April 09, 2020

Van Hollen Urges Senate Passage of Amendment to Provide Crucial Relief to Small Businesses, Healthcare Providers, and State & Local Governments

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) spoke on the Senate floor to urge Republican leadership to amend their proposed coronavirus relief package to include crucial provisions to substantially improve the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses and provide much-needed funding to our healthcare providers and local governments. In March, the Senate passed a phase three relief bill with broad bipartisan support, just like the previous two packages. Yet today, Leader McConnell refused to discuss improvements so that aid doesn’t continue to get bogged down and instead goes to businesses, hospitals, and communities. The Senator highlighted stories from Maryland constituents, small businesses, and local officials that underscore the urgency of these provisions and offered an amendment to address these issues immediately.

Video of the Senator’s remarks is available here, and excerpts of his remarks follow. 

On Republican Leader McConnell’s Proposal:

“Today we see from the Majority Leader a complete political stunt here on the floor of the United States Senate. Something that does not have bipartisan support. Something that is go it alone, take it or leave it, and totally violates the spirit all of us have been working on during this crisis, where we were able to come together in the United States Senate, and the House of Representatives, with the White House, to – on three prior occasions – pass legislation in a way that addressed the issues that are important to this country.

“Today, we have this situation where the Majority Leader knew full well that there was not agreement and consensus on moving forward with this proposal. That's why we're here today. This was in fact designed to fail – designed as a political stunt." 

On Small Business Relief:

“Let’s talk about the PPP program. This is a really important program. To incentivize small businesses and nonprofits to keep employees on the payroll and allow them to keep the lights on, pay fixed costs, pay the mortgage, pay the rent, whatever it may be, so they can emerge on the other side of the storm without having had to fold. And many of us anticipated long before the CARES Act passed that this program would need more money. I was part of a group that proposed $600 billion for a program like this, recognizing the demand would be huge, as it is on other programs. But it's not just in need of more money. It needs some important fixes, which I dare say would have bipartisan support as well.

“I don't know if the Majority Leader saw the letter just this morning from the National Restaurant Association. Here is what they say:  ‘The PPP is funded at $349 billion, and we expect that lenders will reach that ceiling shortly. We appreciate the bipartisan calls this week to provide prompt additional funding for the program.’ Then they go on to say, ‘However, equally important’ – equally important – ‘is the need to address the limitations of the program that do not recognize the unique and evolving changes of the restaurant business cycle and our path to recovery.’

“This is not a Republican group or a Democratic group. This is a group that represents small businesses, restaurants. And what they say to us this morning is: yes, we do need additional money. We know that. But equally important, let's fix some of the kinks. And there are kinks in this program. 

“I got a letter around 12:44 a.m. this morning from a small business owner who had been banking with Wells Fargo. Then, of course, Wells Fargo hit the cap. We thought we had dealt with that in recent days, but he's not sure he is still going to be able to get that loan through Wells Fargo. And he says, ‘I have also now looked at more than 100 websites of 7(a) lenders in the greater D.C. area and have found NONE’ –  capital letters – ‘NONE that will accept a PPP application from any small business that did not bank with them before February 15, 2020.’” 

“So, Mr. President, what we're saying here today is yes, we know we need more money for this program. Many of us predicted this before we passed the CARES Act. But for goodness sakes, let's take the opportunity to make some bipartisan fixes to allow this program to work better for the very people it's designed to help – small businesses, nonprofits. That's what they are asking us to do. It's what the Restaurant Association is asking us to do. That's what they want us to do. And we could do it probably just as quickly if the Majority Leader took a moment to sit down with us and negotiate that piece.”

On Healthcare Funding and the Need for More Equipment, Testing as DMV Region may become a Hotspot:

“I'm sure all of my colleagues are hearing from their nurses and doctors and frontline healthcare workers about the urgent need for patient protection equipment. We provided funds in the original bill, but we know today that that will be exhausted quickly. We know it because we can add up the requests coming from around the country. So let's address that issue. We're hearing from it every day.”

“We wrote to FEMA just yesterday, to the Administrator of FEMA, and we pointed out that in our most recent requests, Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia received just a small percentage of the equipment that we have requested from FEMA. The District received no hospital ventilators. And I would point out for all of us who are following this – it's predicted that this area, Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, is going to be one of the next hot spots. Zero ventilators. Zero safety goggles. We asked for 663,000 gloves and over one million respirator masks. We got 4,000 of one. So that is one problem we need to address on an urgent basis just as urgently as we needed to address the small business situation. 

“Testing. My goodness, look. This virus, we all know, got an eight to ten-week head start on us because we were flat-footed when it came to testing. We need a national rapid testing system so that we can ensure that people will get the tests and find out whether they have the virus. That not only helps us fight the virus, but it will also help us as we try to get the country back to work on the other end of this. I would propose that those are real needs as well. And that we can address those here now. 

On Funding for State and Local Governments: 

“In addition to that, as Senator Cardin said, we just spoke to Maryland's Governor yesterday – who in addition to being Maryland's Governor is the head of the National Governors Association. He and Governor Cuomo have worked very closely together. We have a bipartisan request from the National Governors Association to help states and local jurisdictions.

“We have been on the phone nonstop with our local officials. They are running out of equipment. We have got firefighters who need help. We have emergency responders who need help. All of these requests are urgent, and I believe could be dealt with on a bipartisan basis. If the Majority Leader would just take a moment, instead of trying to rush this through, would take a moment, we could actually get it done, as we were able to do before with the 96-0 vote.

On the Democratic Amendment:

“So at this time, Mr. President, I have the amendment at the desk. I know people are anxious to get out of here. We didn't have to come in at all if it hadn't been for the decision to try to ram this through. I just want to make that point. Mr. Majority Leader, we knew this wasn't going to get through. So I see people are frustrated and want to leave –  but let's get it done. And let's get it done right. And let's have another 96-0 vote here in the United States Senate. 

“So I ask that the Majority Leader modify the request, and ask that the amendment at the desk – which is the text of the Interim Emergency COVID-19 Relief Act – be agreed to, the bill as amended be read a third time and passed, with no further intervening action or debate.”