Rep. Annie Kuster: Health and economic crisis caused by coronavirus requires coordinated response
IN THE past four weeks, New Hampshire has seen an unprecedented number of unemployment claims – over 114,000, which equals the total claims over the past three years combined. At the same time, confirmed cases of COVID-19 here in New Hampshire surpassed 1,200, with presumably more who are ill but unable to access testing. The disruption in our lives and the full scope of this crisis are difficult to even fathom. As we adjust to our “new normal,” everyone is doing their best to work and study from home, care for family and friends and even join together virtually to celebrate Easter and Passover.
While working from home over the past month, my team and I have received and responded to phone calls, emails and letters from more than 8,000 constituents from across New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. The stories have ranged from heroic to heartbreaking: from courageous front-line health care workers to families frightened about elderly relatives in nursing homes; from intrepid first responders to small businesses struggling to make ends meet; and from generous volunteers to workers who don’t know where their next paycheck will come from.
The coronavirus crisis requires a coordinated response that takes into account the public health implications of COVID-19, as well as the economic ramifications of our response to this emergency. To that end, Congress has acted aggressively, passing three legislative packages already to address the complexities of this challenge.
One of the most important steps Congress has taken to avoid economic disruption was creating the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), administered through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The PPP provides $349 billion for forgivable low-interest loans to small businesses and not-for-profit charitable organizations. For those who use these loans to maintain payroll, the balance of their loan will be totally forgiven by the SBA.
The PPP will infuse critical cash into businesses and nonprofits to keep Granite Staters employed, but unfortunately funding for the program is not sufficient. As of this week, more than 11,000 loan applications have been granted to New Hampshire small businesses, totaling $2 billion in funding to our state. The demand for the PPP has been so great that funds for the program have run out, which is why I called upon House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to increase funding for the PPP and ensure that every eligible small business can apply and receive funding.
To support workers who have been negatively impacted by the economic downturn, Congress took decisive action to provide direct financial support to hard-hit American families. This week, as directed by Congress, the U.S. Treasury began distributing direct deposit payments in the amount of $1,200 for individuals earning less than $75,000 and $2,400 for joint filers earning less than $150,000, plus $500 for every child under age 17.
For workers who have been furloughed or laid off, Congress passed legislation to increase unemployment compensation by $600 per week. This supplemental support through the end of July will help cover costs like groceries, rent, and utilities as we navigate this unprecedented downturn in our economy. I know that Granite Staters take great pride in their work, and the loss of economic security due to a global pandemic is certainly stressful and discouraging. Our goal with these bipartisan policies is to invest in our workforce and to secure our economic future by working together so that no family is left behind.
We know that more action will be needed. We must bolster the SBA to effectively respond to businesses struggling to survive the economic turmoil. And we need to support the dedicated workers in the New Hampshire Employment Security office who are tirelessly serving thousands of Granite Staters who are struggling to make ends meet.
I have been heartened by the collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic here in New Hampshire. Health care workers show up every day to save lives and keep our communities safe. Our first responders, firefighters and police continue to deliver exemplary service in communities across the state. Grocery workers, food suppliers and farmers continue to feed us under the most trying circumstances. And members of our National Guard have once again made us proud of their efforts, including setting up overflow hospital beds in schools and colleges around the state. Nineteen airmen are even working on behalf of the New Hampshire Employment Security office helping to process claims and get individuals the support they need.
Together, we will get through these challenging times. Together, we will overcome. Be safe, stay strong and, as always, we are here to serve you at 226-1002 or Kuster.house.gov.