Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., held a conference call Tuesday sponsored by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce with business owners and community members about COVID-19 impacts.
“I’m pleased to see one case up in the Havre area, but we do have a public health crisis and we’re going to get through this together,” he said. “I’ve been watching close with the number of hospitalizations in the state, we are currently at 28 people in the hospital, so we’re nowhere near overloading the health care system and we will get through this public health crisis.”
Gianforte is a candidate for Montana governor and faces state Attorney General Tim Fox, state Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, in the Republican primary.
Gianforte said the number he would encourage people to look at is the number of hospitalizations in Montana because this is an indication of not how many people are sick, but how many people are sick enough that had to go into the hospital, “and putting a strain on our medical system.”
The state of Montana will be coming out of this public health crisis when that number of hospitalizations stabilizes and then starts to go down, he added.
He said that a pause has taken place on the economy as well and that getting through this public health crisis, recovery can take place from the economic crisis which was caused by the shut down and the ask of people to stay home.
In Congress, he said, a number of bills were passed that provided relief for small business and for individuals and families.
“The goal here is when we take our finger off the pause button and push the start button on our economy again, we want to make sure individuals get back on their feet, get back to work and small businesses that have been necessarily shuttered can open their doors and get back to somewhat normalcy,” Gianforte said.
The first bill passed last month was about vaccine testing research, he said, adding that a couple of vaccines are in clinical trials as well as a couple of serums.
He said the second bill passed was about short-term and intermediate-term disability payments for people who have to stay at home to take care of a loved one, money was appropriated for that.
“Then kind of the motherload of economic relief was the CARES Act which passed 10 days ago in Congress,” he said. “I voted for it. I consider myself a fiscal conservative, but I will tell you when the government tells people to shut their businesses down the government has an obligation to help them back up. … A lot of people have been impacted, a lot of people have lost their jobs or don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from. There will be direct payments to Americans equal to $1,200 per person plus $500 per dependent child.”
Details about this payment can be found on https://www.irs.gov, he said, for most people the will receive their payment automatically if they have filed taxes within the last couple of years or if they receive a Social Security check.
Gianforte said that payment will go directly into one’s banking account and the payment is not taxable.
“Secondly, for small business, we enacted a program called the Payroll Protection Program, this is a Small Business Administration loan that has been re-appropriated that’s available through your local banks,” Gianforte said, “and it provides for two-and-a-half times your monthly payroll in the form of a loan that is forgivable then it is to grant if you use the money to retain your existing employees and you use for approved purposes. You can use it for payroll, then, if it is associated with that payroll, rent, interest on your mortgage and utilities.”
People interested in the Payroll Protection Program need to talk to their local banker, he said.
The CARES Act also expanded unemployment benefits, he said, to people who are not “traditionally” eligible and increased the payments in addition to the standard rate received from the unemployment payments, of an extra $600 a week through the end of June.
“The other significant portion of this CARES legislation was the flexibility that we gave the banks to modify the terms of existing loans and mortgages. Typically, if a bank changes the terms of a loan, that is they get forbearance on payments or something else, the bank has to reclassify that loan as a ‘troubled loan,’” Gianforte said. “We give banks the ability to provide up to a three-month payment holiday, that is you don’t make any payments for three months, they’re not forgiven. Those payments can either be added to the end of the loan or amortized into the remaining payments.”
He said this is a way to pump out $200 billion dollars into the economy, but this will not happen automatically as people need to ask their bank for it.
He added that the CARES Act also allows businesses to defer payroll taxes through the end of the year. Those taxes have to be paid back, but two years is available to do so.
“In the CARES Act, you can carry losses in your business backward to 2019 or 2018, refile your taxes and get a refund. For those of you in retail, we also fixed the Qualified Income Trust issue that was created in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, to provide you for accelerated appreciation that’s in your retail facilities,” he said. “The goal of all this is to encourage businesses retain their employees during this period. While we have necessarily had to put our finger on the pause button on the economy and when we get through the virus and we will, these programs are designed to help small businesses across the country, in Havre, across all of Montana open their doors back up, get back to somewhat of normalcy, so we can go back to more of a normal life.”