U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said during a telephone town hall Thursday that he’s heard concerns from small business owners that the Payroll Protection Program will run out of money.
He said the program still has money for now, but he shares this concern given that the program has given out 5,300 loans to Montana businesses since Tuesday.
“We need to get ahead of that… this is really critical to our small businesses,” he said.
Daines touted the accomplishments of Montana’s smaller financial institutions and their handling of new loan programs.
“Many of these community banks and credit unions rose to the challenge are doing everything they can to get support and relief to these small businesses,” he said.
Daines said he sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week urging the Department of State to investigate China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe that China didn’t do everything they could, in fact they covered up some of the data, they weren’t really forthright with the rest of the world and that put the health of American, of Montanans at risk, as well as jobs,” he said.
Despite the situation, Daines said, he’s hopeful that the COVID-19 situation may be improving nation-wide based on a recent call he had with Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said the rise in mortality rate is a delayed indicator, and that the new case rate is dropping which is a good sign.
“Times are tough right now, but it’s important to remember that we will get through this. He said Montanan’s we’re independent we’re tough folks and we are going to get through this, and better days are coming.”
A caller who accused Democrats in the Senate of “pork barrel spending” asked about the Senate’s failure to pass additional spending for the Paycheck Protection Act.
Daines said that bill was a “must-pass,” and criticized the Democrats, saying they were pushing their own agenda at the cost of people in need.
“We have to be disciplined to not allow either side, Democrat or Republican, to add anything to their wish list that doesn’t pertain directly to solving the health care (crisis), the pandemic, or the economic crisis that we face,” Daines said, “… People want to change the election laws they want to add money for their favorite projects, well we can have that debate another time.”
He said asecond wave of COVID-19 coming is a concern to him and cited the Spanish Flu as an example of how devastating a second wave could be, though he mentioned that comparisons between novel coronavirus 2019 and the common flu were not advisable.
Daines said the state and nation should be focused on instituting wider testing, saying it would not only be beneficial to people’s wellbeing, but could help the national economy get back on its feet.
“(We need to be) not only testing who has the virus, the anti-gen test, but the serology tests to see who’s resolved the virus and is now immune,” he said, “It’s really important that we know that so we can get some confidence, and get people back to school, back to work, back in our restaurants. Back to some degree of normal living in Montana.”
Daines said he’s been working with SBA and the Treasury Department to make self-employed business owners who aren’t eligible for the Payroll Protection Act. He said that would be made possible sometime today and encouraged self-employed business owners to apply.
After a caller said she had a family member who was denied an SBA loan because her tavern drew one-third of its revenue from gaming, Daines said that restriction was intended to differentiate casinos from other businesses. He said he is working with the Tavern Owners Association and spoke with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to try to get that limit raised up to 50 percent.
“For those of you on the call today, you know that these taverns, these watering holes are an important part of who we are as Montanans, they’re in every corner of our state,” he said.
Daines said direct deposits of the payments to U.S. residents authorized in the CARES Act that became law March 27 might be arriving as early as next week according to the Secretary Minuchin, but that is not a guarantee.
Daines also said his office has been hearing complaints about scammers trying to take advantage of the pandemic. He said scammers are disguising themselves as employees of the SBA or the IRS to target people looking for financial relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Often times, they’re targeting senior citizens, they’re targeting small businesses during this COVID-19 crisis. Montanans should be on the lookout,” he said.
Daines cautioned people against opening emails that look suspicious and said there are ways to tell whether something is a scam.
“If you get an email from the federal government it will have .gov in it. It won’t be .com, it won’t be .org,” he said.
Daines said, despite the stress and pain that COVID-19 has brought, he is impressed by how it’s being handled by the people of Montana.
“I’ve been encouraged by watching people come together… I’ve just heard so many great stories of people extending grace in payment terms, giving people a break to get through this really hard time,” he said, “Because, let’s be very very clear about this, nobody caused this problem. No small business owner decided they wanted to lay off their employees … no employee wanted to be laid off, we all want to be back to work.”