House agrees $484 billion interim spending
WASHINGTON, D.C—Members of the U.S. House of Representatives returned to the capitol Friday to pass another spending bill responding to the economic and health impacts of the coronavirus. The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act now goes to the White House for the President’s signature. Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said the popular Payroll Protection Program that allows small businesses and non-profits to keep paying staff was replenished with $310 billion. An initial $349 billion for the PPP in last month’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or “CARES,” Act was completely used by April 16.
“[A total of] 56 applicants in the Marianas were awarded loans worth $12.6 million in the first round, but other Marianas applicants were turned away because funds were exhausted,” Sablan said. “Now there is a second chance, but act quickly.”
Three lenders in the Marianas are participating in the program—Bank of Hawaii, Bank of Guam, and First Hawaiian Bank—according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Businesses that receive the 1% loans must repay them within two years. The loans will be completely forgiven, however, if an employer uses the money to keep or quickly rehire employees at their current wage. Up to 25% of the loans may also be used for rent, utilities, and other business costs.
Sablan said he would be posting the PPP borrower application form at his office website, http://sablan.house.gov, and on his social media pages. “This will allow potential borrowers to see exactly what information will be requested when they go to the bank to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan.”
Several weeks ago, Republicans and the Trump administration proposed adding $250 billion to the popular program, but Democrats held out for an additional $60 billion for emergency business grants and loans and for a set-aside of $60 billion for lenders serving smaller communities.
“That could improve the odds for Marianas businesses and non-profits,” Sablan said.
In the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program, 508 organizations on Guam were able to borrow $102.4 million. In Hawaii 11,553 businesses and non-profits borrowed over $2 billion.
Help for health care
The bill the House passed Friday also added $100 billion for health care to the original Republican proposal. Democrats secured $75 billion to get Personal Protective Equipment and other resources to front-line health care workers, hospitals, and community health centers.
Democrats also added $25 billion for testing, which experts say is the key to reopening the economy. And Democrats got Trump administration negotiators to agree to a national strategic testing policy that will focus on increasing testing capacity, including testing supplies, nationwide. Twenty-one days after enactment of Friday’s bill, the administration will be required to report on coronavirus testing with data on demographic characteristics including race, ethnicity and geographic regions. The report will also include numbers and rates of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths as a result of the virus.
“The key to reopening the economy and helping us all feel safe again is testing,” said Sablan. “South Korea, Taiwan, and Germany have shown that widespread testing can give confidence that the disease is receding and can alert health officials when the disease recurs.”
House leaders are also looking ahead to the next coronavirus relief legislation, what is being called CARES II. They had wanted to include more direct funding to state and territorial governments, but the Trump administration refused. The President has acknowledged the need, however, and agreed to consider this critical priority in CARES II.
“We need to make sure that state and territory governments have enough money to pay doctors and nurses, police, fire, teachers, and other vital workers and meet other critical obligations, like retirees,” Sablan said. (PR)