Assessing Financial Support for Businesses During the Pandemic

On September 28, the American Action Forum (AAF) hosted an event convening experts to discuss the urgency of government-backed financial relief for businesses whose incomes have suffered under the coronavirus pandemic conditions and what challenges lie ahead.
 
Entitled “Assessing Financial Support for Businesses During the Pandemic,” the discussion was centered on the following key topics:

  • The impact and success of the Paycheck Protection Program and the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending programs, particularly the Main Street Lending Program
  • Pandemic business interruption insurance and the potential for a federal pandemic program
  • Protecting businesses from shouldering excessive costs due to the new field of coronavirus litigation

Among the event participants was Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) CEO Sean Kevelighan. In a discussion with AAF’s Director of Financial Services Policy Thomas Wade, Kevelighan provided an overview of the business interruption (BI) insurance landscape in the context of the pandemic. Key highlights included:

  • Global pandemics are largely uninsurable. “Compared to other covered catastrophes—hurricanes, wildfires, vandalism from civil unrest—a pandemic is not limited to time or geography. What we’re seeing now with COVID-19 is impacting every community, every economy, and all at the same time. And with this, from an industry that relies on the law of large numbers, you simply can’t price risk in a way that would be efficient.”
     
  • Standard business interruption (BI) insurance necessitates direct physical damage. “Beyond the enormity of a pandemic catastrophe, a virus does not cause direct physical damage, which is nearly always needed to trigger a property insurance policy, particularly for businesses insurance and business interruption insurance policies.”
     
  • The lack of a federal system to provide the critical financial relief businesses has created an opportunity for trial attorneys to capitalize on business owners’ desperation. “Sensing [business owners’] desperation, trial attorneys have unfortunately dusted off their playbooks and seized on the opportunity. They’re selling a false sense of hope to consumers; they’re filling court houses with litigation that is attempting to retroactively rewrite contracts by manipulation of language and interpretations.”
     
  • As insurers work to meet promises for policyholders facing covered events such as wildfires, forcing insurers to retroactively cover pandemic-related losses is detrimental to the insurance industry—a backbone of the economy. “The insurance industry is concerned about these misguided and costly attempts—mainly by trial attorneys—to take capital away that we’ve set aside for claims that are actively being paid right now as we are in the midst of extreme seasons of hurricanes and wildfires. We’ve also seen incidents of rioting and civil unrest. To be clear, our own economic analysis at Triple-I shows that any attempt to retroactively pay business interruption claims would put systemic strain on the insurance industry. Notably, this industry was one of the financial services industries that weathered our previous recession well because of how safely we manage our capital. But in this case, it would only take a matter of months to bankrupt the industry.”

More about this discussion and the broader state-of-play for business relief is available from a companion report released by Thomas Wade. For more information on the ongoing business interruption debate, visit fairinsure.org