Congressman Chris Pappas On COVID-19 And Black Lives Matter Protests | New Hampshire Public Radio

Congressman Chris Pappas On COVID-19 And Black Lives Matter Protests

Jun 3, 2020

Credit ALLEGRA BOVERMAN FOR NHPR

We sit down with Congressman Chris Pappas, a Democrat representing the state's 1st District. We catch up on the congressional response to the coronavirus pandemic, in terms of public health and the economy, and hear his response to the racial injustice protests here in New Hampshire.

Air date: Thursday, June 4, 2020. 

GUESTS:

  • Congressman Chris Pappas - Pappas was elected in 2018. He is a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. 

Transcript

  This is a computer generated transcript and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy, and this is The Exchange. New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas is with us today, a Democrat representing the state's 1st District. He's a former executive councilor from Manchester, where he also managed his family's restaurant and catering business. Now, like every member of Congress, he's knee-deep in coronavirus response, efforts to bolster small businesses, health care, and his district's cities and towns. And he's been talking with activists and police here in New Hampshire about the protest movement that has spread across the country in response to the recent deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. This hour, we'll talk about all that and more. And Congressman Pappas joins us from his home office in Manchester. Congressman Pappas, welcome back. It's great to have you.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Good morning, Laura. It's nice to be with you as well.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I'd like to start, Congressman, with this past week of demonstrations around the country, around the globe, really related to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police. And I know you've been talking to constituents in your district about this. Congressman, what are you hearing first from protest organizers?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, this is a deeply disturbing incident, and I think it strikes to the core of every American who has seen that videotape, the eight minutes and 46 seconds that that police officer had his knee on the neck of George Floyd and murdered him. He's been charged. Other officers have been charged, and they need to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. There is no room in the United States for that type of injustice. But unfortunately, what I've been hearing from protesters and what I know is that there are injustices committed each and every day against members of the black community in this country. And we cannot lose this moment as an opportunity to have a bigger conversation about where we need to go as a country, engaging different aspects of our community, including law enforcement, in a constructive conversation that can lead to fundamental change. That's what these organizers are looking for. I've had the opportunity to connect with the young organizers who put together the march and vigil in Manchester, peaceful protests that drew hundreds of community members together, people from diverse backgrounds. And at their young age, they're really focused on not only how can we get out our message and show that this is a grave injustice that's been committed. But what are the next steps we can take to get to that point where we're actually changing policies and ultimately changing the face of justice in America? And I think that's really forward thinking. And I support them. And I think we have to do all we can to lift up their voices and continue to listen, learn and understand.

Laura Knoy:
Well, in a statement you released on the protests, you said, reflecting kind of what you just said, Congressman, quote, This is a time for us to listen, learn and understand the experiences of our fellow Americans and seek constructive change. And I'd like to dig into what you mean by constructive change, because we have heard from Granite Staters this week who are worried that this moment is going to pass, that without constructive change, as you said. What can you do in your role, Congressman, to ensure that doesn't happen? What are some of the specific changes that you can help promote?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, what I told Ronelle and Tyrell and Elijah and others that I've spoken with that have been involved in organizing these protests is that I want to continue to hear from them, to understand their experiences and work with them on changes that we can make at all levels of government. And I think there are things we can do in Washington. I know there are resolutions being proposed. There are law changes. I know, for instance, Hakeem Jeffries has a bill in. That would outlaw chokeholds on a national basis. I think that is a worthy bill to take up immediately. But there are things that we need to do at the local level as well. You know, I know our law enforcement here has been engaging in de-escalation training and making sure that we're working to understand what implicit bias is all about and how to serve communities of color. And I think we've got to make sure that level of training happens across the board. So this really is going to take engagement over a period of time. And I think, you know, folks are right to fear that this moment might slip away and slip out of the headlines, as it has so many times in the past. But what I've been telling these young people is, you know, you can keep this out front and center and that we want to help, you know, channel the passion and peaceful protests that exists out there in the right direction. So I'm hoping we can continue to engage and, you know, make sure we bring together all aspects of our community, you know, in an ongoing conversation that's got to happen.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and speaking of the the resolution from Congressman Jeffries that you mentioned, we got a question from a listener, Arianna, who says, Do you support Congresswoman Pressley's resolution condemning police brutality? Arianna also says, what should Congress do to address the issue of police brutality in this country? So two questions there from Arianna. The first one is the easier one. Do you support this resolution from Congresswoman Pressley?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Yes, I do support that resolution on police brutality. And I think we've seen a number of colleagues sign onto it. I've been receiving calls and texts and e-mails about it. So I think this shows that, you know, folks are speaking out and are reaching their elected officials in a way that we can make a statement. But beyond, you know, a resolution, which doesn't necessarily have the force of law, we need to look at policies. And so one that I did mention was a bill from Hakeem Jeffries to outlaw chokeholds. I think that's got to be part of a bigger package of reforms that we can push forward. And so I think we need to put all ideas on the table. And, you know, I've heard the words of the local police chief here in Manchester this week who said that no one hates a bad cop as much as a good cop. And we have lots of good cops and upstanding members of law enforcement in our state. And they certainly need to have a seat at the table as we move forward. I think it's tremendous the ways in which law enforcement have been engaging with protesters here and across the country, have been taking a knee when asked, have been listening, have been working hard to protect those who are safely protesting. So they are part of the solution.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and we do talk with a lot of police on our show, too. And we've heard from some who do worry such actions can wrongly tarnish everybody on the force. And I appreciate what you said. You know, nobody dislikes a bad cop more than a good cop. So what can you do in your role as a member of Congress? Again, recognizing police are, you know, largely funded and controlled locally, but as a member of Congress, Congressman Pappas, what can you do to support so-called good cops?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think we need to look at ways in which we can identify those who, you know, are violating their oaths and ensure that there is accountability. And so whether it's, you know, creating, you know, local commissions to make sure that, you know, that cops are held accountable, you know, I think that's appropriate. And we've seen that implemented successfully in parts of the country. You know, at the federal level, you know, there is funding that goes to law enforcement. And so when you do have funding, you know, you can work to make sure that that goes into the right place. There's a big conversation that's going to happen about surplus military equipment going to state and local law enforcement. You know, some have decried the militarization of policing in this country. And so I think that's going to be a very robust conversation that happens in Congress moving forward.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, that's very interesting. And I remember when that first started happening, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shifted, there was a movement of surplus military equipment to cities and towns. I remember talking about the debates over so-called bear cats a bunch of years ago and so forth. So are you saying, Congressman, that the federal government, including you, needs to kind of look at this trend and see if it is actually hurting, not helping?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
That is one thing that is going to be on the table, part of conversation, I think it's appropriate for us to look into that.

