Culpeper Star-Exponent: Spanberger votes to support small businesses in COVID-19 crisis

CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER

Local Congressional Dist. 7 Rep. Abigail Spanberger voted Thursday with a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a coronavirus relief package that will provide another $310 billion in loans to small businesses.

By a 388-5 vote, the House supported $484 billion more in aid to employers and hospitals strained by the global pandemic that has killed nearly 50,000 Americans and cost one in six U.S. jobs. Its package also includes aid for hospitals, health-care workers and greater COVID-19 testing.

The measure would renew the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of loan money last Thursday. It includes $60 billion set aside for small and mid-sized banks, credit unions and community development institutions, which should give rural, family-owned businesses, minority-owned and unbanked businesses better access to PPP loans, Spanberger’s office said Thursday.

The package also adds $50 billion to the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, so small businesses can cover their operating expenses during the coronavirus crisis.

Last week, Spanberger had urged colleagues in both parties to pass funding for small businesses after the SBA closed applications for PPP and disaster loans.

“Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard from restaurant owners, auto body mechanics, farmers, clothing retailers, electricians, hospitality workers, hair stylists, and many more of our Central Virginia neighbors about the extreme financial hardships their businesses are facing,” Spanberger said in a statement late Thursday afternoon after the House voted to approve the relief package. “The economic impacts of this crisis are wide-ranging and felt in every community across our district.”

“Our work is far, far from over,” the 7th District Democrat said. She vowed to keep fighting for assistance urgently needed by Central Virginia’s small businesses.

Spanberger said she knows many business owners are frustrated with how the paycheck loan program was rolled out, and will push for stronger oversight of the SBA loan programs.

She said she will seek greater financial support for Virginia’s counties and localities, so that “they can keep the lights on, keep the water running, and maintain law enforcement and EMS services across our communities.”

Early Thursday afternoon, the freshman lawmaker testified to the House Committee on Small Business. Spanberger spoke of the dire need for more Paycheck Protection Program funding in Central Virginia, and stressed that Congress must provide financial assistance for strapped localities in the next COVID-19 legislation.

“I’m here in Washington to make your voices heard, and to vote YES on $300 billion in PPP funding,” she tweeted to constituents Thursday afternoon.

The House voted to approve the measure about 6 p.m., with legislators wearing face masks and bandannas, and adopting stricter social-distancing rules. It was the first time lawmakers had assembled in Washington since March 27.

Specifically, the House legislation provides $75 billion to reimburse hospitals and health-care providers for COVID-19-related expenses or lost revenue, and for more personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses on the front lines.

The legislation also provides $25 billion for more COVID-19 testing, including $11 billion for states and localities to ramp up local testing and conduct contact tracing.

“To eventually reopen our economy and keep our workforce safe from the persistent threat of COVID-19, we need to redouble our efforts to boost testing and distribute personal protective equipment,” Spanberger said. “… This crisis demands an all-hands-on-deck response, and we must continue to deliver additional aid to the vulnerable, the sick, and those who are bravely battling this virus on the front lines.”

The legislation will now go to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

The bipartisan package includes money for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general to investigate HHS management of the nation’s COVID-19 response.

Last week, Spanberger requested an investigation into the agency’s management of the Strategic National Stockpile, which provides PPE to health-care workers.

After Spanberger and colleagues pressed for it earlier this month, a provision was added to the relief package to make farmers eligible for the disaster-loan program, from which they were previously excluded. The bill will enable agricultural enterprises with fewer than 500 employees to seek grants of up to $10,000 and low-interest loans of up to $2 million.

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