Manchin touts fund for small businesses in rural areas

WASHINGTON — As the U.S. Senate works on a bill to provide an additional $250 billion to replenish an emergency fund to small businesses hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Democrats are pushing to make the money easier for small, rural businesses to obtain.

In a Thursday conference call, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the Senate is currently debating how to include the additional funds, which come on the heels of last month’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that provided $2.2 trillion in economic relief for workers, the unemployed, businesses and the healthcare industry.

Manchin said he wants the $250 billion to be allocated in a different way from what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, was pushing for, setting the funds aside for true small businesses — smaller than the businesses closer to the 500 employee maximum identified by the Paycheck Protection Program.

“The way it’s being applied now is not getting to rural America,” Manchin said. “If you have 300, 400, 500 employees, they probably have the accountants and the legal advice on how to get in there and get that money first,” Manchin said. “The little (business) who might have just four or five people, or it’s just a small pizza shop or some other small business, they have no chance. … The $350 billion that was provided through the CARES Act, that’s going to be gobbled up by larger businesses. Smaller businesses aren’t going to be involved whatsoever.”

Of the additional $250 billion proposed in the new bill, half would go toward additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. The remaining funds would be distributed with $60 billion going to small community-based lenders, banks and credit unions, with their size assessed by the value of their consolidated assets; $50 billion to the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans program; and $15 billion for SBA’s Emergency Economic Disaster Grant Program.

Manchin said Senate Democrats were seeking to also secure an additional $250 billion, to go specifically to state and local governments to make up for lost revenue during the COVID-19 crisis.

“If we lose our police services, our sanitation services in all our little communities across the country, God help us,” he said. “Our economy’s not going to come back until people feel safe enough to get out of their homes.”

Manchin said he feared that several hospitals in the state would not be able to remain open due to payroll concerns, and that over the last eight months, eight hospitals have closed nationwide, including two in West Virginia — Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and Fairmont Regional Medical Center in Marion County, both of which were owned by California-based Alecto Healthcare Services. Manchin said he planned to bring up the hospital closures to Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday.

To combat that, Manchin said $100 billion of additional funding is to be set aside specifically to provide grants to healthcare providers to cover expenses and lost revenue incurred by the COVID-19 crisis, which he said was not part of McConnell’s original proposal.

He added that Thursday’s deliberations on the bill shouldn’t stop the bill from being passed, and he expected action to be taken by Friday.

“What happened this morning doesn’t stop anything,” he said. “The only thing it stopped was that it stopped them from sending another $250 billion into a system that doesn’t work right now. The critical need we have immediately is keeping the hospital doors open and taking care of, and protecting, the hospital workers and first responders.”

Manchin also said state workers were putting in overtime to get unemployment claims processed and out the door, as record numbers of unemployed workers file to receive benefits after being furloughed from their jobs.

“They’re telling me we’re at 15% unemployment, and that could go to 20%.That’s unprecedented in the history of our unemployment base. We’re in uncharted waters. … You’ve got to make sure that your healthcare workers are protected, so they don’t go down. You’ve got to make sure the healthcare institutions, hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices can still be open. Most doctors’ offices I know about have closed. They’re not seeing patients going in. They’re not able to because they don’t have the protective gear that they need, and they’re taking precautions for themselves and their workers.”

Manchin added that he felt the healthcare industry had been neglected with regard to government assistance, compared to other businesses and industries that had received aid.

“It’s hard for us to fix this problem if we don’t have treatment, and you can’t get treatment if you don’t keep the healthcare industry alive, healthy and well. It’s really a complicated and very challenging problem that we have here. We’ve put $2 trillion trying to keep the economy of our country alive, and we’ll put a lot more towards it. We’ve only put $184 billion toward the healthcare industry. Don’t you think we need to step in and do something? … We do that for corporations, we’re going to have to do that for the healthcare industry also.”


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