May 22 2020 04:00 PM

Updated May 22: Get ongoing information on how landscape and irrigation contractors are handling the pandemic.


Updated May 22, 2020

House passes a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which is unlikely to pass Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill May 15 providing assistance to state and local governments, hazard pay for frontline health care workers, student debt forgiveness and bolstered Medicaid and Medicare, according to a CBS article. The bill is known as the HEROES Act, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act.

The House bill will now go the U.S. Senate, where Republican senators have already indicated the bill is dead on arrival, although Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated the Senate will pass further COVID-19 relief legislation. But he said he will work with the White House to determine what’s needed and how soon.

IA continues to advocate for irrigation industry

“As we enter our various ‘reopening phases’ in many states, we are almost at 100% for the landscape irrigation to be able to do business,” says John Farner, IA government and public affairs director. “There are various pockets throughout the U.S. where irrigation is still affected, but with Michigan’s and New York’s recent announcements, our state-level restrictions have generally ended.”

The IA is hosting a free webinar May 19 at 2 p.m. Eastern for landscape contractors to attend to discuss “Preparing for a New Normal.” The webinar will discuss innovating ways for contractors to engage with their current and potential customers, while staying active and involved in their communities to promote the benefits of our industry to their states and localities.

“In addition to these provisions in the HEROES Act, the IA continues to work with our industry partners in advocating for liability reform,” says Farner. “We are working with the Coronavirus Liability Coalition, in signing a letter that will be sent to Members of Congress next week, calling for timely, targeted and temporary COVID-related liability relief legislation.”

Farner says the IA also continues to work with the H-2B coalition in ensuring landscape irrigation can continue to have access to labor, if needed. “While we believe that the full industry’s reliance on this program will decrease as long as the economy is in a period of recession, we want to make sure it is there and working, if we need it,” adds Farner.


Updated May 11, 2020

U.S. Chamber of Commerce releases state-by-state business reopening guidance

Across the U.S., businesses are restarting and employees are returning to work. This process is taking place gradually and non-uniformly across the country depending on regional differences in the prevalence of COVID-19. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has released a state-by-state business reopening guidance. A clickable map shows which states have a stay-at-home order in effect, which ones have limited reopening and which ones are reopening.

New resources from NALP

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, there are many new tax-relief provisions affecting individuals and small businesses. The National Association of Landscape Professionals, Fairfax, Virginia, is holding a free webinar May 13 on COVID-19 tax relief provisions. The session will include a brief overview of these changes, will cover federal and state filing updates; policy and legislation; changes impacting individuals, investors and business owners; and liquidity provisions.

Some states have changed their state pesticide applicator rules. NALP has a clickable map where people can find information and contact details regarding state-by-state information. NALP says this remains a very fluid situation and it is continuing to work with state pesticide control officials to adapt to ensure that lawn care and landscape professionals can continue to apply pesticides according to current rules.

Updated May 4, 2020

EPA releases updated cleaning and disinfecting guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency jointly released a new guidance April 29. The directions are intended for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces, workplaces, businesses, schools and domestic living spaces.

IA releases new COVID-19 series podcast episode

Also, to provide relevant information on how the irrigation industry is responding to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia, has released another episode in its series, “The COVID-19 Discussions,” on its Bringing Water to Life podcast.

On this episode of the series, Kyle Brown, editor-in-chief of Irrigation & Green Industry, joins John Farner, IA government and public affairs director, to interview state advocacy expert Michael O'Brien and discuss the different state orders and what they mean for the irrigation industry.

The podcast is available on Spreaker, Spotify and YouTube.

Updated April 27, 2020

H-2B visa program unaffected by immigration changes

On April 22, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily limiting immigration to the U.S. for the next 60 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an article by The Associated Press. Experts says the order will only delay the issuance of green cards for a minority of applicants.

Trump says his move was necessary to help Americans find work in an economy ravaged by the coronavirus. “This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens,” he says.

The order includes a long list of exemptions, including for anyone who is currently in the country, those seeking entry to work as physicians and nurses, wealthy foreign investors, and the spouses and minor children of American citizens. The 60-day pause also leaves untouched the hundreds of thousands of temporary work and student visas the U.S. issues each year, including H-2B temporary worker visas.

Since the vast majority of employment-based green card applicants already live in the U.S., the proclamation Trump signed will most affect the parents, adult children and siblings of citizens and permanent residents wanting to one day join them in the country.

Trump authorizes additional $320 billion for Paycheck Protection Program

President Donald Trump signed a nearly $500 billion interim coronavirus bill into law April 24 that includes additional money for the small business loan program, as well as more funding for hospitals and testing, according to an NBC article.

The bill passed the Senate earlier April 21 by voice vote and was approved by the House April 23 on a 388-5-1 mostly bipartisan vote.

The bill includes more than $320 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, created by the CARES Act, which was passed in late March. The program, which quickly ran out of money because of heavy demand, provides forgivable loans to small businesses that keep their employees on the payroll.

About $60 billion of the additional PPP funding will be set aside for businesses that do not have established banking relationships, such as rural and minority-owned companies.

The bill also provides $60 billion in loans and grants for the Small Business Administration’s disaster relief fund, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for coronavirus testing.

Although the bill totals nearly half a trillion dollars, both parties have been referring to it as “interim” legislation meant to bridge the gap between the $2 trillion CARES Act and the next expansive round of coronavirus legislation.

