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Congressional Corner With Joe Courtney

Congressman Joe Courtney

How will non-profits survive the pandemic?

In today’s Congressional Corner, WAMC’s Alan Chartock wraps up his interview with Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney.

This conversation was recorded March 30.

Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Joe Courtney, the Congressman from the second district of Connecticut. It's a beautiful district. It’s got the water. It's got the Long Island Sound. You know, it's a beautiful place. So let me let me ask you this, Joe, even before the Coronavirus, you had been concerned about how nonprofits are surviving under the Republican tax overhauls new rules. Now we see that they have said, okay, under the new bill, you can give I think $300 or something like that to a non for profit, which was impossible before. What do you think?

Well, I mean, it's certainly a help. I mean, I've been on the phone with some group, the Eastern Connecticut Foundation, which is a really powerful fund for homelessness programs, youth at risk programs, and they are in overdrive right now, because there really are parts of the safety net that are very, very stressed right now with everything else that's going on. And the $300 above the line deduction, which was part of this Cares Act, I mean, it's certainly some incentive for people to contribute at a time like this. But again, I think that, you know, the 2017 tax law, which really, I think just knocked the stuffing out of nonprofits in terms of eliminating the existing incentive for deduction has got to be revisited. There's just, right now, we know enough from the tax filing years in 2018, 2019. And just that there's been real slackening of charitable contributions. So it's good, it's helpful. The SBA programs, the forgivable loan programs were, by the way, extended to nonprofits because their payroll has collapsed and they need the assistance, just like small employers do, that this new SBA forgivable loan program is going to provide. And in terms of the sick leave and unemployment compensation, who can claim, again, nonprofits were folded into those programs, and they are going to get the same benefit of tax credits because it will be based on payroll tax credits, which, as you know, nonprofits pay payroll taxes for their employees. So there was, I think, some sensitivity in some of these COVID related bills that Congress has been voting on to really recognize that nonprofits are a critical part of, not just our economy, but also making sure that critical services reach people at a time like this.

So tell me, are we going into a depression?

I think there's a risk as the reality of this emergency order being extended to April 30 sinks in, there's a lot of businesses who again, just because of the nature of the public health need right now, are really, it's going to be highly questionable whether or not they're going to be able to bounce back when basically the all clear order comes out, and so the effort by Congress, the Cares Act when you step back and look at it, I mean, in my opinion, it really is about trying to massively replace lost income, you know, which is happening out there, you know, by the minute. Whether it's the unemployment piece, whether it's the cash assistance checks, which are going to be going out, according to Mnuchin on April 6, that's the $1,200 per person, times two for married couples, and then head of household also gets more extended benefits than the single adults. Again, that's all about trying to replace income, that is right now in a freefall. And the Australian Government right now they have kind of taken an even more radical approach in terms of just rather than forgivable loans for paycheck protection, which is in the US SBA program, Australia is just doing a straight government wage replacement in terms of just stepping in and just continuing to keep people on their payroll as a way of trying to rescue income, which is crashing in a place like Australia, just like it is here in the US. And, to me I think this danger that we're in right now of a depression is going to force Congress to have to come back and figure out a way somehow to pass a COVID phase four bill, which, you know, is maybe gonna have to deal with the logistical challenge of unemployment compensation getting slowed down at the states, which, you know, we've discussed in the prior show. And, you know, frankly, more assistance for state and local government because the $150 billion, which again, Senator Schumer was able to get in the final bill, it was zero when McConnell had an original draft, I think that's going to be inadequate in terms of dealing with the challenges that crashing revenue at the same time of increased demand for emergency services is going to require. So there's going to have to be a COVID four bill I think, and then we're gonna have to figure out the logistics of having, I think Congress is gonna have to vote remotely if it's going to be done in any way, you know, with the time demands that it's gonna require. So anyway, I mean, that's the challenge we've got to figure out is just how we keep this economic downturn a V shape as opposed to a long U shape, which is what happened in 2008. And it took far too long for this country to recover from the last recession.

You and I've talked over the years about who you are going to support for president. It does now look like Bernie is not going to win in his race with Biden. What do you think?

Yeah, I mean, I think Vice President Biden is going to be the nominee. And the, this is again, this, this pandemic is gonna create a really interesting scenario for our election actually proceeds. One thing in the Cares Act was $400 billion for election officials around the country. Some people complain that you know, “what's that got to do with COVID?” In my opinion, it is directly connected to the fact that normal voting is completely derailed, certainly at least in the primaries, and you know, how we hold conventions right now is a really, I think, an open question. So, you know, in my opinion, the Democratic Party should be very focused in terms of just, you know, unifying behind the person who I think is going to be our nominee and really, you know, understanding that in terms of things like voter registration turnout, just the basic operations of the election, that should be really where we focus our energy, rather than a contested nomination.

So, help me with this one. I'm getting a lot of mail about how, you know, Trump is going to call off the election in order to stay in office. In the beginning, I ignored it because I thought it was sort of silly. I'm not ignoring it anymore. And now with states like Connecticut, New York and others, postponing their primary does that give him a path to go down?

Well, it's certainly something I mean, who would have thought, we would ever see primaries, postponed the way that it's happening right now. And there is already talked about the Milwaukee convention, which is in early July, not occurring in the way that the Democratic National Committee planned so, you know, as I said, I think if there was many, in the House Democratic Caucus, who were very focused on the fact that this COVID bill that we just passed, the Cares Act, should have been, frankly, much more enlarged in terms of the election security issue, and that there should be greater provision for mail-in voting, so that, you know, we're going to have an election. This president doesn't follow any norms that I think in so many ways over the last three, three years or so and so I'm not, I think, you know, calling off an election or postponing general election is such a, it's hard for me to imagine that, you know, that norm would be tampered with or fooled around with but, you know, we really need to be thinking about this in terms of just the, you know, the logistical path that this country follows to make sure that we as our as a democracy, you know, stay true.

You know, there are those of us who know, we have no time left, but there are those of us who think there are no limitations on what this particular president will do in order to survive politically. Do you have any of that in your in your head?

Well, I mean the other day, we had a mailing that came from the Center for Disease Control. You know, they had some information regarding public health information and on the cover of it, it had the President's boldface letters, and his name that was on it, which was extremely jarring to me because I mean, I think the CDC should be out there informing people, but the notion that a public political figure should have their name emblazoned on something like that is just, I've been around for a while. And, you know, frank mail is a, you know, it's been part of the US since democracy was founded, but that comes directly from the public official; it does not come from government agencies. And so I, you know, that kind of sent a chill, and I got more complaints from that from the people in the district who found that in their mailbox than you can imagine. And there's talk that he wants to have his name on the cash assistance checks that are going out from the IRS. So, even how he was toying with the quarantine order for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and then pulling it back. back, it was just that that was an exercise that whatever consideration people might have been actually thinking about in the in the government, that should not have been a public exercise which did nothing except, you know, set up a straw man and then knock it down, which is not what we need right now. We need like really solid, firm, scientific, well-informed leadership, rather than just public exercises that accomplish nothing except sort of bring attention to, you know, the person who's in the Oval Office.

Joe Courtney is congressman from Connecticut's beautiful second district, and a great friend of this radio station, always there for us to talk to us. And we so appreciate it. Joe. Thanks again. We can't wait for the next round when you come back and tell us some more.

Thanks, Alan.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.