Small biz paycheck program runs dry as Golden, Pingree hold back support

Speaker Pelosi in her kitchen at home in San Francisco, on the left, Rep. Jared Golden and Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine.

WASHINGTON D.C. – Of all the programs created in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to keep paychecks flowing to employees of small businesses, is probably in highest demand. But late last week the program ran out of money and two members of Maine’s Congressional delegation most closely allied with Speaker Nancy Pelosi are not on board with replenishing the very popular program the way it was created.

The program, authored by Senator Susan Collins, provides forgivable loans to American small businesses so long as they use the funds to cover payroll, rent and utility costs. The PPP initially received $350 billion in funding in Phase 3 of the coronavirus response legislation passed through Congress and signed by President Trump. In Maine, Senator Susan Collins reports that more than $2.2 billion has been distributed from the fund to nearly 17,000 Maine small businesses. Those funds support more than 180,000 jobs in Maine.

Congressional Republicans have been pushing since initial demand for the PPP loans made clear that the program would quickly run dry, but Democrats have stonewalled efforts to boost funding, instead demanding a number of concessions on other policy and pushing to attach complex strings to funding.

That dispute has sparked the longest-running political conflict of the national pandemic, with Republicans taking to the airwaves and social media daily to call for Schumer, Pelosi and their allies to pass a clean funding increase.

In Maine, the Republican National Committee has been calling on Rep. Jared Golden to speak out on the issue, but it wasn’t until Thursday that Golden issued a statement.

In a letter, Golden said that he wants a host of changes to the program, including the relaxing or elimination of the SBA requirement that small businesses use 75% of the funds to cover the paychecks of their employees. That requirement, which guarantees the federal funds help the employees of the small business, should be replaced with a “different approach for determining that the program’s intent has been met” says Golden.

Golden’s letter also calls for the program to have greater congressional oversight.

As small businesses in Maine and across the nation sink deeper in the current economic morass under stay at home orders issued by governors across the nation, Republicans are increasingly frustrated with the extended delay and demands of Democrats.

“Small businesses are begging Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi to quit holding Paycheck Protection Program funds hostage to their unrelated partisan demands. Livelihoods are at stake. What Dems are doing is a complete scandal,” tweeted House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, along with a link to a list of statements from American small businesses desperate for the lifeline.   

“The PPP is a desperately needed lifeline for millions of businesses. But funds are expected to run out this week. When Republicans advanced legislation to fund the PPP, how did Speaker Pelosi react? She congratulated Schumer for blocking the bill & killing the additional funding,” tweeted Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois, including a video of Pelosi congratulating Schumer and Senate Democrats.

Rep. Chellie Pingree similarly released a list of changes she wants made to the program, including one item that echoes her push to send federal stimulus checks to illegal immigrants. Pingree wants non-citizens to qualify for the SBA loans as well. Ultimately, Pingree says she would prefer an “alternative model” than the one currently being considered.

In apparent defiance of calls for Pelosi to approve the small business funding, Cole Leiter, the communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) tweeted that Speaker Pelosi was “having a banner week” saying she was getting “attacked by Republican operatives for loving ice cream” and getting “attacked by President Trump for RUNNING THE COUNTRY while he calls the Coronavirus a hoax” and then commenting that the only question was what type of ice cream she would enjoy as she saved the country.

The ice cream comment was in reference to a much-criticized video from Pelosi on a late night TV show in which she spoke from her home in San Francisco in front of a pair of massive refrigerators, showing off her freezer full of gourmet ice cream and a huge basket of candy.

“While Nancy Pelosi sits in her ivory tower in San Francisco, eating $13 dollar a pint ice cream out of her $24,000 fridge, she is cheering on Democrats for blocking coronavirus relief aid that has so far been distributed to 1.3 million small businesses that is about to run out,” tweeted Steve Guest, the Rapid Response Director of the RNC.

Ever focused on moving forward, Senator Susan Collins made clear in a video of her own on Friday that she feels it is time for the partisan bickering to stop.

“The Paycheck Protection Program has been incredibly successful, providing $2.24 billion to 16,699 small Maine employers in less than two weeks. We must replenish funding for this program that is already supporting an estimated 180,000 Maine jobs,” said Senator Collins.

“Partisan bickering has no place when we are in the middle of a pandemic. I’m working hard with members on both sides of the aisle, and I won’t stop my efforts until we succeed.”

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