Laura Knoy:
Interesting. You also mentioned training for police officers and we've talked a lot recently about implicit bias training and so forth. Is there a role for Congress to fund that training, which I'm guessing, you know, cities and towns being strapped may not have the money to pay for such trainings?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think that's something we should take a look at, especially in this era where we're going to see state and local budgets severely disrupted by loss of revenue due to COVID-19 and the economic crisis. We've got to make sure that, you know, critical services can move forward. I know I've visited and spoken with folks who head up our police standards and training in New Hampshire. They do a tremendous job. But, you know, we have to make sure that training continues to evolve and is there and we want to provide the financial support, if needed for that. But I think absolutely in every part of the country, making sure that there is ongoing implicit bias training and de-escalation training is really crucial to making sure that our law enforcement is focused on community policing and understanding how to make sure they're doing their job appropriately.

Laura Knoy:
I want to ask you a couple more questions about this, Congressman, but also invite listeners to join us. And we're talking this hour with Congressman Chris Pappas, a Democrat from the 1st District. And it's a great opportunity for you, Exchange listeners, to talk with a member of Congress from New Hampshire about how you're feeling about all that's going on these days from the protests to pandemic response and so forth. Here's an e-mail from Todd, Congressman, who says tear gas is a chemical weapon banned in warfare. Would you support legislation that bans its use in the U.S.? Todd, thank you very much. And that's the salient topic given these protests, Congressman.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I'd consider that. I think that, you know, absolutely we need to make sure that we keep people safe, including those who are peacefully protesting right now. And I've been deeply concerned with some of the scenes we've witnessed across the country where peaceful protests have been disrupted with tools like tear gas. You know, concerned about what we saw happen in front of the White House, where a peaceful crowd of protesters was cleared out for a photo op for the president of the United States. So we've got to make sure whatever we do moving forward, that we are living up to our constitutional ideals, including the right for peaceful assembly. And it's important that we hear these protesters and make sure that they can safely communicate their message and not be disrupted.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we've heard from a lot of people who were upset about what happened at the White House. And an email from Jeff says, First comes mutual respect. Only after that comes justice and then peace. Every living president has condemned the actions of the current sitting president, a truly historical event, Jeff says. Congressman, what about your fellow members of Congress? I've already read statements from you that you're upset with President Trump. But what about your fellow members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats? How are all of you sort of talking about this moment?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think we're all doing our part to listen. But what we're seeing is a national conversation, really. This isn't isolated just to Minneapolis or certain pockets of the country. This is galvanizing communities of color and allies all across our nation. So what I've been hearing from my colleagues is that they're seeing the same thing in their districts, largely peaceful protests. We have seen, you know, acts of violence committed and there's absolutely no place for that. And if you talk to the protest organizers, you'll know that they're doing everything they can to make sure that no one engages in those types of activities, because ultimately that takes away from the very powerful message that they have to communicate. So, you know, my colleagues are seeing the same thing in their districts and it's been a largely uplifting conversation and I hope it continues to be. But we do also have to make sure that public safety is there and that, you know, our communities are safe from some of the violence that has erupted in some of our larger cities.

