West Virginia’s senators have different takes on the efficacy of federal relief for small businesses and health care providers.
Debate in Washington on Thursday morning centered on what’s called the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers loans to small businesses to keep employees on their payrolls during the emergency period.
A handful of senators, headed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were in the U.S. Capitol building Thursday trying to push another $250 billion into the program by unanimous consent. The $2 trillion federal stimulus allocated an initial $350 billion for it.
The money was blocked, however, as Democrats and Republicans disagreed on the contents of an interim coronavirus relief bill before the entire congressional delegation returns April 20.
Democrats wanted provisions that half the $250 billion be available for smaller community banks and rural businesses.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said on a press call Thursday morning that McConnell’s proposal did not address the problems rural businesses are having attaining Paycheck Protection Program money.
“Now, he’s absolutely accurate, we need $250 billion more for small businesses, but we don’t need it in the way he wants to fill it, right, with the system we have right now, and [where] people are so confused,” Manchin said. “Small businesses in rural America, rural West Virginia, can’t even get through the process, let alone get the money.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said that’s not the case. She said the payroll program is reaching the Mountain State, and the Senate had a golden opportunity Thursday to bolster it.
“Rural businesses are having access to that right now ... this is where I would push back on it,” Capito said by phone Thursday. “Our rural businesses are going to the table, and where they’re in danger of getting locked out here is if the money runs out.”
The West Virginia Small Business Administration could not be reached for comment Friday to confirm how many small businesses have been approved for federal loans.
Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said Friday that among small business owners with whom he’s spoken, some have been approved this week for loans and waiting for their next step, some are still waiting for approval and some are just frustrated with the process entirely.
Roberts said the rollout of the Paycheck Protection Program has been slowed because of the quarantine restrictions. He said community bank employees are likely working from home, making it tougher to get a program this massive working.
Another reason Senate Democrats shut down McConnell’s bill Thursday, Manchin said, was because those on the front lines still need more funding.
Democrats wanted the $250 billion for the payroll program, and another $250 billion allocated for health provider relief, funding for state and local governments, an increase in assistance benefits and technical fixes for election assistance provided through the stimulus.
Manchin said hospitals and community health centers, particularly in rural areas, are hurting and need more COVID-19 testing and personal protection gear. Capito, however, said health centers funding from the stimulus hasn’t even been distributed.
“We haven’t even spent one cent, not one cent, on the hospitals — that $30 billion is going out [Friday] and then on April 24, all the city, county and state money is going out, and that’s going to be $1.25 billion to our state, a small state,” she said. “So I don’t see what the urgency is to refill those pots of money yet, until we get some of the money out.”
The stimulus will roll out another $70 billion for health care providers at a later date, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.