Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator, was among a bipartisan group of senators who negotiated the provisions that focus on the needs of small businesses in the recently enacted federal CARES Act. She recently discussed the measure with NH Business Review.
Q. What were the provisions you insisted on being in the CARES Act, and did they all get in?
A. This is an incredibly challenging time for small business owners and I know many of them are staying awake at night wondering how they’re going to get through this. Here are the questions we tried to answer as we negotiated this bill: How can we provide relief that keeps businesses afloat and keeps employees on payrolls? And how can we do this in a way that doesn’t saddle businesses with overwhelming debt after this crisis is over?
During negotiations, I was in close contact with New Hampshire small business owners – I wanted to make sure this legislation responded directly to their immediate needs and the needs of their workforce. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), (Ben) Cardin (D-MD), (Susan) Collins (R-Maine) and I worked around the clock with staff to craft an agreement.
One of the most important pieces of it was the creation of a new program – the Paycheck Protection Program. It is a nearly $350 billion program that will provide eight weeks of cash-flow assistance to small businesses through 100 percent federally guaranteed loans. If these small businesses maintain their payroll, the loans will be forgiven. This new law is also retroactive to Feb. 15, so that small business owners have an opportunity to bring back employees who have been recently let go because of the crisis.
This agreement certainly isn’t perfect, and implementation will be a big challenge. I’m encouraging the Trump administration to quickly and thoroughly get this assistance out to small businesses, while keeping a watchful eye for waste, fraud and abuse. In the Senate, I’m calling for stringent oversight to help correct any unforeseen issues that come up.
Q. What are the most essential things New Hampshire small businesses should know about what’s available to them in the CARES Act?
A. Small businesses that are struggling should stay in touch with their financial institutions that are authorized to administer SBA loans, as well as their local Small Business Development Center, Women’s Business Centers and Minority Business Centers, which provide no-cost advising and education. These centers can walk small businesses through the options that are available to them and help with applications.
We boosted funding in this new law for these centers so that they are equipped to offer additional counseling, training and related assistance to businesses impacted by Covid-19. The SBA recently issued the paperwork that needs to be filled out to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program – this can be found on the Small Business Administration Covid-19 website as well as information on other loans and grants that we bolstered in this new law.
The economic response legislation also created a new emergency grant program made available through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program so small businesses can request grants of up to $10,000 in an emergency. The SBA created a portal on their website to access these new grants. That portal is available at covid19relief.sba.gov.
Q. What about individuals?
A. This legislation was crafted to help all Americans affected by this public health crisis. The impact of this pandemic is widespread across our society, so our response needs to match the full scope of this crisis. One of the most important provisions we included are direct payments to working Americans for as much as $1,200 per person and $500 per child for those who make under $75,000 a year. If you make more than $75,000 it’s reduced based on a sliding scale up to $99,000.
The bill also includes four months of expanded unemployment insurance and allows gig economy workers and independent contractors to also receive these benefits. I also worked hard to ensure financial support for health care and other essential workers to help them afford child care costs so that they can continue their important work on the frontlines.
Q. Some of the hardest-hit businesses are restaurants and bars. Is there enough assistance for them, especially if stay-at-home and even social distancing warnings remain in place? If not, what would you like to see?
A. Some businesses are being harder hit than others and the impact on the restaurant industry is devastating. A number of the programs we included in this legislation – from small business assistance to expanding unemployment insurance benefits – will help restaurant and bar owners and their employees. But our work isn’t over, and we’re going to need to do more in the months ahead. In the Senate, I’m encouraging everyone to continue working across the aisle to ensure American workers have the resources they need to weather this storm.
Q. Do you think enough is being done to ensure nonprofits have the ability to make it through the crisis?
A. From my conversations with nonprofits and social service organizations, I know these organizations are really hurting at precisely a time when we need their services the most. I was adamant that more be done in the legislation to help these organizations – this was one of my top priorities during the process of putting this bill together. I fought to include funding that they could access, as well as funding for state and local governments.
Nonprofit organizations provide essential services for our communities, from housing to nutritional assistance and health care, all of which are especially important right now for vulnerable Granite Staters. It’s important to note that certain nonprofit organizations can receive assistance through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. These organizations may also qualify under the Paycheck Protection Program – this program applies to 501(c)(3) organizations, which provides resources to nonprofit groups that previously were unavailable.
This new law expands urgently needed financial assistance for some nonprofits, and although I fought to also provide access to larger nonprofit organizations as well, they were unfortunately excluded in the final bill. But our work doesn’t stop here – Congress will continue to work together and find ways to respond to the needs in our communities, and organizations, who are on the frontlines of this crisis.
Q. There’s serious talk about a fourth phase of pandemic-related emergency relief from Washington. Do you think it’s necessary? If so, what would you like to see in any bill that emerges?
A. This is a rapidly changing crisis, and I believe it’s really important that Congress not rest on its laurels. New Hampshire is certainly going to need additional help, especially as social distancing and emergency stay-at-home orders continue. We’ve made some positive steps but more will need to be done – every level of government needs to be engaged, evaluating the spread of the virus and doing everything we can to protect the public and help keep Granite Staters financially afloat.
Q. What kind of advice do you have for, first, everyday citizens, and, second, business owners about coping with the coronavirus crisis?
A. This is a unique crisis and it demands the best of us. We need to continue to think outside the box and pull together to get through these difficult days.
It’s encouraging to see how Granite Staters are creatively finding ways to help their neighbors and contribute to response efforts. Whether it’s craft distillers making hand sanitizer, or people using 3D printers to make masks for healthcare workers, or friends and family finding ways to encourage and support others while social distancing, it’s all so inspiring to see. And of course, we all can play a role by adhering to stay-at-home orders and following all public health guidelines.
I also encourage everyone to check in with friends, family and neighbors online and over the phone, especially people who are alone or vulnerable. And I always remind people that if you’re in need of assistance, please don’t hesitate to visit my website at shaheen.senate.gov or call my office at 603-647-7500 and open a case so my staff can assist you.
Q. Considering your insight after decades of experience in politics, how do you think this crisis is affecting the 2020 campaigns, including yours? Are you concerned about whether people will be able to vote in September and November?
A. Elections are fundamental to our democracy, so we need to have plans in place to move forward with them even during this kind of an emergency.
Every state, including New Hampshire, should implement no-excuse-absentee voting, or vote by mail. I recently announced new funding that New Hampshire will receive that can be used for vote by mail and other measures to help Granite Staters safely vote. As we navigate this crisis, we need to make sure people can vote and our democracy endures without compromising public health during this emergency.