Laura Knoy:
Have you been able to attend, Congressman, or do you plan on attending any of the protests or vigils happening in New Hampshire?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I'd be happy to attend. And you know what I said to the protesters when I reached out to the organizers was that this was their event. And certainly I didn't want to, you know, upstage or take anything away from their message. I really feel that in my position right now. I do want to make sure I have an open mind and that I'm listening. Ultimately, I need to try to put myself in the shoes of these young black and brown activists who are speaking out. They have a different experience than I do. Even growing up in the same city of Manchester. And so I really want to hear that right now, work to fully appreciate it and hope to help creating a broader conversation.

Laura Knoy:
Here's a Facebook message from Tom who says, I have come to the conclusion that we no longer have a democratic form of government. When two men, the president and Mitch McConnell, control any and all policy issues that get put forth, Congress seems to have no role or voice anymore in our value and policy decisions. What does Representative Pappas think? That's a really interesting comment, Tom. Thank you. And it does get to sort of how our government is set up and when people can put things forward and when they can block it. How much role or voice do you feel you have these days, Congressman Pappas?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, that is a big conversation. You know, it gets to our founding and our system wasn't set up for swift, easy change. You do have with a bicameral legislature where we have power shared between two political parties and an executive branch. It is hard to make sure that we can have all the pieces in place to move legislation through. And, you know, unfortunately, we've seen in the Senate Majority Leader McConnell blocking bill after bill after bill that has been passed on a bipartisan basis through the House over the last year and a half. There are hundreds of bills sitting on his desk. So I find that incredibly frustrating. But I also know that there's an election around the corner. And if folks don't like the direction that the Senate is going in and support some of the measures that we've been passing, say on background checks or the DREAM Act or an increase in the minimum wage, then there's an opportunity to change who's in power. But look, at the end of the day, we've got especially in this moment of national crisis when we're talking about, you know, inequities that have existed for centuries. And it's about time we address them. We've got to find our sense of common purpose. And I think these protesters are demanding it. The health crisis that we're going through demands it. We've seen, you know, four major bills addressing COVID-19 pass on a broad bipartisan basis. That's ultimately how the system should work to address major issues like this. And I hope we can find that footing and rise above the traditional political posture when it comes to racial justice in some of the other things that are on our agenda moving forward.

Laura Knoy:
How much is the situation that Tom describes just a function of divided government? The president's Republican, the Senate is Republican held, the House is Democratic held, and that's just the way it goes?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
We've seen that happen in New Hampshire. And we don't see the same type of division. The parties aren't as entrenched. And I think it's because our elected officials are friendly with one another. They're more proximate to each other and each other's experiences. And there's no substitute for that. We've got to really work to overcome the differences that exist and see each other, not, as, you know, enemies in political battle, but as fellow Americans who are working to move in the same direction there. I find there are places in Congress where you can do that a lot more easily than others. I happen to serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and that's a space where there does seem to be a pervasive sense that we're all Americans and we're all in this together. And I hope on the major issues of the day, we can find that footing.

Laura Knoy:
Here's another e-mail that asks specifically what you can do again about this issue of police brutality. Gilles writes, The legal principle of qualified immunity shields police from liability when they engage in misconduct and violate citizens' constitutional rights. Gilles says there are bills being proposed right now in Congress that would repeal this principle. Will you support those repeal efforts? Gilles, thank you for writing in.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I'm not familiar with the legislation, but I would absolutely take a look at that and make sure that we're talking with stakeholders, with folks who have been vocal on these issues and understand the ins and outs of the law better than I do. So I'd be happy to have that conversation about legislation that's pending. And I think this is a moment in time where we do need to put everything on the table and evaluate what's going to make a difference and ultimately stop the killing of black and brown people at the hands of bad police officers.

Laura Knoy:
How concerned are you, Congressman, that these mass gatherings are happening at a time when people are asking, you know, whether they should not go because of social distancing and COVID-19? I mean, this virus has not gone away by any stretch.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Laura, I think that's an important point. And if you talk with public health experts, they will say that it's not appropriate for folks to be gathering close together in large numbers right now. We all have to be doing our part to social distance, to be wearing our masks when we're in public, or we're gonna see this virus stage a pretty serious resurgence of this summer or even into the fall. So it does give me great concern. You know, I'm thankful that when I see, for instance, photos of the vigil that was held in Manchester, you know, we saw most people wearing masks and staying far apart from one another. But look, we've got to make sure that we are lowering as much as possible the risk that exists to individuals out there. We've all made tremendous sacrifices the last few months. And what we can't afford to have happen is to be right back where we started at the beginning of this pandemic. So we've got to do all we can to do our own part. We all have personal responsibility to bring to bear to make sure that we're stopping the spread of this virus.

