WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), member of the Small Business Committee, joined WDEL’s Peter MacArthur to discuss his efforts to get more COVID-19 relief to Delaware small businesses. Senator Coons highlighted his proposed legislation  to specifically direct aid to small businesses and nonprofits severely affected by the pandemic with Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Senator Coons also discussed yesterday’soversight hearing on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) with Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, and Jovita Carranza, Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA).

“There's more than $100 billion in unspent PPP funds, so I'm introducing a bill with Senators Cardin and Shaheen that would allow the smallest businesses that have the biggest loss in revenue to apply for a second round of PPP loans,” said Senator Coons. “My concern is that just as our economy is starting to reopen, some of the businesses – particularly restaurants and hotels and others hardest hit by this pandemic – will be running out of these critical loans that become grants if they spend them on rehiring people, so the Prioritized Paycheck Protection Program (P4) would allow small companies that have taken a really hard hit to apply for, get, and use a second PPP loan.”

The upcoming legislation, referred to as the P4 Act, would:

  • provide eligible small businesses with as much as 250 percent of monthly payroll costs worth up to $2 million; and
  • allow P4 recipients to apply for forgiveness of their loans 8 weeks after the loans have been disbursed.

Full audio is available here. A transcript is provided below.

Q: Well as more businesses begin to reopen in Delaware, some need more help than others. Senator Chris Coons joining us this morning to talk about some legislation, Senator, that you have on the table to help those businesses that have been hardest hit by COVID-19.

Sen. Coons: Yesterday, we had an oversight hearing with the Small Business Administration about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It's already distributed hundreds of billions of dollars to small companies and nonprofits all over the country and in Delaware. But in many cases, they're running out of those funds, and we already have appropriated funds that haven't yet been spent. There's more than $100 billion in unspent PPP funds, so I'm introducing a bill with Senators Cardin and Shaheen that would allow the smallest businesses that have the biggest loss in revenue to apply for a second round of PPP loans. My concern is that just as our economy is starting to reopen, some of the businesses – particularly restaurants and hotels and others hardest hit by this pandemic – will be running out of these critical loans that become grants if they spend them on rehiring people, so the Prioritized Paycheck Protection Program would allow small companies that have taken a really hard hit to apply for, get, and use a second PPP loan.

Q: Well, Senator, I think what a lot of people would characterize as a lack of guidance during that first round really left a mark; especially in small states like Delaware, in rural areas and such. Maybe this corrects some of that?

Sen. Coons: Well, Peter, I’ve been actively, aggressively engaged with the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department on guidance. They did push out the door a record amount of loans in a small amount of time, but the guidance wasn't as clear as it needed to be. To a lot of small businesses in Delaware I've heard from, it seemed to them that the rules kept shifting; that it wasn't clear. We recently extended the repayment period for these loans. And one of the things I talked to the Secretary Mnuchin about yesterday — as did other members of the committee — was making the application to finalize the loan to grant process clearer, cleaner, swifter.

Q: You know what's interesting is talking with one of the CBS News business analysts that we do on a weekly basis earlier this week, Senator, that the PPP is really in parts, responsible for some of the job gains we saw. A problem there is, this is money that's going to run out, and the other problem is, could it slow down the fact that there was that job growth, further talk and progress on this second round of aid? 

Sen. Coons: Well, Peter, one of the things I've really been surprised by this week here in Washington is the lack of a sense of urgency on the part of some of my colleagues. Majority Leader McConnell doesn't seem interested at all in negotiating the next round of loans to keep businesses going; to keep businesses rehiring. Part of what’s made this PPP program, Peter, so important was that it’s a loan that can become a grant if you spend three-quarters of it on payroll; on re-hiring people. As I said, it's starting to run out in terms of the initial period, so anyone who's listening who works for a nonprofit or who has a small business, we have extended the period of that first round of PPP loans to grants. There is a longer period to use them; a much longer period to repay them, if they don't become a grant, and we are working hard on making that guidance clearer because that is what’s putting a floor behind what growth there is underneath what growth there is in our economy.

Q: Let's talk a couple of minutes about police reforms. Let me ask you this; when you hear the terminology, “defund the police,” what does that mean to you? Are there elements of that that need to be addressed, do you think? Or what path do we take moving forward?

Sen. Coons: Well, Peter, I listened to a group of advocates and activists from Delaware on this question yesterday. I don't support closing police departments, eliminating police departments. And I don't think responsible folks are advocating for that. What they're really talking about is increasing the funding for critically-needed community services. For example, we rely too much on police and prisons to take care of mental health challenges, behavioral health challenges, to work with our homeless population. There are better ways we could spend money on social work, on engagement, on housing. Reduce the burden on police and policing, and provide appropriate alternative means of support for people in our community who are suffering from mental illness, who have behavioral health challenges or addiction, or who are out of housing at the moment. All of those are challenges that at the moment fall fairly heavily on police departments and that’s in large part because we don't invest enough in human services and social services. 

Q: What about direct dialogue on race with police officers within their departments, and backing on that financially somehow? Does that make sense? 

Sen. Coons: I’m sorry. Could you repeat your question?

Q: Should there be more dialogue within departments, from leadership on down, about issues of race within police departments?

Sen. Coons: Yes, there should. Part of the bill that I've co-sponsored would require training in every department to make sure that folks are having conversations within the department and with the community. One of the things that I think made a difference in the New Castle County police when I was in county government was engagement with different faith community, engagement with different activists and community leaders. All departments need to be doing that sort of active, proactive, positive outreach.

Q: Very good. Senator Chris Coons joins us here on Delaware Morning News. We'll talk again soon, Senator. Thanks very much.

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