March 20, 2020 / 10:30 PM / 9 days ago

U.S. business group calls for large-company loans to prevent layoffs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday called for a new federal bridge loan program to help larger companies with over 500 employees keep workers on their payrolls as they struggle with falling demand due to the coronavirus.

The proposal, which would not have a specific dollar cap, would be for a fourth round of coronavirus rescue funding, in addition to a $1 trillion package that would provide payments to individuals, aid to small and mid-size businesses and loans to airlines and other selected industries hard-hit by the virus.

That package, still under negotiation in Congress, “fails to take care of the 68 million American workers that are employed by enterprises with more than 500 employees,” the chamber said in a statement.

The influential business lobby group said the program should be for large companies that have seen a revenue loss of 10% or more due to the virus outbreak for a maximum amount covering three months of payroll and healthcare expenses.

Employers who lose 25% of their revenues but maintain 90% of their employees at existing pay levels through December 2020 could have 10% of the five-year loan forgiven, according the proposal, as an incentive to retain staff.

“It is a loan, not a bailout,” said Neil Bradley, the chamber’s chief policy officer.

He told a conference call that the group does not want to put a specific dollar cap on the program because the demand is unknown, and the goal is to keep more people on company payrolls and off government-paid unemployment compensation.

“Our primary principle remains clear and firm: No family and no business should go bankrupt because of the financial hardships caused by the coronavirus,” Bradley said.

Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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