Laura Knoy:
Well, after a short break, Congressman, we'll pivot to talking about the coronavirus and Congress's response. There is a lot to cover there. We're covering it all with Congressman Chris Pappas today. Keep it right here. We'll be right back.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Our guest today is New Hampshire 1st District Congressman Chris Pappas. He's a Democrat from Manchester. We're talking about congressional action on the coronavirus pandemic and about the protest movement in response to the deaths of black Americans at the hands of police. And Congressman, as you well know, we recently passed the 100,000 mark in terms of COVID-19 deaths, a devastating loss. And we've talked a ton on this show about the mistakes, unpreparedness that marked the early phases, lack of equipment, lack of planning and so forth. I'd like you to look forward, though, Congressman. What's your number one focus as a member of Congress to help the people of your district move forward in this struggle?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, that's a great question. This is an all encompassing crisis, and this is first and foremost a public health crisis that has spawned a really deep and severe economic crisis. We've got to beat the health crisis first, though, if we can safely hope to get our economy back up on its feet. You know, many talk about a vaccine that's just over the horizon. And while there's promising research that is happening, we can't put all our eggs in that basket. So we've got to do all we can to make sure that testing continues to ramp up and that individuals are following our public health officials' lead, making sure that handwashing and mask wearing is happening across the board. So I think the testing continues to be something that we need to see more of. What's been so tragic here in New Hampshire is the way in which this virus has taken hold in our nursing homes and long term care facilities. Most of the deaths that we're seeing are coming from those facilities. And so that speaks to not just the need to test once, but to test on a very regular basis to make sure that our workers and their families are safe, that those residents that might be in vulnerable categories are also protected. That takes a lot of resources. And I think we're just getting to the point where we have that capacity, the state has expanded its mobile testing teams, as well as testing sites around the state. We have more labs that are able to do the actual lab work. So that's all moving in the right direction. But it was a long time coming. It took a few months to get to this point. And unfortunately, many Americans' lives were lost as a result. When it comes to the economic piece of this, we've got to make sure we're doing all we can to support the record number of individuals that are out of work right now. You know, we saw I think the unemployment rate in April was around 17 percent, but it's probably much higher because there are a number of individuals that just dropped out of the workforce altogether. And we're seeing our small businesses under tremendous pressure right now. There have been significant programs that have been developed for small businesses, including the paycheck protection program. And it was really great to see the Senate pass the bipartisan bill that we passed in the House last week, which would extend the terms of the paycheck protection program for these local businesses, provide them with some more flexibility. That's important so that they can weather the storm, but also so that they can retain their workers. And it's really crucial that workers stay connected to their employers during this period. If we continue to see disruption on that front, it makes it a lot harder to put people back to work over time. So we've got to look to meet the strain that our families are facing right now. Early on in this pandemic, 40 percent of those who earn less than forty thousand dollars a year were unemployed. That number is even higher now. And so the economic pain that's being born right now is increasingly on the shoulders of those who live paycheck to paycheck.

Laura Knoy:
Well let's talk about some of those. There's so much there. And just breaking it down. You know, you mentioned the health piece. We've got to get that under control first. But you also mentioned the economic piece. And it definitely when I ask you about that paycheck protection plan. But to the nursing homes first, Congressman, since you mentioned that first and you're right, nursing homes have been hit hard. Everybody knows that. As of Monday, the state has now tested all of New Hampshire's nursing homes. I heard something very interesting from our own Jason Moon here at NHPR last week. He was talking about the taking down of some of the emergency tents. You know, the overflow COVID units at hospitals. And he said something that I thought was so important. It's almost like we in New Hampshire prepared for the wrong crisis. We were looking at Italy. We were looking at Spain. We were looking at the hospital crisis and the overflowing, you know, that we saw in those countries, we were less prepared for a nursing home crisis. And in fact, that is indeed what we have seen. I thought that was a really profound point. And I wonder what you think about that, Congressman Pappas?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think there is a lot to learn about what's transpired the last couple of months, and also there's still information we need to know about this virus, how it's spread. You know, what does it mean if you have immunity and we'll find some of that out over time. But I think clearly, you know, New Hampshire is in a different category than, say, New York or even the Boston area because of the density that exists. But in spaces where folks are in close proximity to one another and you do have individuals who are in these vulnerable groups, you know, that's where, you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit New Hampshire the hardest. So it's very clear that as we move forward, we've got to focus on those vulnerable groups and we've got to make sure that these facilities have testing on a regular basis. It's good that we've now tested everyone in our nursing homes, but we've got to keep doing it and I think on a weekly basis to make sure that residents and workers alike are protected.

