LAST THURSDAY night, I found myself in my car heading back to our nation’s capital to cast a critical vote for a coronavirus relief package the following day. Members of Congress from across the country were coming to D.C. by car and plane so we could overcome last-minute procedural hurdles to pass this $2 trillion package and allow the American people to weather the pandemic and the economic disaster it has spawned.
It was a lonely drive, devoid of the typical traffic on the I-95 corridor outside of trucks and a smattering of cars. The good news is people appear to be following orders to stay at home and do their part to lower the curve and stop the spread of coronavirus. But it is also clear from the empty roads and darkened storefronts on main streets from New Hampshire to Washington that our economy is at a standstill.
The local New Hampshire businesses that have been shuttered or have seen operations completely upended are the engine of our economy and help define our state’s character. Our small businesses are proud to be a part of their communities, passionate about their products and services, and grateful of the team of employees that gets the job done. They know that even in good times it is a struggle to pay the bills and deal with challenges that come their way. Most have no financial cushion, insurance coverage or contingency plan for a pandemic.
Small business is big business in New Hampshire. Ninety-nine percent of our businesses are classified as small businesses, and more than half of all New Hampshire workers — nearly 300,000 people — are employed by a Granite State small business. As we focus on promoting public health and ensuring our healthcare system has the resources to beat this virus, we must take every step possible to ensure our workers, families and Main Street businesses can stay afloat.
As a small business owner myself, I know that we can’t allow partisan politics to divide us at this moment or prevent us from forging meaningful compromise. Earlier this month in Washington, as negotiations were ongoing for this latest coronavirus relief package, I urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to keep the livelihoods of New Hampshire’s workers and small businesses in mind when crafting the legislation. I worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle advocating for low-cost loans, debt relief, and tax credits for businesses and cash assistance and robust unemployment benefits for individuals.
The relief package, called the CARES Act, makes profound investments in our economy. I was pleased that the deal was bipartisan, passed with speed and reflects the scale of the challenges ahead. It also includes many of the provisions I sought, including the Employee Retention Tax Credit, a tool used in past disaster situations that helps struggling small businesses keep workers on the payroll. Key components of a bill I recently introduced — the Too Small to Fail Act — are also part of this legislation. Those provisions eliminate certain eligibility restrictions and fees on Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, provide emergency grants of up to $10,000 for small businesses and nonprofits, and defer loan payments on existing SBA loans for at least six months.
I look forward to continuing to do anything I can to help constituents during this tough time. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been in constant contact with community members across the state to hear their perspective and how they’re faring. What’s abundantly clear at this moment is that people are scared, they’re hurting and they want to know when this will end. But they also are unbroken and they want to pitch in and do their part.
In this period of social distancing and isolation, people are coming together with common purpose. Congress must continue to do the same. We must ensure our workers, families and small businesses have the tools they need to be resilient. And we must continue to work in a collaborative fashion to hasten the end of this pandemic and allow our Main Street economy to get back on its feet.