March 30 2020 05:14 PM

Get updated, ongoing information on how landscape and irrigation contractors are dealing with the situation.

Updated March 30, 2020

DHS releases updated critical infrastructure guidance

The Department of Homeland Security issued an updated critical infrastructure guidance March 28. In this guidance, “landscapers” are identified as critical under the public works and infrastructure support services section. Both the Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia, and National Association of Landscape Professionals, Fairfax, Virginia, have been advocating to include landscape services under this section.

Though “irrigation professionals” were not specifically identified in the new guidance, the inclusion of “landscapers” now identifies all support for that industry as essential in this guidance, says John Farner, government and public affairs director for the Irrigation Association.

“This federal guidance guides state and local officials as to what the federal government deems as critical infrastructure during times like we’re in right now,” says Farner. “Different states are implementing their own either shelter-in-place or stay-at-home initiatives, and even though the federal government has added landscape services as part of the critical infrastructure of the United States, it does not mean every state is going to follow this specific guideline.”

While the update does provide further guidance from the federal level, state and local governments can choose to adopt it or not. Individual jurisdictions can add or subtract essential workforce categories due to their own requirements or discretions. Contractors still need to follow state and local orders.

Most states say they follow the guidance set forth by the Department of Homeland Security unless otherwise noted, Farner says.

Also included in the public works and infrastructure support services section of the list were plumbers, electricians, exterminators, builders, contractors, HVAC technicians and other sanitation services.

IA is looking for further clarification of these guidelines in future rounds for irrigation services, specifically, Farner says. They currently can be included under landscaping or plumbing.

“The Irrigation Association is confident that our work from contractors, distributors and manufacturers are now included in all components of the critical infrastructure guidance from the Department of Homeland Security,” he says.

A copy of the letter sent by IA to the Department of Homeland Security can be found here.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, HR 748, was passed by Congress and signed into law March 27. The $2 trillion economic stimulus package is the largest ever passed by Congress.

The bill provides relief for landscaping professionals affected by the novel coronavirus through several means, says Farner.

Among those is the Keeping American Workers Paid and Employed Act, which extends cash flow for small businesses that maintain their payroll during the public health emergency by creating a Paycheck Protection Program. That provides 100% federally guaranteed loans to employers with fewer than 500 employees, or the applicable size standard for the industry as provided by the Small Business Administration if higher.

The legislation also provides $349 billion to expand the SBA’s existing 7(a) loan program to cover payroll support, such as salaries and sick leave, through June 30, 2020. The language is retroactive to February 15 to allow employers who have already laid off employees to bring them back onto payroll.

“This provides tools for both companies, and that includes self-employed individuals, as well as employees, who have been affected by economic outcomes of our response to COVID-19,” Farner says.

More benefits of the CARES Act for small businesses can be found in the U.S. Congressional Actions Regarding COVID-19 Response document on the IA’s Resource page.

President Trump extended social distancing guidelines through the end of April as of March 29. The IA and NALP continue to monitor how this affects the industry at the state and local level, Farner says.

Updated March 26, 2020

Irrigation Association supports the industry during COVID-19 pandemic

For landscape and irrigation companies seeking information on operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia, is working to provide answers.

While there are a few states, like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, that have specifically stated landscapers cannot be working at this time, it has been difficult for many in other areas to discern whether they can go out and do business.

“The language in states’ orders don’t list out every single trade. Being able to define landscape services within the areas that are listed in these orders has been difficult and has led to a lot of ambiguity among the whole industry,” says John Farner, IA Government and public affairs director. “One of the things the IA is advocating for is that states provide crystal clear direction to our industry on whether or not we can continue to do our work.”

The Irrigation Association is closely following how each state is responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency. For up-to-date information on what the IA is seeing, its asks for people to join its official LinkedIn COVID-19 resources page.

“I am really proud of how our industry is responding to all of this. The stories that I’ve been hearing have been encouraging, sad, awe-inspiring and everything else in between,” says Farner. “The stories are ones that show our industry stepping up to the plate and meeting the needs of our customers, while at the same time keeping public health at the front of their minds.”

The way businesses have been doing that is changing the way they interact with customers and ensuring communication adheres to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and national, state and local public health guidelines. Farner says he’s spoken with companies that are limiting interpersonal interactions with customers, using more telephone conversations, and getting the job done while keeping employees’ and customers’ health a main priority.

Providing the right information at the right time to IA members is the association’s most important goal right now, says Farner. Depending on a company’s situation, this could mean providing clarity on whether they can continue operating now, helping them cope with decreasing their staff numbers, or advocating for them to be able to do at least a limited amount of work during this public health crisis.

“We want to be there for the industry now and to help our industry get through this,” says Farner. “We want to be there through the next phase, which is one that helps build our industry back up to what it once was.”

Public health takes priority in this situation, says Farner, followed by protecting our industry and making sure it can continue to provide services. As states determine the essential versus nonessential status of the landscape and irrigation industry, the IA maintains its long-term position on the benefits of green infrastructure.

“We truly believe green infrastructure is critical infrastructure in the United States,” says Farner. There are many benefits to having managed and maintained landscapes. They help lessen crime, promote environmental sustainability, give people space to exercise and create oxygen.

“We’re entering the spring season. If we let these landscapes go, that can promote negative consequences,” explains Farner. “Having the ability to go out and manage and maintain the landscapes out there now is a critical component to ensure our communities are safe throughout this public health crisis.”

