United States Capitol Dome in Washington DC

Fashion answered the call for more personal protective equipment when the pandemic had doctors and a locked-down populous scrambling last year. Now the industry wants a little help in return from Washington.

A group of four key trade groups sent a letter to Congressional leaders Monday, staking their claim in negotiations for the mammoth stimulus bill being hammered out on Capitol Hill. Signing on to the letter were the chief executives officers of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, Accessories Council, Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Travel Goods Association.

“In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, our members suspended/limited operations in line with global health guidelines to protect their workers and consumers. Additionally, these same members repurposed facilities, factories and supply chains to produce and quickly distribute personal protective equipment and other urgently needed medical materials,” said the letter, addressed to the House and Senate leaders in both parties.  

“We appreciate the recent stimulus measures, however, there are several other opportunities to help the retail and manufacturing sector,” the letter said. “Today, we urge you to take additional steps as part of the next COVID-19 stimulus package, currently under consideration in Congress.”

Specifically, they called for: 

• A federally backed short-term trade credit facility to backstop the trade credit insurance industry that many businesses rely on. 

• Limited legal liability protection shielding businesses from “unfair lawsuits” tied to the pandemic. 

• Incentives that would help companies induce people back to work during the pandemic. 

• Tax credits to support efforts to keep workers and consumers spending, such as store and office retrofits and PPE purchases. 

• Duty drawbacks that would encourage companies to donate excess merchandise to charities. 

On that last point, the letter said: “Creating such a provision would be a win-win, enabling companies to unlock much-needed funds currently trapped in the surplus inventory created by the crisis, while at the same time helping Americans negatively impacted by the pandemic with donations of clothes and shoes they need for themselves and their families.”

Although there is some light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, with at-risk groups being vaccinated and the promise of a big U.S. ramp-up in the vaccine program, companies are still struggling to get by.

The first round of retail bankruptcies last year was fed by companies that were already on the edge financially. But as consumers continue to change their spending patterns and pull back, others are starting to fail. Most recently, Belk said it would reorganize its debt with a bankruptcy filing, although vendors are expected to continue to be paid. 

Fashion companies and groups have been calling for more stimulus from Washington to support businesses and consumers since the summer, but the effort got mired down in the presidential election and is now being pushed through a Congress that is narrowly controlled by Democrats and gearing up for former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in the Senate following the deadly storming of the Capitol last month.

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