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Government Asked to Lift Supply Chain Roadblocks

March 22, 2020
Truckers and retailers say restrictions imposed during Coronavirus outbreak go too far.

The trucking industry and retailers have urged federal and state governments to remove roadblocks to providing essential goods and services that have arisen out of governmental attempts to control the Coronavirus outbreak.

Chris Spear, president of American Trucking Associations (ATA), said in a March 17 letter to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence: “We are writing to ask your assistance to assure that trucks are able to continue to safely deliver medicine, food, fuel, water and other basic necessities to communities and homes.”

Copies of the letter were sent to Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Alex Azar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Spears also pointed out that mail and parcel delivery services are essential during this public health crisis at a time when Americans are being told to avoid public places and need to receive supplies and checks at home.

He said, “Trucks are delivering vital supplies to communities now, but confusion and lack of clarity are causing delays and problems.” As governments continue to take actions to limit travel, require sheltering in place, close public facilities and quarantine communities, ATA asked that governments adopt these specific policies:

● Exempt trucking services for the delivery of essential goods explicitly from many of these restrictions. “Guidelines that make clear the role of shipping necessities by truck will ensure smooth resupply and delivery,” Spears said.

● As many states shutter their Department of Motor Vehicles facilities, support the ability of the trucking industry to continue to provide critical services by providing alternatives for drivers who need to renew or obtain commercial drivers licensing credentials.

● Keep rest stops open. Commercial drivers have temporary relief from the federal Hours of Service regulations, Spears noted, but they must manage fatigue as they respond to this emergency. “Rest stops are an irreplaceable component, along with commercial truck stops,” he observed. (At the trucking industry’s urging, Pennsylvania recently reopened rest stops it had closed.)

● Provide guidance for the health of drivers, including possible testing for COVID-19. “Clear guidance on public health assets is important to our employees, just like it is for all other Americans, and our drivers are typically away from home,” Spears informed the President and Vice President.

He concluded, “Absent policies like these, it will be more difficult to ensure that the shelves are stocked and emergency supplies reach first responders and medical personnel. Trucking will continue to do its part in these difficult times. In this current crisis, we ask for your help in supplying America, together.”

Businesses Need to Open

Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation (NRF), sent a letter to the President on March 19, urging him to take the necessary steps for alleviating some of the problems that are being experienced by retailers who are providing Americans with essential supplies.

Shay said, “Unfortunately, there remains a need for clear national guidance to resolve questions caused by a number of conflicting state and local orders that are triggering consumer, worker and business confusion, leading to cascading negative impacts on communities across the country.”

He added that NRF members have reported some towns, cities and counties across the country are deviating from instructions offered by governors and state agencies. Examples that Shay provided to the President include jurisdictions that have overlooked the important role of distribution centers and transportation and logistics companies. “Retailers, grocers and restaurants cannot resupply without access to their distribution centers,” he said.

Echoing Spears’ concerns, Shay also stressed to the President that truck drivers and logistics companies need access to federal and state highway rest areas. “Regrettably, some states have chosen to close rest areas they control while setting overly stringent curfews on these critical workforces serving our communities.”

He explained that when state and local governments give blanket orders to “close non-essential retail” and “limit mass gatherings to 50 people,” the inevitable result is public panic and alarm. “Consumers then swarm retailers, which exhausts existing supplies and overwhelms employees. Further, having hundreds of customers lined up outdoors defeats the mass-gathering guidance.”

Shay also informed Trump that some localities have determined that pet stores, which provide pet food and medicines, are not “essential” despite the millions of pet owners needing specialty supplies for the well-being of their pets, who provide necessary companionship and comfort when so many people have been told not to leave their homes.

NRF is working with municipal and state officials to solve these particular issues, Shay noted. He requested that the Trump Administration clarify that instructions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to limit gatherings to less than 50 people should be relaxed or exempted for large format grocery stores, big box retailers and wholesale clubs.

“Facilities with significant square footage can adequately accommodate more than 50 shoppers while effectively managing social distancing practices among customers and employees,” he pointed out.

Business Are Specified

Shay also asked the Administration to issue guidance clarifying what are considered “essential retail businesses” at a national level. He said, “The time has come to strike the right balance.”

As a result, NRF recommended that the following businesses be excluded from restrictions or given special accommodations by all state and local governments issuing the restrictive directives:

● Grocery stores, convenience stores and other establishments engaged in the retail sale or provision of food, pet supply, big box stores, wholesale clubs, and any other retailer of household consumer products (such as cleaning and personal care products). This includes stores that sell groceries and other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation and essential operation of residences.

● Local, regional and national transportation and delivery services, including but not limited to businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences and mailing and shipping services.

● Facilities supporting interstate delivery of goods, distribution centers, warehouse facilities, and trucking and highway rest stops.

● Pharmacy and healthcare services.

● Agricultural and farm retail stores, which often are the only places to purchase livestock feed, and among the few places first responders can obtain critical supplies.

● Gas stations and auto supply stores, auto repair and related facilities.

● Hardware and home improvement stores.

● Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, if operating under rules for social distancing.

● Retailers that supply other essential businesses and people working from home with the support or supplies necessary to operate (for example, electronics, telecommunication and mobile technology).

In addition, Shay requested that the Administration remain open to adding more categories to the specified “essential retail businesses” list as conditions continue to change. NRF also reported that it is sharing these recommended changes with state and local governments through the federations’ state retail association partners.

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