The U.S. Senate delayed a $2 trillion coronavirus bill Monday after intense arguments over where to direct the funding.
Democrats like Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., voted against advancing the original bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., because it steered more funding toward helping companies over direct financial benefits to families, health care providers and internet connectivity for students.
“Children without connectivity are at risk of not only being unable to complete their homework during this pandemic, but being unable to continue their overall education,” Bennet wrote in a letter to fellow lawmakers Monday.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the $500 billion fund set up for businesses, states and cities in the bill gives President Donald Trump’s Treasury Department the freedom to decide where it goes, making relief efforts “more focused on the big corporations and the health of Wall Street” than the “health care of people in rural America and Main Street.”
The impact of coronavirus is already “about as big as it can get” for business owners on Durango’s Main Avenue, said Rod Barker, owner of the Strater Hotel.
While the Strater Hotel has been in his family for 94 years and has no debt, he is still struggling with day-to-day operational costs of running the hotel. Barker and his employees are shampooing carpets and polishing brass, “anything I can do to keep people actively employed,” Barker said.
For businesses that have debt, Barker said no-interest loans are not the answer, because those businesses will still owe on the back end. Congress should find a way to help insurance companies expand business interruption insurance to help small businesses cover their losses, he said.
Barker said a majority of the economic relief package in Congress should go to boosting unemployment insurance for individual workers.
“For the people who were working and wanted to work, let’s help those people first,” Barker said in a phone interview Monday.
Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and others negotiated with Senate Republicans on Monday to secure individual worker protections and implement restrictions as it relates to providing funding to industries.
Several million Americans have already lost their jobs as the economy continues to tank from the coronavirus outbreak.
Kris Oyler, co-founder and CEO of Peak Food & Beverage, was forced to lay off 280 employees.
“Last week was the toughest week in my 30-year restaurant career,” Oyler told the The Durango Herald. He said he’d like to see money from the trillion-dollar package go directly to those workers.
“We’ve seen too many corporate bailouts,” Oyler said. Small businesses like his don’t have lobbying forces in the nation’s capital, and they would prefer stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance and forgiveness loans.
White House officials have acknowledged corporations would receive unprecedented financial assistance through the bill. The goal is to flood the economy with money, in part by directing $1,200 to most adults and another $500 for each child.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., expressed his support for the bill, but could not vote because he is self-quarantining after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.
“This bill needs to pass immediately; it is how we are going to get the economy running again,” Gardner told the Herald in a phone interview.
Gardner disputed the claim that the bill would not direct a significant amount of financial support to individual workers and families. He said loans given under the plan could be forgiven if used for things like hiring back laid-off workers and covering payrolls or a lease.
“If we wait too long, (those businesses) are done,” Gardner said.
The bill also allows those whose hours have been reduced to collect unemployment benefits, as well as those taking care of a sick family member at home.
Under the bill, $20 billion would go to the Department of Education, including assistance for internet-access tools for students, Gardner said.
But Democrats in Congress are still concerned the bill doesn’t prescribe how the Treasury Department should allocate the $500 billion in loan programs.
Gardner said some of their concerns should be looked at, but pushing for items like same-day voter registration during the Democratic primary period is not important when passing bills that make the difference between someone keeping their home and not keeping their home.
For local business owners like Barker, “parties bickering at this time is the worst thing I’ve heard of.”
“We need to find a way to work for the American people,” Barker said, “not the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.”
Emily Hayes is a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.