Laura Knoy:
Well, a friend of one of my son's works at a nursing home. He said he's being tested at the beginning of every week. He gets a coronavirus test and he's not even working directly with patients. He's at the front desk. Talk to me a little bit more, Congressman, please, about the paycheck protection program. This was a big deal when it rolled out, you know, at the beginning of the pandemic. But now it's been criticized as unrealistic. Companies have complained that in order for their loans to be forgiven, they have to hire everybody back that they employed within a certain timeframe. I know you've heard from employers that this doesn't make sense. You know, put yourself in the shoes of a restaurant owner. You're told now you can open at half capacity, but, oh, by the way, you have to bring back all your employers. It just doesn't make sense. How has that program been changed, Congressman, or has it been changed?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, it has been changed. And we need to continue to have clarity on some of the rules around the paycheck protection program for businesses, but also this supplemental legislation that now has passed the House and Senate and hopefully will be signed by the president will provide that longer term flexibility that businesses need. Look, this was a brand new program that was created as part of the CARES Act. And so it did take several weeks to get this off the ground. And I think it's been successful in New Hampshire, in part because our lending community has gone the extra mile, our banks and credit unions, to understand the rules that Treasury was putting out around the paycheck protection program and how to connect their customers to the opportunity. These are low interest loans and you can have them forgiven if you maintain payroll after a certain period of time. Initially, that window was eight weeks. With the new bill, it will be 24 weeks. And that's important because we know it's going to take longer than eight weeks, say, to the end of June for businesses to be back where they need to be. So when this was first passed, I think there was a lack of clarity and understanding around the economic impact of this pandemic and how long moving forward our businesses would be in a state of suspended animation. Some of the positive notes on the paycheck protection program are that the forgiveness of the loan can be pro-rated. And with this additional bill, there's more flexibility in the proportion that can be spent on payroll and other costs, like overhead utilities, rent and mortgage and those things that are really costly for local businesses. So no local business has a plan for this. None have an insurance policy that covers a pandemic. And, you know, very little have the cash cushion for it. Even in good times, our small businesses are day to day operations, but they are our major employers in New Hampshire. Ninety nine percent of our employers in our state are small Main Street businesses. And we've got to make sure we meet their diverse needs. And I'm hopeful with additional changes, we can do that through this program.

Laura Knoy:
Sure. Because again, I'm putting myself in the shoes of a store owner or a restaurant owner. And, you know, again, you can only invite half capacity that you used to have. And even if you could invite full capacity, a lot of people aren't ready to go shopping or out to a restaurant again.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
And part of what we're facing here, unlike past recessions where we could prime the pump and put money in people's pockets, you could get them to go out and spend and it would help mitigate the impacts and ripple effect that a recession can have across the economy. But right now, you know, while we do need to ensure that folks can meet their basic living expenses, rent and mortgage and the grocery bill. People aren't necessarily going to go back out. And that is appropriate given what we're all experiencing right now and the fact that we do have to do our part in social distancing and changing our behavior. So that has a really tough impact on our business community. And that's why these programs are important to make sure that they can weather the storm.

Laura Knoy:
You know, speaking of restaurants, you're the owner of the Puritan Backroom in Manchester, your family's restaurant and catering business. How was the Puritan been affected by all this, Congressman?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, they have, you know, unfortunately they had a bit of an issue, they had an electrical fire and had to close for some renovations for a few weeks, but they've been doing the curbside pick up, take out and it's been very orderly. Thankfully, they have a big parking lot so they can do it an orderly fashion. They haven't opened for the outside dining. Well, I'm not involved in the day to day of the business. You know, obviously, I've been talking with my family members, been by to pick up an order here and there and you know, they're doing the best they can with it. But, you know, they're concerned about making sure that their workers are protected, are masked up, are wearing gloves all the time, and that there's no contact with customers who are pulling in to pick up their orders. So all of our businesses are having to innovate and adapt to this new environment right now. That costs some money for the supplies that they need to do this. And, you know, our businesses are going to be suffering. That's why it's important that we look at additional loan programs and tax credits to help them make it through this tough time.

Laura Knoy:
So they're doing take out, not yet the outside dining. How has being a small business owner, Congressman, kind of affected your views and your votes at all this legislation that we've seen aimed at helping small businesses through the pandemic? You kind of have a unique view there.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
It gives you an understanding for the pressures that local businesses go through that even if there are a lot of people coming through the door, it's a struggle each and every day. And so, you know, I appreciate the diversity that exists in our small business community. We have a lot of hospitality businesses in New Hampshire that have been hurt. But there are other types of businesses that are feeling the crunch as well. I've been on Zoom calls, you know, several a week with hundreds of business leaders over the last couple of months talking with them about their experiences. And, you know, it's been instructive. And we've tried to take those stories and help inform our work in Washington. And I think the bill we passed last week, modifying the paycheck protection program, will strike the right tone for a number of these businesses that need additional help.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take a call, Congressmen. David's in Keene. Hi, David. Thanks for being with us today.

