New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Antonio Delgado are urging Congress to include funding for rural communities in the next coronavirus relief package. They say the bureaucratic maze to apply for grants leaves these communities struggling during the COVID-19 crisis.
Senator Gillibrand says their push is based on framework from legislation they introduced in October.
“They could even use the framework created by the Rebuild Rural America Act, which Congressman Delgado and I introduced last fall,” Gillibrand says. “This framework would directly address the needs of our rural communities by providing a dedicated, noncompetitive block grant to towns with less than 50,000 people or counties with less than 200,000 people.”
Democratic Congressman Delgado represents New York’s 19th District. He says the cost of providing services is growing, unemployment is rising, the tourism industry is flatlining and small businesses are shrinking.
“Given these circumstances, it is incredibly unfair that local governments serving populations under 500,000 or less were not given direct access to the funding in the CARES Act,” Delgado says. “And it would be a further injustice to force them to compete for dollars allocated through the state in the next relief package to be signed into law.”
Independent contractors were considered small businesses and thus eligible for U.S. Small Business Administration money, such as the Payment Protection Program created in the last coronavirus relief bill and now exhausted. Yet many Main-Street type businesses, mom-and-pops shops, may not have been aware.
“Independent contractors may not have relationships though with major banks that typically work with the SBA. And so what we’re trying to do in this next bill is require that about half of the funding go to community banks and credit unions, which will be more likely the kinds of institutions that an independent contractor would have a relationship with,” says Gillibrand. “So we’re trying desperately to get this money into the rural communities and the smaller communities.”
Gillibrand talks about potential funding in the next relief packaged, dubbed COVID 3.5.
“So the Rural Rebuild Act, we’re allocating about $53 billion is what’s in Senator Schumer’s proposal, so it’s real money to go to rural areas but, in general, the next bill is probably going to be approximately $500 billion and we’re hoping about $250 billion of it goes to small businesses; $150 [billion] goes to states and localities; and another $150 [billion] would go to hospitals,” Gillibrand says. “There’d also be money for food stamps and food banks because a lot of people are hungry and food insecurity is on the rise because people have lost their jobs. Over 20 million people have registered for unemployment in the last few weeks. So we’re hoping that this next 3.5 package can go, again, to the most at-risk, at-need places.”
Monica Burns from the nonprofit Hudson Business Coalition and Hudson Development Corporation asked what can be done to provide testing for more vulnerable, lower paid workers on the frontlines, such as grocery store workers. Delgado, whose district is the eighth most rural in Congress, called it shameful that some frontline workers aren’t given the assurance that they will be tested.
“And that’s why, from the very beginning, I’ve been urging the Administration to robustly use the Defense Production Act. I think this has been gone about too halfhearted on the part of the Administration,” Delgado says. “I think there needs to be an aggressive undertaking for the production of test kits. And that needs to be one of our top priorities moving forward, particularly if we are seriously going to entertain opening up our economy again; seriously entertain asking folks to go back to school or go back to work.”
Gillibrand addresses the status of rural funding in the COVID-19 relief package currently under construction.
“Right now, it is in the draft bill that Senator Schumer sent over to Mitch McConnell saying these are the changes we’d like to see in COVID 3.5, to add more money to the SBA and more small business lending. We just want to make sure it reaches all parts of the economy and all parts of our communities,” says Gillibrand. “And so this would be $50 billion that would be geared towards rural counties, rural cities, rural small towns and rural business. So that’s what we’re asking and, so far, it’s part of the Democratic response to Mitch McConnell’s request for more SBA money, and we think it’s a good, strong bipartisan idea that should have support across the board. It’s just common sense.”
“This part, the $150 billion, that will go to state and local entities, would hopefully include, and that’s what we’re urging today, the sort of piece that we’re talking about here, the Rebuild Rural America component, where we’re setting aside funding that is specially allocated for those communities that, once again, were not accounted for in the first…” says Delgado.
“The last bill, right,” Gillibrand says.
“They weren’t accounted for,” Delgado says.
“Specifically the cities below 50,000 people and counties below 200,000 people,” Gillibrand says.
“Which were not included in the CARES Act.” Delgado says.
“It didn’t get any money last bill,” Gillibrand says.
The third coronavirus package signed at the end of March was the CARES Act, or the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.