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Sen. Cardin: Congress must pass comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill | COMMENTARY

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., speaks during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act, Wednesday, June 10, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., speaks during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act, Wednesday, June 10, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Al Drago/Pool via AP) (Al Drago/AP)

The rate of daily new COVID-19 cases is now more than 150,000 new cases per day — five times the 30,000 new cases per day reported in the spring and more than twice the 60,000 per day reported in the summer. Unlike those times, when outbreaks were largely regional, we are now experiencing nationwide outbreaks at a record pace. Due to this onslaught of COVID-19 cases, many communities are facing health care worker staffing shortages and full emergency rooms.

It is outrageous that the Republican leadership has stalled progress on a comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill, despite the obvious and growing need. There is no excuse for Congress failing to adequately confront the public health and economic crises caused by the pandemic.

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This is not a time for small measures. As part of a larger package, Congress must get serious about helping small businesses. We support our local communities in Maryland and across the country by supporting our small businesses, many of which are in desperate straits right now.

Here in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan has reimposed new restrictions to control the spread of the virus. The cost of these necessary measures will fall most heavily on small businesses in the food services, hospitality and events, and travel and tourism industries, which are the most reliant on large gatherings to make a profit.

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We can help our small business by providing greater support for state and local governments. Small businesses need local services to remain stable. We must provide support to schools to so they can operate safely, whether it’s in person, virtual or hybrid. We must support the more than 12 million Americans who remain unemployed, they are the customers who shop at small businesses. Most important, we need a national testing and tracing strategy, because small businesses will continue to struggle until the American people are confident it is safe to go out, shop, use services and fully participate in the economy.

In addition to tackling the root of the problem, a comprehensive bill must target small business aid to the hardest-hit, most vulnerable small businesses — including Black, Hispanic, Asian and women-owned businesses — as well as small businesses in the industries that have been most affected by COVID-19.

This pandemic is not going to disappear overnight, despite advances in vaccine research. Small businesses need more than the eight additional weeks of payroll assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). As the lead Democrat on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, I have introduced legislation to reopen PPP for small businesses that did not get to apply for an initial loan before the program closed on Aug. 8, and provide a second round of PPP for vulnerable small businesses.

We in Congress must recognize that many small businesses, especially restaurants and retail shops, are not in a position to take on new debt. My bill would appropriate an additional $50 billion to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program to continue providing small businesses with low-cost, long-term loans and create a new $40 billion Lifeline Grant within the program, which would provide grants of up to $50,000 to small businesses that have suffered a significant economic loss. The bill would also provide an additional $10 billion for the EIDL Advance grants program.

The bill creates a new $15 billion grant program that will allow state and local government agencies to deploy funds to the businesses in their communities that need it the most. We have already seen the benefits of this model in Baltimore, where the Baltimore Development Corporation has provided support to small businesses based on need and other factors, not on a first-come, first-served basis. The bill also includes a new $15 billion grant program for small businesses in the events industry, including music venues, theaters and cinemas, which were among the first businesses to close and among the last to reopen.

A comprehensive COVID-19 bill is the only adequate response to the crises we face today. In March, the Senate passed the CARES Act 97-0. We must come together again as the virus rages on.

The CARES Act dealt directly with the COVID-19 pandemic itself — providing funding to public health professionals for testing, tracing and vaccine development. The bill also provided support to state and local governments, as well as small businesses, families, schools and Americans on unemployment insurance.

For the sake of the country let us sit down to negotiate a bipartisan comprehensive COVID-19 bill that will keep our communities safe, get Americans back to work and save small businesses.

Ben Cardin (cardin.senate.gov/contact), a Democrat, has represented Marylanders in the U.S. Senate since 2007. He is the Ranking Member of the Senate Small Business Committee.

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