“Knowing that customers depend on our industry to keep their living landscapes alive and healthy and continue to give their kids and families a place to go outside and play while their confined to their homes is something that I’ll never forget,” says Farner.

Updated March 23, 2020

Landscapers stress the importance of the industry amid COVID-19 business restrictions

As state governments continue to impose restrictions on businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, landscaping and irrigation professionals are among many businesses feeling the effects of these precautionary measures.

In Norwich, Connecticut, Brandon Hyde, vice president of Hyde Park Landscaping, emphasizes that the landscaping industry is “in a unique position” to continue operating, according to an article by The Bulletin. This is because crews mainly operate outside and typically have limited interaction with the public.

Hyde respects the state’s decisions so far, but he is hoping the landscaping industry won’t be shut down, as many companies need a way to make up for a light winter.

“It’s critical for our businesses to get out there and make some money, now that our season is here,” he says in the article.

Rick Stewart, owner of Stewart’s Landscape and Lawn in Norwich, says his own business practices haven’t drastically changed due to the virus.

Both Hyde and Stewart say they’ve lost some customers due to the economic uncertainty at the moment. However, they both still have regular customers that will want their services.

“We’re a maintenance-based company, and people still need their property maintained, whether it’s commercial or residential,” says Hyde.

Hyde also says his company is applying stringent measures to keep his employees safe. He put in place additional protocols that include social distancing, wearing gloves and cleaning equipment after every use.

Stewart says he understands if customers become reluctant to spend their money on landscaping in uncertain times. If he ends up with a significant decrease in business, he’ll focus his resources on maintaining his full-time employees, rather than look for summer help.

For some landscaping companies, the surge of newly-unemployed people looking for quick employment has helped their own hiring needs.

Craig Bauer of Bauer Lawn Maintenance Inc. in Swanton, Ohio, says in an article by the Toledo Blade, he historically relies on the H-2B temporary visa program to provide the staffing level he needs to keep his business running during the summer.

Bauer says now that coronavirus concerns have delayed the program, he has 25-30 commercial landscaping positions he needs to fill immediately.

“In my business, the grass grows every day. It needs to be cut, so we can’t really shut down,” Bauer says in the article. “We can really plug in about anybody, anywhere.”

Rodas Outdoor Services, Wedgefield, Florida, is another company that’s offering temporary, landscaping jobs to people who are currently out of work. According to an article by Fox 35 Orlando, owner Eddie Rodas made a post on Facebook offering temporary employment weeding plants and trimming trees. Within 24 hours of posting the offer, Rodas says about 50 people reached out to him for a job.

Rodas said his plan is to take on two temporary workers a day. He is also challenging other businesses to reach out and help people who are out of work right now because of COVID-19 shutdowns. “I wouldn’t survive without my community, and when it’s time to give back to them and you as a business owner, you got to step up to see what you can do.”

The ability to continue operations comes down to whether landscaping and irrigation businesses are considered “essential” by the state and local governments. While some states have already deemed it “essential,” others are unclear whether it’s permitted to continue operating.

Tim Habazin, president of Northern Scapes in Pleasant Hills, Pennsylvania, joined thousands of business owners statewide who made calls and sent urgent emails to local and state and public officials hoping to get more clarity, according to an article by Trib Live.

“At a minimum, the lawns need mowed. A lot of my customers are elderly and can’t do it themselves,” says Habazin in the article. “If the lawns get too high, it’ll open the door for animals and insects, which can carry other diseases — Lyme, for example.”

“Not to mention if people are quarantined to their homes, a neglected yard won’t help with their psyche. I see lawn maintenance as being essential,” he adds.

For landscaping and irrigation companies seeking information on their status of being classified as “essential” or “nonessential,” several industry associations are working to provide information on this.

The National Association of Landscape Professionals, Fairfax, Virginia, has assembled a state-by-state list of who has shut down and who is allowing lawn and landscape contractors to continue as essential services. It also has a resources and news page on how people can help advocate that their state allow lawn care and landscaping to be essential services.

The Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia, has provided a resources page with state-specific guidance on landscaping and irrigation companies continuing operations. It also has created a COVID-19 resources LinkedIn group for association members to share information with one another regarding their experiences navigating the current public health crisis.

Updated March 16, 2020

NALP provides resources for landscaping companies surrounding the coronavirus

The National Association of Landscape Professionals, Fairfax, Virginia, is monitoring the development, regulations and guidance surrounding the new coronavirus (COVID-19). Because the industry takes the safety of its employees and clients very seriously, the association wants to help companies deal with this situation.

In additional to providing both Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resources for COVID-19 on its website, NALP will be hosting a free webinar March 18 from 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Eastern titled “Dealing with the Coronavirus in Your Landscape or Lawn Care Business.” The association has also created a Facebook group to serve as a space for landscape industry professionals to talk and share about their plans surrounding coronavirus.

Concerning worker safety, NALP has provided the following recommendations:

  • Companies monitor and comply with all federal, state and local advisories and precautionary measures, closely monitor employee health and, as the CDC advises, actively encourage sick employees to stay home and notify their supervisors if an employee has had close with someone who has contracted COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 is a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job. OSHA recordkeeping requirements mandate covered employers record certain work-related injuries and illnesses on their OSHA 300 log.
  • Be extra vigilant about disinfecting personal protective equipment.

The CDC suggests that employers plan to be able to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity of a possible outbreak and be prepared to refine business response plans as needed. NALP provides a list of considerations when planning a response, including preparing for employees’ absences, flexible work schedules, limiting employee meetings and more. For a full list, visit NALP’s website.