WASHINGTON, D.C. — A program to shore up small businesses that are reeling from the effects of coronavirus is set to run out of money at the end of the week, after delivering more than $300 billion in forgivable loans from the federal government to pay employees during the crisis.
Although Republicans who control the U.S. Senate want Congress to immediately provide the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) with an extra $250 billion, Democrats who control the U.S. House of Representatives want any bill that buttresses the small business program to also provide money for other sectors walloped by the virus, such as hospitals and state and local governments.
Yet again, there’s a stalemate. Nothing is likely to happen until the virus abates enough for Congress to reconvene and negotiate a new stimulus package.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue bill that Congress passed before its members left Washington at the end of March. That bill, formally called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, also provided cash payments to taxpayers and extended unemployment benefits, among many other things. It was the third package that Congress adopted to address effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two prior efforts expanded emergency paid sick leave benefits for workers, bolstered state unemployment insurance programs, and provided extra money for programs like Medicaid, among other things.
As they work from home in Ohio, the state’s members of Congress from both political parties are coming up with their priorities for the next bill :
Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican:
Like many Republicans, Portman would prefer that Congress to act immediately to shore up the Paycheck Protection Program, but he realizes it’s unlikely.
He expects the next package will “tweak what’s not working” in the initial CARES Act. For example, he’d like to see the PPP program provide more help to the self-employed. More aid should to be directed to rural hospitals, Portman says, noting that some of them have only a few weeks worth of capital to remain open.
He said the next package might also include money for cities with fewer than 500,000 people, which are losing tax revenue during the coronavirus slowdown. Ohio’s local governments are supposed to get roughly $4.5 billion in CARES Act aid, which the state will allocate, and Portman says he wants to see how that’s divided before he pushes for more money.
Although the CARES Act provided hundreds of millions of dollars for mental health and substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery, Portman predicts more money will be needed in the next package, as social distancing blocks people from meeting with recovery coaches and counselors, and because isolated people sometimes turn to substance abuse.
“I do not really consider these legislative issues to be stimulus, per se,” Portman said. “Not so much stimulating the economy, we’re trying to rescue the economy and rescue individuals and rescue hospitals and rescue our health care system.”
After businesses start reopening, he predicts yet another stimulus package that would “actually get this economy moving again and get people back to work and get incomes back.” That’s will likely include tax incentives to encourage investment in infrastructure like roads, bridges, and rural broadband, and to create jobs,” says Portman
Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat:
Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown has a different set of priorities for the next stimulus bill. Like Portman, he’d like to see more money in the bill for local governments. He says there may be a need for more money to help small businesses, “but we want to make sure they’re working right first.”
He’d like the bill to include a new $75 billion “Housing Assistance Fund” to prevent foreclosures and eviction, a fix for financial problems that threaten the U.S. Postal Service with bankruptcy, and a government funded pay bump of up to $25,000 for “essential workers” such as doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, building cleaners, letter carriers, and transit workers.
“If we’re going to tell these workers who are essential to our country you have to go to work during a public health emergency, then their paycheck should reflect that,” Brown says. “We need to look bigger than (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell’s wanting to look.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, Champaign County Republican:
Before considering any new stimulus programs, Jordan says Congress needs to ensure the CARES Act is doing what it’s supposed to do to help families and businesses weather the pandemic. He says it’s most important to get people back to work.
“The cure can’t be worse than the disease,” says Jordan, a co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “This virus is really serious and we obviously have to take it seriously and do the right things, but we also have to get our economy moving again and the President understands that. I’m hopeful we can get back to work in a matter of days and weeks, not months.”
Rep. Dave Joyce, Bainbridge Township Republican:
Joyce would like to see more money for the Paycheck Protection Program so that more small businesses, including restaurants and retail, can get the economic relief they desperately need. As co-chair of the Congressional Nursing Caucus, he’d also like to see increased broadband resources to support telehealth and other critical online/virtual services, as well as additional funding and personal protective equipment for nurses and other medical professionals working on the front lines of the pandemic.