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Additional COVID-19 aid funding passes Senate


Last updated 4/22/2020 at 11:42am

Both Montana U.S. senators praised the Senate’s passage of expanded aid for impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday.

The bill, originally intended to provide additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program that provides funds to small businesses so they can continue to issue paychecks, has been stalled for more than a week while Republicans and Democrats negotiated on adding additional funding to the bill.

Sen. Steve Daines R-Mont., said in a telephonic press conference Tuesday The Paycheck Protection Program package included over $480 billion in relief. The package is targeted in some key areas such as testing, hospitals and health care providers, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and small businesses.

He said the package includes $25 billion for testing and the state of Montana will receive $16 million of that to “develop, purchase, administer, process, and analyze COVID-19 tests, scale-up laboratory capacity, trace contacts and support employer testing.”

Daines said as Montana goes forward in re-opening, an important part of this will include more widespread testing.

He said the Paycheck Protection Program also includes $310 to replenish the Payment Protection Program.

It also includes $60 billion for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan which now allows agriculture businesses to apply for.

“I’m pleased that I have been fighting on behalf of our ag businesses and our ag businesses are now eligible to apply for funding under this provision,” Daines said.

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“In Montana, the good news is the spread of the virus and the transmission is slowing. It is time to get a safely re-opening Montana again, we can prioritize our public health, our workers, our families, our small businesses and I’ll be working on this as part of President Trump’s task force to safely re-open America,” he added.

Senate President Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, first introduced the bill to add $25 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, which was rapidly depleted as businesses swarmed to apply for it.

Democrats kept blocking the bill, saying more needed to be included.

Republicans, including Daines, kept bashing the Democrats for blocking its passage, saying the bill needed to be passed immediately.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., issued a release Tuesday after the bill passed.

“I’m supporting this bipartisan bill to get more resources to our small businesses and our brave nurses and doctors on the front lines protecting our communities,” Tester said in the release. “We need to slow the spread of the virus while assisting the main street businesses that are the backbone of our economy. I’ll be holding the federal government accountable to ensure the resources we’ve provided today get swiftly to the folks that need them, and working to fix eligibility issues so more Montana small businesses can actually use the programs we’ve created for them.” 

Tester’s release said the bipartisan negotiations on the bill added much more than McConnell’s original $250 million proposal contained, including:

• $370 billion for small-business relief, including $310 billion — rather than the original $250 million — for the Paycheck Protection Program, $50 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program through the Small Business Administration and $10 billion for the SBA’s Emergency Economic Injury Grant Program.

— It also creates a $60 billion set-aside for credit unions and community financial institutions for the Paycheck Protection Program, including $30 billion for entities focused or rural areas like community development financial institutions and the smallest community banks and credit unions.

• $75 billion for hospitals and other providers.

• $25 billion to establish a COVID-19 testing and contact tracing program.

— Including $825 million for community health centers and rural health clinics.

— Including $750 million for tribes, tribal organizations and urban Indian health organizations in coordination with IHS.

In a live Facebook event Tuesday morning before the bill passed, Tester said funding the Paycheck Protection Program is crucial.

“It’s time, quite frankly, to throw some more dollars into it because it’s important for the small businesses that have had shut down and just as important for the employees of small businesses that aren’t able to work to be able to get some dollars, so when those businesses open up again they are able to have a workforce sitting there, to be able to move forward in any way that makes sense for them and over long haul,” Tester said. “... I think we’ll come out of this stronger than we have ever have been before that’s been typically been the case for this country, but the truth is we all need to work together to do it and the federal needs to do their part, Congress needs to pass this Paycheck Protection Program to push initial dollars into it.”

Daines said during his press conference that he believes Trump is taking the right approach to re-opening the country.

“The two things I think he is doing exactly right is, No. 1, he has composed a phased in, a three-phase kind of approach to safely re-open America and, No. 2 is he’s allowing the governors to make that decision,” Daines said. “We recognize here in Montana that we are not New York, thankfully, and we are prepared for the worst, and the worst hasn’t happened and now using science and the data it’ll be time to safely open Montana.”

He said an important place to moving forward is getting the medical workers back to work and helping Montanans.

“I think there is a real concern about the possible second wave that could be coming in the fall,” he added. “If you look at the history of the Spanish Flu, the 1918 pandemic, it was the second wave that was more deadly than the first wave, and that’s why I’ve been putting a lot of my time in getting these vaccines, drugs and therapeutics to the market faster, because we need immunity and immunity is the way we will keep everybody safe. And you get immunity either by resolving the disease or by having a vaccine or what these other drugs are called, antibodies, that could bring immunity.”

Daines said in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security — CARES — Act that passed Congress  in March and was signed into law, he got $10 billion allocated for biomedical, advanced research and development from the federal government.

He added that one “huge problem” the pandemic has exposed is that the United States has too much dependence on China for manufacture of drugs and personal protective equipment.

“It is time to move the manufacturing of these critical materials back to the United States,” Daines said.


Havre Daily News Managing Editor Tim Leeds contributed to this report.


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