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5 suggestions for alcohol agencies operating in a pandemic

  • Mar 20, 2020 | Jeff Carroll


We’re living through an extraordinary time right now. Tasting rooms, bars, restaurants, and event venues are closed to in-person visits in many states. Enormous numbers of employees are either quarantined or working from home because of shelter-in-place ordinances. State and federal alcohol agency employees are working from home or coming in to operate limited mission-critical functions.

At the same time, business must continue to operate to stay alive. Wineries with tasting rooms that are closed, for example, are refocusing efforts on ecommerce direct-to-consumer sales to try to offset the tasting room losses. Wine, beer, and distilled spirits production activities continue under trying circumstances. Governors are asking state agencies to do what they can to support businesses and consumers during this extremely challenging time.

We came up with a list of ideas and best practices agencies can employ that might make it easier for agency employees to do their jobs remotely. These tips can also support licensees operating businesses with employees that are working from home.

  1. Stop using paper. Take inventory of all the different places where you require paper submissions. Do you have options to electronically submit license applications, product registrations, monthly reports, renewals, modifications, or tax payments? If not, perhaps there’s a way to accept submissions without implementing a multimillion-dollar customized software solution. For example, on a temporary basis, could you allow submissions through a secure FTP server, Dropbox folder, or some other mechanism your IT department would authorize?
  2. Allow for electronic signatures. How necessary is it to have a “wet” signature on paper that’s shuffled back and forth between multiple signatories before arriving in the mail at the agency office? There’s actually an easy solution to this one. Technologies such as DocuSign and Adobe Sign are widely used today, are considered legally binding, and can create significant efficiencies for government agencies.
  3. Consider extensions. The Kansas Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division announced yesterday that they’re closing their office between March 23 and at least April 6, 2020. However, they’re automatically renewing licenses that expire before April 30 and have not already been renewed then emailing the license certificate to the licensee. They’re also granting a 30-day extension on monthly reports that are due in April.
  4. Hold online meetings. Technologies like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype make it really easy to hold virtual meetings both internally and externally. If you need to hold a hearing or a meeting, consider streaming it online using these widely adopted platforms.
  5. Provide additional guidance. There may be other ways you can support licensees and clarify policies during this challenging time. For example, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced special provisions to allow for the return of products purchased for events cancelled due to COVID-19 and also the production of hand sanitizer by distilled spirits permittees. The California ABC provided special guidance to licensees on limitations of on-sale privileges. Use your website, email list, and social media accounts to communicate any changes to rules or policies.

Licensees and agencies both need support during this pandemic. We’d love to hear your thoughts and do what we can to facilitate or further support you. If you want to see what other agencies are doing, we’re updating a Coronavirus tax relief roundup on the Avalara blog. Our friends at Wine Institute are also maintaining a list of COVID-19 guidance from state ABCs.

Sales tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
Jeff Carroll
Avalara Author
Jeff Carroll
Jeff Carroll
Avalara Author Jeff Carroll
Jeff Carroll is General Manager for Avalara for Beverage Alcohol. He was formerly Product Management Director and prior to Avalara, he served as Chief Product Officer at Compli, overseeing the development of software solutions and marketing strategy. Jeff regularly speaks about and advises customers on beverage alcohol compliance issues, particularly in the areas of direct shipping and sales tax.