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Dive Brief:

  • Retail industry representatives were alarmed Tuesday after President Trump tweeted that he had "instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business."
  • In a statement following the president's declaration, the National Retail Federation urged the government to return to the table, with NRF CEO Matthew Shay warning, "The pandemic isn't over and neither is the economic crisis it has created."
  • And the American Apparel & Footwear Association Tuesday "expressed surprise and dismay at the announcement," with AAFA chief Steve Lamar stating, "The economy is not something that can be put on hold until a time that might be more convenient. People are suffering today."

Dive Insight:

While the president seemed to walk back his worrisome tweet later in the evening Tuesday, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, reiterated Wednesday morning that the talks between the administration and Congressional leaders are indeed off, according to a tweet from Washington Post White House economics reporter Jeff Stein.

The back and forth isn't mollifying the industry. "Now is the time for clear and decisive action," an AAFA spokesperson said Wednesday. "Sending mixed messages is not helpful to the millions of American businesses and American workers struggling during the current economic crisis."

With their members already reeling from the pandemic's hit to demand, as consumers hunker down amid financial uncertainty, retail groups have been pushing the federal government to reinstate the stimulus. Several economists have credited the emergency legislation with mitigating the fallout from a pandemic-fueled recession already underway.

The $2 trillion-plus economic relief package known as the CARES Act became law at the end of March and provided state, local and tribal grants as well as direct financial relief to U.S. consumers and businesses. Other relief bills from about the same time brought the total closer to $3 trillion. Some benefits have been extended or are still available, with states in some cases continuing to provide relief, but funds have run out for many.

In August, analysts said retail sales depend on renewal of benefits. As recently as Tuesday, hours before Trump's tweets, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell in a speech on the pandemic called the stimulus package from March and April "by far the largest and most innovative fiscal response to an economic crisis since the Great Depression" and urged the U.S. to continue support to households.

"There is a risk that the rapid initial gains from reopening may transition to a longer than expected slog back to full recovery as some segments struggle with the pandemic's continued fallout," he warned.

But the weeks have dragged on without one, and early Wednesday, the prospects for renewal of a comprehensive package prior to the election seemed doomed. The development comes as retailers scramble to get people shopping before Black Friday's traditional holiday launch.

"This is a critical time — with the important holiday season about to start — and we cannot afford to hit pause," AAFA's Lamar said. "We urge all parties to stay at the negotiating table to craft and pass a comprehensive COVID relief package now."