Updated April 20, 2020

OSHA updates COVID-19 reporting obligations

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a new guidance for employers on April 10 about recording cases of COVID-19. The guidance offers clarifications and scales back enforcement of reporting obligations for many employers.

During the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, OSHA took the position that COVID-19 is a “recordable illness.” The new guidance clarifies that employers are responsible for recording cases of COVID-19 if:

  • The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19, as defined by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
  • The case is work-related; and
  • The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria (i.e., the illness results in death, job loss, missed workdays, medical treatment, etc.).

As the outbreak continues to spread through community transmission, many employers raised concerns about the difficulty in determining whether an individual contracted COVID-19 in the workplace. OSHA’s new guidance recognizes that employers “may have difficulty making determinations about whether workers who contracted COVID-19 did so due to exposure at work.” For all industries in areas where there is ongoing community transmission, OSHA will not enforce the regulations requiring COVID-19 reporting except where:

  • There is objective evidence that a COVID-19 diagnosis may be work-related, such as where a cluster of cases emerge among workers in close proximity without an alternative explanation; and
  • The evidence was reasonably available to the employer, such as from reports by employees or information learned during the employer’s general operation or management of the business.

OSHA explained that the relaxed enforcement is intended to “help employers focus their response efforts on implementing good hygiene practices in their workplaces, and otherwise mitigating COVID-19’s effects.”

DHS releases updated critical infrastructure guidance

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released version 3.0 of its “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” on April 17. Landscapers are still included in this guidance document. While there is a specific bullet highlighting “workers supporting agriculture irrigation infrastructure,” the Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia, has been working with the DHS to include specifics regarding commercial/residential irrigation.

IA urges Congress to authorize more money for the Paycheck Protection Program

The Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia, issued a letter April 15 urging Congress to quickly to authorize additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program under the CARES Act.

PPP loans are providing a vital source of liquidity to more than a million individually and family-owned businesses whose operations have been curtailed or shut-down by stay-at-home orders and other government actions taken in response to the virus.

According to the Small Business Administration, however, banks have already committed most of the $349 billion provided to capitalize the PPP, and it is likely the program will run out of money within the week, leaving millions of additional businesses without the funds necessary to keep their workers employed.

The letter states, “There is unquestionably additional demand for this program that current funding cannot provide. Congress should act expeditiously to assure that the PPP will have the resources it needs to sustain America’s small business economy through the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Updated April 13, 2020

Industry associations release map of stay-at-home orders, IA debuts COVID-19 podcast

The Nursery and Landscape Association Executives, Columbus, Ohio, together with AmericanHort, Columbus, Ohio; the Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia; and the National Association of Landscape Professionals, Fairfax, Virginia; have developed a clickable map of North America, showcasing the various state stay-at-home orders and their effect on the full green industry.

Also, to provide relevant information on how the irrigation industry is responding to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia, has released the first episode of a new series, “The COVID-19 Discussions,” on its Bringing Water to Life podcast.

On the first episode of the series, Kyle Brown, editor-in-chief of Irrigation & Green Industry, joins John Farner, IA government and public affairs director, to interview Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries.

The podcast is available on Spreaker, Spotify and YouTube.

Updated April 6, 2020

Paycheck Protection Program begins, Landscape Ontario issues statement advising members to cease operations

The Paycheck Protection Program that authorizes up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis began April 3. Small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, or with more than 500 employees in certain industries, are eligible for PPP loans.

Small businesses and sole proprietorships can apply beginning April 3. Independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply beginning April 10. Borrowers are encouraged to apply early due to the funding cap on the program.

Information about the program and how to apply are on this page can be found in this document by the Irrigation Association. Additional resources related to this program can be found on the Irrigation Association’s website.

Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association, an association for the horticulture industry in Ontario, issued a statement April 2 encouraging members to halt operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement says, “Due to the provincial emergency order and because of unclear, confusing and conflicting information about the essential status of landscape work, we are advising members to cease operations until further clarity or notice from health officials. Don’t work unless you have explicit permission from the government. Even if you do, please use every precaution.”

Read the full statement here.

Updated April 1, 2020

Number of states giving stay at home directives grows

States, counties and local governments are enacting more strict directives to slow the spread of COVID-19. At least 270 million people in at least 33 states, 89 counties, 29 cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are being urged to stay home, according to a New York Times article.

Among the most recent states to place stay-at-home orders this week are Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. While these orders do not change what businesses are deemed essential or nonessential, they instruct residents to stay at home and only leave for essential tasks, like going to necessary doctor’s appointments and the grocery store. In general, people can go on walks while practicing social distancing and drive to and from essential services.

The state of New York issued a guidance on March 24 allowing landscaping, but this is no longer applicable. The state issued an update March 31 instructing that horticulture, which includes landscaping, is no longer deemed an “essential business,” with the exception of nurseries/greenhouses selling food producing plants.

The National Association of Landscape Professionals, Fairfax, Virginia, has released several new resources on its website. The Breakdown of Financial Benefits from the CARES Act details the benefits of the Act for companies and employees. NALP also published COVID-19 Operating Guidelines for Landscape Industry Companies to provide guidelines green industry companies can use to implement safety policies and protocols during this time.

The association continues to host weekly webinars regarding topics related to COVID-19. This week’s webinar will be held April 1 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern. Past webinars are available to watch on its website.

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 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.