“First, I want to acknowledge everybody has major anxieties about what is going on now. Coronavirus affects every family. This affects my family; my two kids are laid off. Either your health, your finances, uncertainties about when it will be over. I want to acknowledge the challenges everyone is going through.” With these sentiments, Senator Tim Kaine began his call with 45 business leaders on April 22. The Hampton Roads Chamber facilitated the call to help members guide Senator Kaine as he votes on future stimulus packages.
Bryan Stephens, Hampton Roads Chamber President and CEO, acted as moderator for the call. "Thank you, Senator Kaine, for all you are doing, especially recently, and thank you for taking the time to talk to us and inform us of what is going on in Congress. For those on the call, Senator Kaine is a long supporter of this chamber and a friend to the business community in Hampton Roads."
Senator Kaine started his comments with a summary of what Congress has provided thus far.
“Congress has passed three bills to help protect the American economy during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senator Kaine. The first two bills passed were the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. The third and most recent legislative package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, consists of five pillars.
According to Senator Kaine, those five pillars are:
Congress is now in the process of negotiating the fourth stimulus package. This Stimulus 4 package adds $250 billion to PPP, $60 billion to SBA Emergency Loans, and $60 billion to smaller financial institutions like farm credit institutions, who needed to get SBA approval. A total of $370 billion more in funding that will likely pass Thursday (4/23/20).
Senator Kaine welcomed input from the business leaders on the phone so that he can gather information for future legislation.
Taylor Franklin of the Franklin Johnston Group began with concerns about tenants not using stimulus money to pay rent. As the owner of multi-housing units, he wants to make sure his residents are taken care of, and his company doesn't shoulder the burden. “We would like to know whether the next stimulus package will provide direct rental and housing relief to the families impacted by COVID-19. We are most concerned about the families that live in our apartment communities and believe that we must take steps now to prevent the potential for a national housing crisis once the moratorium on evictions is lifted in July.”
Senator Kaine’s response. “Housing is a major priority of the next bill. Want to provide protection against eviction and foreclosure assistance. We are mindful if people don't pay rent that affects owners who have obligations to maintenance and shareholders. Need to make sure we are not doing something for tenants that creates problems downstream for owners.”
Former Governor Bob McDonnell asked Senator Kaine about providing a more precise definition of seasonal employees in the next package. "The definition of seasonal employees is confusing and is affecting the tourism economy. March 1 through June 30 does not work for people who don’t start beach business until May.” Senator Kaine said he had heard this same concern from citizens across Virginia, including farmers. He will bring this concern to the table.
Dr. Scott Miller, of Virginia Wesleyan University, asked Senator Kaine to have the wording for the PPP loans changed so Colleges and Universities would no longer have to include student workers in their employee count. Senator Kaine responded he had not heard that and would look into a fix.
Kasia Grzelkowski, of VersAbility, Inc., asked for an amendment to include non-profits who have more than 500 employees. She needs PPE (personal protective equipment) for her workers who are on the front line stocking ships and disinfecting buildings. Senator Kaine assured Grzelkowski, "this is the first I hear of this concern. We will look into this and see if we can put it into the fourth package. We also need to define front line healthcare workers broadly in #4, so you can obtain PPE."
Robert Bowen, Norfolk Airport Authority, shared a comment with Senator Kaine: "I'd like to express my appreciation to Senator Kaine for his support of the airport grants that were provided in the CARES Act. Norfolk International Airport received $19, 847,270 which will be applied to debt payments and Norfolk Airport Authority employee wages, salaries, and benefits.” Senator Kaine replied, “I very much appreciate you expressing that. Commercial air is a pillar of the national economy. If we let the airports fail, that will affect the economic recovery. Don't want to damage the pillars of our economy when we can start climbing again.”
Georgie Marquez, of Andre Marquez Architects, asked, “What are the consequences of having to furlough some of our employees during this time? How will it affect our (small businesses) unemployment insurance costs in the future?” Senator Kaine had an encouraging response. “In a future legislative package, Congress may try to replenish unemployment trust fund, but NO, it will not be held against you and will not affect your unemployment insurance costs.”
In closing, Senator Kaine thanked Bryan Stephens, the Hampton Roads Chamber, and the phone participants for this opportunity to gather input from constituents. Senator Kaine encouraged people to visit his website at www.kaine.senate.gov or to call 202-224-4024 with any questions or concerns regarding COVID-19 assistance.