Congress has approved another round of coronavirus relief funding.
It won’t be the last. The $484 billion emergency interim funding package will send money to hospitals and replenish a loan program to help small businesses make payroll and cover the rent.
Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, managed the floor debate prior to Thursday’s expected vote. He spoke with WAMC’s Paul Tuthill about what is in this relief package and what is planned next.
Most importantly, I think that there's 75 additional billion for our hospitals across the country. There's also a very important renewal of the paycheck Protection Program, understanding that there are 1.6 million businesses that have successfully taken advantage of it across the country. And also $25 billion for testing, understanding again, that until people feel the confidence of going back to work, they are unlikely to do so. And I hope that arresting the healthcare crisis will lead to relief On the economic front, getting people back to work as quickly as we can.
Are you concerned about how the Trump administration will disperse that money to hospitals and other health care providers? I know Senator Markey's office put a press release out today that said that, by their calculation, Massachusetts received $44,000 per COVID case and West Virginia got $300,000 per COVID case?
Well, I think that at the moment, we're very concerned about the transparency of the process. And in fact, as the day goes on, we're going to vote on an actual measure that will have an overseer put in place, comprised of Democrats and Republicans, but the information will all be public as to how the dollars were allocated.
How is this done? Is it done by a formula? How were the decisions made as to as to how this money gets dispersed to hospitals?
Well, I think on the basis of the hotspots, understanding the role that the national principle plays in our lives, this should be solely based upon need. And I think that again, coming to the aid of those who are in desperation, should be the best allocation of those dollars, not political considerations.
Along with the additional funding for the paycheck protection program were changes made in that program to address Some of the complaints about it such as funding that went to chain restaurants in the first round.
I talked to Secretary Mnuchin last Saturday morning, and I reiterated the concerns I had that the money was not making it to those who were intended. Recall that Treasury was offering guidance at that time as to how to proceed. In the aftermath of issuing those rules of guidance, the Treasury Department has alerted those who have taken the dollars, that if it is determined that they do not qualify, they are going to be asked for the money back. And if they volunteer to give the money back in short order, that they will not have liability. So Treasury is fully aware of this. And they've indicated that if those who took advantage of it did so illegitimately that they could face justice from the Department of Justice.
Another criticism of the program was that in order to get alone in many cases, you needed to have an established relationship with a bank and the question said that this this shut out a lot of minorities and you know, mom and pop operations, is anything been done to try?
Yes, in this round there's a $60 billion of the $310 billion that is being appropriated would have to go to those individuals that you've just described and the small business community, but it would also include agriculture, veterans, businesses, women and minority owned businesses, with a particular focus of that $60 billion on employers who have 10 or fewer employees. So this takes the number to about 630 or 640 billion dollars of the paycheck protection program. And we hope that this will be an adequate response to the job losses across the country understanding that if you keep employees in place with that infusion of payroll, these loans can be forgiven down the road.
What's next? Is there going to be another economic relief bill?
Likely yes, the president has already indicated that he believes that state and local governments are going to need help. And Governor Baker has spoken to me about that. I firmly believe that state local governments, these are the first responders, police and fire EMTs. This is about those who pick up the trash. This is about those who deliver the mail. This is very important, I think, again, understanding it, if we do stabilization and relief correctly, it'll make recovery much more quick.
Senator McConnell, though, seem to question whether money should go to help cities and towns and states. You know, as far as their revenues as far as their revenue problems go, he said they should just use the bankruptcy laws to somehow work their way out of that problem. What do you think about his comments?
I didn't think that the comments made any sense and I think that upon review, he probably wouldn't either. This is about those communities have been the hardest Hit. And I think that there will be an opportunity in the House of Representatives over the next two or three weeks to actually have a vote on whether or not state and local government should get assistance. And I've already been tasked by the speaker to develop that response.
Will there be another round of direct payments to individuals?
We are considering that right now. I think that there's likely to be one. And I also think that is very clear that we now have 26 million people who have filed unemployment claims that there's likely to be another round of unemployment insurance enhancement as well.
And the president has mentioned a stimulus program involving infrastructure is that also still in the cards. Because I spoke with Secretary minuchin. As I noted a moment ago, last Saturday, and that came up with the closure of the conversation. He indicated to me that they're going to begin to look at that and he was interested in my ideas.
And those ideas are?
Highways, roadways, bridges, airports, broadband, and rail.
Well, I think that right now you've looked at a 10 year period of time and when there's been little investment in the nation's infrastructure. So I think that while those of us in Western Mass perhaps take for granted the quality of the water supply, remembering that there are parts of the country that they have inferior water, that there are parts of the country where they don't have 911 service. So all of those things I think, in this crisis gives us a chance not only for review, but to act in a positive vein.