Caller:
Hi, you're welcome.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead, David.

Caller:
Well, I am very concerned at the whole seems to be a whole movement, but for some reason that seems to be kind of Republican oriented of people wanting to tired of accommodating this virus with social distancing. They're tired of wearing masks. They're tired of these things, even though the virus is still going on. And we really need to keep doing these things. But I'm kind of shocked that people are just saying, well, I've had enough of that. I'm going to pretend the virus doesn't exist. I saw a news photo of 500 people in a lake in Arkansas not wearing masks, all huddling together. And I wonder if Congress is doing anything to really be supportive of continuing to take the measures we need to avoid getting infected.

Laura Knoy:
David, I really appreciate the call. And is this a congressional responsibility, Congressman? It seems to me governors have been more at the forefront of this.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
David, I think that's an important question. I think as elected officials, we all should model good behavior and not seek to politicize those public health steps that we all need to take that are going to curb the spread of this virus. By wearing a mask, it's not necessarily for us that we're wearing the mask. It's for everyone else. And with what the CDC research has shown is that when two individuals close to one another are wearing a mask, it cuts the risk of infection down to the low single digits. And that's exactly why we should be doing that. So I really am concerned about the politics that seems to have come into this space. You know, the president is guilty of it and other leaders are guilty of it, too. I think we've got to make sure that we're vigilant right now. We can't let up on this or this virus is going to stage a really severe comeback. And we're going to lose more Americans lives as a result of it. So we do have a responsibility to model that good behavior. We also have a responsibility to make sure that entities like the CDC and the NIH are fully funded so that they are well equipped to continue their research and continue to put out, you know, information that Americans can use at this time to protect themselves and their families.

Laura Knoy:
So Congress can't, to get to David's specifics, Congress can't tell people wear a mask. Congress can model good behavior, as you said, Congressman Pappas. And give the proper funding to the proper agencies so that they can carry out their work in research and so forth. But in terms of the, you know, layers of responsibility, you can't really tell people wear a mask.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I think we're seeing different policies state by state on this front. And look, this virus isn't hitting the United States coast to coast in a uniform manner. And so it is appropriate to tailor restrictions and policies depending on where there are hot spots. But, you know, short of a national standard on mask wearing, the CDC has been clear that masks are recommended. And so I think it's appropriate that everyone is wearing a mask in public. On recent trips to Washington, it's now required for air travel by Southwest Airlines and other airlines that you wear a mask while in the airport and on the flight. And I think that is a really good step forward. I'd like to see that in other areas as well.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and here's an e-mail from Jan, who says, According to the CDC, about 35 percent of COVID-19 positive people are asymptomatic. Jan says, how can relaxing safety measures, travel, and getting back to normal ensure any degree of safety? Thank you, Jan, for the e-mail. I did want to ask you, Congressman, you know, as summer approaches, as people do get sick of dealing with this thing, and it's understandable, what concerns you the most?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think one of the initial concerns I had about this time period that we're in right now where restrictions are being relaxed is what does our testing capability look like. And we have expanded testing. We've got more ground to cover to make sure that the supplies will continue to be there. But we do want to make sure that Americans on a broad basis have access to testing. That's one way that we can identify this virus and help contain it and do the contact tracing that's appropriate when someone does get infected. But absolutely a great point. You know, I've seen statistics, you know, 40 even maybe 50 percent in some cases of individuals who have COVID-19 but are asymptomatic. And we know that the virus can be transmitted when you're pre symptomatic. And so that presents a much more significant challenge than many other viruses that we've seen become, you know, global pandemics in the past and why the testing component of this is so vigilant, but why there's no substitute for making sure that social distancing is maintained and mask wearing is done when folks are in public.

