially harmful to efforts related to the coronavirus. This includes pending court cases in Europe challenging the future of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield.
  • End the tariffs that continue harming U.S.consumers, workers, and businesses of all sizes, while hampering long-term private sector investments in innovation through research and development(R&D).
  • Especially during this period, we must insist that the U.S.’s trade partners not impose punitive digital service taxes on U.S. companies, including a call for the United Kingdom to suspend its recently announced measure that takes effect April 1.

We thank you for your efforts and look forward to working with you on this important cause.  

Sincerely,


Linda Moore
TechNet President and CEO

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