While Americans may struggle to wrap their minds around the multi-trillion coronavirus relief packages coming out of Washington, D.C., the emphasis of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is small — as in, small businesses and their vital place at the heart of the U.S. economy.
Congressman Pete Stauber, R-Duluth, shared this and more observations of the CARES Act during a conference call with over 80 small business owners, development organizations and the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, April 8. While imperfect, the CARES ACT represents a positive bipartisan step forward, he added, and it lays the groundwork for further legislation to patch the holes in an economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
Clocking in at $2.2 trillion, Stauber said the CARES Act — which allocates billions in funding for individual workers, health care manufacturers and providers, large corporations and small businesses, among other measures — represents one of the most pro-small business pieces of legislation in recent years. This is a boon for a struggling economy, he said, especially when small businesses make up a significant block of it.
But lawmakers need to ensure the legislation remains focused on addressing the COVID-19 crisis, Stauber emphasized at multiple points during the conference call.
“I think that for no fault of our own we're in this situation right now, but I have all the faith that when we as Americans, come together, we can get over this, we will get through it,” Stauber said. “I believe in my heart that we will become a stronger, more resilient and more self-reliant nation than ever before.”
While prior and subsequent measures of the COVID-19 relief rollout may be directed to medical infrastructure and outbreak prevention, or ensuring people had the emergency compensation and legal protections to weather the pandemic, the CARES Act serves as a deep well of resources for small businesses, Stauber said.
He noted President Donald Trump is requesting to tack on a further $250 billion on top of $349 billion — with $90 billion sent out to the banks and roughly $100 billion funneled through 3,900 lenders across the country — that was outlined in the CARES Act to buoy small businesses. Stauber noted Capitol Hill has been working closely with lenders and loosening regulatory practices to streamline the process as millions of Americans apply for financial assistance.
Stauber said the passage of the CARES Act and related legislation has been a whirlwind of activity and bipartisanship, with provisions being passed after hours of discussion when they couldn’t find traction in Congress over the course of years. He noted there have been efforts to take advantage of the crisis and use it for external political goals, though this represented bad government and poor stewardship of a country in turmoil.
“I think if we can focus future packages on specific COVID-19 related expenses and to get us back to before (the outbreak), we can do pretty well,” said Stauber, who criticized Democratic leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., for attempting to manipulate the process and slip their own unrelated agendas into the final bill.
The continuing work to divide politics from pragmatic governance will continue in what’s been dubbed Phase 4 of the coronavirus aid legislation, said Stauber, who also pointed to future discussions as an opportunity to identify gaps in the CARES Act and to adapt with developments from the virus’ spread as they arise.
“Most likely going into Phase 4, we're gonna see the deficiencies of the CARES Act we missed or things that come up that we didn't even think of,” Stauber said. “And then, we're gonna work on solving that problem, because we want it to be really geared towards COVID-19 related issues.”
“We want to be able to ensure the health and the safety of the American people,” Stauber added. “We want to get a vaccine to get us back to where we were. This is not a time to push certain agendas.”