A few months ago, when the world screeched to a halt in a matter of days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NPMA’s Public Policy team stepped up to make sure businesses could continue working. “During any national emergency or public health crisis, we have to continue operating,” said Ashley Amidon, NPMA’s Vice President of Public Policy. “If you’re home and have an infestation of rats or bed bugs, you have to be able to treat them. Ditto for an essential retailer, or for places that are processing food. It’s not an option to wait until the national emergency is over.”
It is a compelling case, especially at a time when newspaper headlines warned of the potential of aggressive rats prowling through big cities looking for sources of food. But it still was an argument that had to be made at the federal, state and local levels—all designed to keep pest control experts in the field, legally and responsibly.
FIRST, THE ESSENTIALS
It was early March and NPMA was focused on Legislative Day, where pest management professionals from around the United States fly in to Washington to meet with members of Congress. In a typical year, they are sharing information about pest management and the issues that face the industry.
Just two days later, on that Thursday, Capitol Hill shut down to outside visitors and the Public Policy team shifted gears quickly.
“The next week, I was knee-deep in COVID legislation,” Amidon said. “Two days after that, I was having to learn about paid leave. It’s not to say that we’ve stopped working on these other issues, but public health and essential workers were at the forefront or public discussion.”
Not everything was occurring at the federal level. State by state, governors began to issue shutdown orders for all but the most essential businesses. At that point, pest management was often left out of that designation.
“Once the first essential order dropped, we were hell on wheels and full steam ahead,” said Jake Plevelich, NPMA’s Director of Public Policy. “It was 20 hours a day. Everywhere, people were concerned. We did a lot of outreach and troubleshooting.”
Fairly quickly, NPMA convinced the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) that pest management was indeed an essential business.
The CISA list—vital since many states and localities adopted it outright—was one of those issues at the forefront of NPMA’s work.
CISA had indicated that they were going to update its long-active list of critical businesses. “COVID is different than what they’ve had to do in the past,” Amidon said. “When COVID was first hitting, it was not going to be at the front of their minds,” Plevelich said. “We had to educate them about what our industry does and why we are essential.”
Prior to the CISA list being published, the first counties that imposed stay-at-home orders in California included pest control as an essential business. Then, when the list from the Department of Homeland Security was released, the pest industry was included, which “was huge for us,” Amidon said. “We found this had ripple effects in legislation.”
Earning that designation did not mean the work was completed. Far from it, actually. Not all states adopted the CISA list outright. About half modified their lists and pest management had to again use grassroots efforts to make their cases. Plevelich said 18,500 member-generated messages were sent to governors, lawmakers and other government officials in 31 states.
“There were instances where we didn’t make it on the first list for a particular state, but our grassroots campaign got into full gear, so when a clarification came down, we were on it,” Plevelich said. “I tip my cap to the membership, to be mobilized so quickly and to stand up for their industry.”
While getting that designation was critical to continue working during the pandemic, it also may pay off in the future, Amidon said, as it could be a starting point to determine essential businesses in any future national emergency.
LICENSING AND RECERTIFICATION SKIRMISHES
But getting new workers licensed—and existing operators recertified—brought challenges of their own. State offices often were shut down and testing centers unavailable.
In Massachusetts, for example, 500 new hires were unable to take their licensing tests so that they could begin operating. Similar issues occurred in other states. “These states didn’t have contingency plans to get them licensed or recertified,” Jim Fredericks, NPMA VP of Technical and Regulatory Affairs, said. “We had to work with all the state regulators and our state membership and troubleshoot ways that we could continue operating.”
In some states, it meant operators were able to take licensing examinations in their cars after a proctor had removed mobile devices. Other states used online testing to allow new workers to be licensed. Each state had particular variations and the Public Policy team worked across the country to deal with as many as possible.
A FLOOD OF INFORMATION
So much was moving so quickly and business owners had plenty of worries without concerns about the latest regulations. The Public Policy team conducted regular webinars and pushed out frequent information. A website, www.pestcontrolcoronavirus.com, served as a hub of information, and alerts were frequent.
Amidon, whose father owns a non-pest small business, handled the bulk of digesting the latest federal bill and sending key points out to pest control companies. “I understand that if you are a business of one or five or 10 or 20, you need actionable information and you need it quickly,” she said. “Whenever a bill dropped, within a few hours, I had a summary out with how this was impacting you as an individual and what to expect next. I understand how uncertain it is right now and how they’re stressed about everything in their business.”
NPMA helped its members navigate issues that broadly affected businesses, like federal aid packages or changes in sick leave requirements. The work continues in this area as political leaders talk about more aid.
“We were doing everything we could to make sure that they were able to understand what was going on and how to access information and resources,” Plevelich said.
THE MEMBERS’ ROLE
Both Plevelich and Amidon are quick to point out that their efforts would not have been nearly as successful without the members sending letters and advocating before Congress. In 2019, members sent a total of 11,000 grassroots letters. “We almost doubled that in a two- to three-week span,” Plevelich said. “That’s what is telling about this industry and how engaged and organized and powerful we are. I don’t think we realized how powerful we are as an industry.”
So while the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid action in Congress and challenges at the state level will one day subside, the lessons learned will pay dividends for years to come.
“I think people get what we’re doing,” Amidon said. “I will say that I think we’re spoiled. We have a lot of really active members who were amazing advocates. There’s definitely recognition that public policy impacts their businesses and they feel a responsibility to advocate on behalf of the industry. Throughout the pandemic, though, people have stepped it up. The effect has been immediate and people who were occasional advocates see in this time of crisis how essential public policy really is.”
By Sandy Smith