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Kuster Says New Economic Relief Bill Will Be Lifeline for Some Small Businesses

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

President Donald Trump signed a bill Friday that provides $484 billion in relief to employers and states facing hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill received broad support in both the House and Senate. NHPR's Peter Biello spoke earlier today with U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, who explained why she decided to support this new legislation.

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(Below is a transcript of the interview with Congresswoman Kuster)

Well, I think I was hearing from so many people, small businesses around the state that really wanted to be a part of the paycheck protection program from the Small Business Administration that has been very successful in New Hampshire, we've approved over 11,000 loans. And it'll be worth $2 billion in economic stimulus here in New Hampshire. So I heard from people who had not yet been approved in the program. The funds had run out. And so it was time to replenish that program. We passed $310 billion in additional funding, plus $30 billion reserved for community based lenders, small banks and credit unions. So that will go to some of the North Country businesses that have work with smaller banks or are smaller businesses and hadn't been included in the first rule.

The first round ran out pretty quickly. How long do you expect this new round to last?

Well, it'll be interesting to see at what point there are sufficient opportunities for loans out there or whether we will have to replenish the program again. I don't know the answer to that yet.

Some lawmakers have reportedly called this new almost half a trillion dollar relief bill an interim measure. Would you describe it that way?

Well, I know that there are other issues that we have not yet addressed. What the Senate refused to include was reimbursement for state and local expenses. We know that the frontline workers, firefighters, police, even teachers are paid at the local level. And I'm very concerned, talking to our town managers and our city officials around the state, that we run the risk of difficult financial circumstances for our cities and towns as some people are unable to pay their taxes and as expenses go up. Responding to COVID-19. So in the next package, I remain very hopeful that we will have reimbursement to states and local municipalities for the expenses that they've incurred in responding to the coronavirus.

The House voted yesterday to establish a new panel with broad authority to oversee the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. This was approved, I believe, mostly along party lines. Were you among those who supported it? And if so, why?

Absolutely. These are very precious tax dollars. And you've pointed out it's real money. When you get into the trillions of dollars, I want to make sure that this administration uses these funds appropriately as intended by Congress and that there is no fraud or waste. I'm particularly concerned about the possibility of self gain to make sure that no one in the administration, including the first family, is gaining from these tax dollars.

And to what extent are you concerned about the massive budget deficits and the resulting mounting national debt that this kind of spending is going to contribute to?

I'm always very frugal when it comes to tax dollars, but I have been advised by the economists that at this point, making sure that we do not have a precipitous economic decline is far more important. Fortunately for us, the interest rates are extremely low right now. And I anticipate that if we get this right, if we do this correctly, respond to the virus with the plan that we identify the cases, isolate the cases and monitor very closely, that we will have a full economic recovery.

With respect to reopening the economy. What conditions do you think you would want to see before you would want the economy to reopen?

Well, I'm going to be rolling out a plan that we call a roadmap to recovery that will spell out precisely how you go about this, through the advice of public health officials and epidemiologists. You have to identify every single positive case and isolate the cases that are positive, as well as monitor very carefully any person that came in contact with someone that had a positive case and then isolate those people. And at the same time, you need to make sure to monitor very, very closely as we get down to fewer and fewer cases, you want to know where in the state there's an outbreak of cases and so that you can respond accordingly. And as we isolate this very infectious virus, the rest of us will be able to go about our lives. And our economy will bounce back.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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