Laura Knoy:
Got a couple more questions from listeners for you, Congressman, that I will share with you after a short break. Another question about policing standards and a couple more questions about the economic stimulus bills that Congress has passed. So all that's coming up. Stay with us. This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. This hour, we're talking with New Hampshire 1st District Congressman Chris Pappas. He's a Democrat from Manchester. We've been reviewing the congressional response to the coronavirus pandemic and discussing the demonstrations happening across the country and in our state. And Congressman Pappas, we got a question for you before the show from a listener Cole who says, What can be done to help local governments handle the lost revenue they're facing due to the pandemic? And Cole, it's a great question. Thank you.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, this is something that we addressed in a bill called the Heroes Act that passed through the House about three weeks ago now. And I've been hearing from this from county commissioners, mayors, city and town officials, as well as state officials deeply concerned about lost revenue, because as this pandemic moves forward, we know that, you know, revenues from rooms and meals, taxes, even property taxes, will decrease during this pandemic. Business taxes certainly will be down. Those are some of the major ways that we fund government at the state, county and local level here in New Hampshire. So what we don't want to see in the middle of a pandemic is a disruption in critical services, police, fire, E.M.S. education, public health workers and services. That is so crucial moving forward. So the support that was provided in one of the first packages, the CARES Act that came to New Hampshire, one and a quarter billion dollars has been put to good use for response efforts. But those funds cannot be flexed to deal with the lost revenue situation that New Hampshire and our local governments are facing right now. That's why we want to make sure that in the next bipartisan compromise, we get significant support for our cities, towns, counties and states so that they can deal with this and not have to either make the tough choice of raising taxes or cutting vital services during this pandemic. We owe it to our first responders, to the frontline workers who are out there each and every day, to the teachers who, even though the building might be closed, are delivering education to our kids right now. That needs to all continue and move forward uninterrupted. And that's why significant resources need to be devoted to this. And the federal government is really the backstop for that.

Laura Knoy:
So that's the Heroes Bill, is that what you're talking about?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Yeah that's part of the Heroes Act. And, you know, Annie Kuster and I led a letter with every mayor, every county commission and lots of other local officials from across New Hampshire in a bipartisan basis who were calling for this. Mitch McConnell has made the statement that we should let states go bankrupt. Our governor and others have pushed back against that rightfully. And we've got to make sure that we're doing all we can to support vital services.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's been widely reported that Senate Republicans also oppose this Heroes Act, partly because it doesn't include liability protection for employers. The business community, as I'm sure you know, because you're a businessman is concerned about a potential spike in lawsuits as businesses and offices reopen. So what's your take on that? Is that a valid concern that should be included? Liability protection?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, we have to make sure that businesses are following the public health rules and regulations and that employees are protected. I think that's really vital, especially as employees are working close to one another, are interfacing with the public. They need the equipment that's necessary to stay safe on the job. But look, if all those metrics are being met, I think let's see what proposal is put out on the table. It shouldn't be something that goes beyond the time horizon of the immediate crisis that we're in right now. Some might see it as an opportunity to fundamentally change those liability laws. But, you know, I think I'd be interested to see what proposals would be out there on that front. I don't believe we've seen any legislation that's gotten down into the details. But I know this is a concern that our businesses are experiencing right now. But what's really important is that everyone is following those public health guidelines to try to keep people safe.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take another call, Congressman. This is Adam in Berlin. Hi, Adam. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi, thanks for taking my call. I just in the last month opened a restaurant on Main Street Berlin. The city has been amazing working with them. The code enforcement. City Hall has been so generous to give me a tax incentive to open because there's such a lack of businesses that are willing to take that chance in Berlin. With that said, I own this building. I put a lot of money into this. I've left a job with the federal government at the prison, and it just is so disheartening that all these different programs are out for supposedly for small businesses. And I haven't been able to partake of any of that because I just starte,d I opened in the midst of this pandemic. So I didn't have any employees beforehand. But I understand why that might be the case. But my issue is that we have New Hampshire banks that are unwilling to take risks. You know, wand I understand I'm a startup, but the building is paid for and capitalized. You know, there's there's there's capital, you know, to back up any small bridge loan that I'm looking to get. And it's just I don't know where to go from here. And it's really difficult because the city is supporting the people. The wonderful people of Berlin have been so, so great in their support but these banks, it's like all the outside influences that are supposedly community banks. You know, I thanks the service credit union, I spent with them for five years and they wouldn't even write up a loan, you know, like any any proposals whatsoever.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So, Adam. Yeah. And I'm going to jump in with the congressman. But tell me the name of your your restaurant. I'm struck by the fact that you opened a restaurant and pandemic. My goodness.

