WASHINGTON - The American Home Furnishings Alliance, Home Furnishings Assn. and International Home Furnishings Representatives Assn. jointly petitioned Vice President Mike Pence to consider adding home furnishings to the products considered “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has provided guidance to state and local governments through its March 19 and March 28 memorandums identifying “critical infrastructure workers” during the nation’s response to COVID-19. However, the associations stated, products and workers within the home furnishings industry are not clearly identified and acknowledged in these memorandums.

“This oversight has led to confusion within our industry and has resulted in cease and desist orders in certain locales across the nation,” the April 3 letter to Pence noted.

"As a result of disparate and sometimes uncoordinated local government actions, an inadvertent monopoly has been created by acknowledging certain businesses as essential while ignoring other businesses that also play an essential role in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic," the letter signed by AHFA CEO Andy Counts, HFA CEO Sharron Bradley and IHFRA Executive Director Ray Allegrezza continued.

Specifically, the associations pointed out that big box stores and certain online retailers largely remain open for business because some products they sell are deemed to be essential items, including over-the-counter medication, food, hardware and appliances. However, these same retailers are also selling and shipping home furnishings nationwide, while thousands of home furnishings stores face mandatory closures, resulting in dire business consequences and thousands of job losses.

The fact that home furnishings have remained an important product category for big box stores and online retailers points to the essential nature of our industry’s products during this crisis, the associations argued.

“Staying at home is essential to defeating COVID-19, and home furnishings are essential for staying at home,” the three organizations reasoned, citing the following:

• With little to no warning, Americans have been directed to stay indoors and work from home. Many find themselves in ill-equipped spaces that hamper their productivity. Also, many are preparing for longer, even permanent, at-home assignments as some companies reevaluate their business models to include more at-home workers as a cost-saving measure after the pandemic.

• With little to no warning, many families are attempting to home-school children, and many of these households lack adequate furnishings to create basic, functional workspaces.

• College students across America are now at home taking online classes due to the closure of hundreds of colleges and universities. Many of these students also need the opportunity to furnish a basic workspace in order to have a productive learning environment.

• Families spending dramatically more time at home have more furnishings needs, both indoors and outdoors, as a result of the stay-at-home orders. Enabling them to improve their at-home environments will make them more inclined to follow stay-at-home orders for work and leisure activities, which will, in turn, directly help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Stress caused by stay-at-home orders, home schooling children, job loss, economic uncertainty and separation from loved ones causes poor and inadequate sleep. Even under the best circumstances, poor sleep leads to other health issues. Americans need the opportunity to improve their bedding, which can dramatically improve sleep quality if they deem this necessary and beneficial.

• In homes where a family member has become ill, there may be an increased need for mattress and pillow protectors – items sold by mattress and furniture specialty stores – to provide a safe and hygienic place to rest.

To make shopping for home furnishings safe for workers and customers, the associations suggested a variety of practical steps companies could be required to take to maintain social distancing and a sanitized environment.

“Without clear guidance and coordination between the states and the federal government, the American furniture industry is going to suffer irreparable damage. We need definitive action now to ensure the survival of this vital industry,” the association executives added.

View the letter from the AHFA, HFA and IHFRA.

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