Caller:
Yeah, Exile Burritos, quick service. You know, Mexican restaurant, and it works with the pandemic and everything, it's takeout. So it's, you know, that's one of the reasons I step forward and then continue to go on with this plan that I've been working on for the last year. And I knew Berlin would support it. It's been a blessing, but at the same time, it's hard to get the funding that is needed to kind of move forward with finishing everything and making it, too.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. And I'm sorry to interrupt. I'm going to let you go just because I only have a couple more minutes with the congressman. But for you specifically I would call Congresswoman Kuster's office because you're in Congressional District two and she's your member of Congress. But for the general struggle, Congressman Pappas, I have heard from other small business people, independent people who only work for themselves, that, you know, these programs that Congress has set up, the unemployment insurance and the business support, are fine for the sort of standard, you know, Monday through Friday, you know,10 employees business. But there are a lot of different cases that these programs just don't seem to to cover effectively. I was just talking to a friend the other day who is in a similar position to you, Adam. What do you think, Congressman? It's tough. You make these parameters and then there's all these people that don't fit in the parameters, so they're not getting helped.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I appreciate what Adam's going through, and I can't imagine what it's like to try to get a new business off the ground at this tough time. I'll say this. My family's business opened up as the U.S. was entering World War One and right at the beginning of the Spanish flu pandemic. And somehow they made it through. So, you know, I wish you all the best. What we do have to make sure is that you get connected to support services that are out there. If you haven't reached out to the Small Business Development Center, they have been doing some great advocacy and work on behalf of local businesses, including startups that need assistance at this tough time. As I mentioned before, local lenders have generally been pretty good. So I'm sorry that you haven't had a good experience there, but I would encourage you to reach out to Annie Kuster's office or you can call my office at 285-4300. And we're happy to think a little bit about your specific case. I know one of the things that the state has been able to do with its funding that it received through the CARES Act is to set up a Main Street business fund of grants for four hundred million dollars for existing businesses. They do hope to be able to carve out some support for startups and new businesses as well. So I would check with the State Department of Business and Economic Affairs to see what might be available through that agency as well. So hopefully they can get some help your way. But we wish you all the best. And next time I'm up in Berlin, I'll have to stop by for a burrito.

Laura Knoy:
Well, yeah. Adam, hang in there, because I am always in the north country in the summer. So same here. Good luck to you. And I would definitely check out some of those resources that Congressman Pappas mentioned. We talked earlier about funding for communities, and that's something that you said, Congressman, you're pushing for given that communities have lost a lot of their tax revenue. Joel writes, Are there state and federal resources available to school districts that want to extend their current breakfast and lunch programs through July and August, given the current unemployment situation? Thank you so much for writing, Joel. And, Congressman, it has been heartening to see those school buses continuing to deliver meals to poor families, even though school is, you know, over in a lot of places. So can you answer Joel's question?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, then the nutrition and food aspects of this crisis are severe. You know, New Hampshire was a state already where one in 10 individuals experienced food insecurity at some point during the year. And we have seen a tremendous strain on our food pantries and our food bank. You know, they've been getting assistance from the National Guard to help ramp up their efforts. But it's critically important that as we get into the summer months, we make sure that students in particular are still connected to meals. You know, that has traditionally happened through local organizations, including the Boys and Girls clubs across our state, as well as our community action programs. So those resources will be out there. But I would look to some of the funding that's come through the CARES Act to New Hampshire to see if those dollars would be able to be used for that purpose. I think it's definitely something we have to consider as we move into the summer months. And we know that hunger is already such a severe problem.

Laura Knoy:
Gail sent us an e-mail. She says our church applied for and received the exact amount needed for salaries and related staff expenses, not including utilities, for eight weeks. Now that the PPP is extended, can we modify our application to cover more weeks? Oh, I bet that's a question a lot of people have. Congressman, you know, we all hoped it would be over in eight weeks and voila, here we are. So what about this question? Gail, thank you and good luck.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, thanks for the question, Gail. I've heard that concern. That's one of the reasons why we passed that Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act. As I said, the Senate passed it yesterday. We hope the president will sign it into law soon. And when he does, you should contact your local lender, because as part of that bill, you'll be able to negotiate, you know, longer terms if needed, up to 24 weeks.

Laura Knoy:
Here's an email from Matt that came in at the beginning of the show, Congressman. But I saved it for the end. You ready? Matt says I'm a social studies teacher in Durham and I teach civics. Being in your second year of your first term, what have you learned about working in D.C., working with others from different parts of the country, working with members of the other party as well as your own? And Matt I love the question. Thank you for writing in. And Congressman, go ahead.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I have developed some great working relationships with members across the aisle, especially through my committee work, where I find that the temperature is a lot lower. You know, the bright lights of the camera might not be shining on us. And we can have the types of conversations that are meaningful and constructive and can produce bipartisan legislation that can pass. So I've done that on the Veterans Committee. Also the Transportation Committee. Just yesterday we announced a big highway bill that's going to begin moving through the House and we'll have hearings and a markup of that over the next few weeks in our committee. So the commitment is really there from members on both sides of the aisle to try to get it right and to try to do the right thing. And there are some incredible people who serve. I think it's hard to see that sometimes through the national media anyway that focuses on conflict and division and the shiny objects that exist in politics. We've got to get back to basics as best we can. And I think the personal relationships you can develop help open those doors.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Congressman, we did not get to prescription drug prices or transportation funding and your work to make college affordable. We'll talk about that the next time. For now, thank you very much for being with us today. We sure appreciate it.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Thank you, Laura. And stay safe.

Laura Knoy:
That's New Hampshire First District Congressman Chris Pappas. He's a Democrat from Manchester. Thanks for being with us this morning. I'm Laura Knoy.