Sen. Maggie Hassan On Reopening Economy, Negotiating 4th COVID-19 Package, & Boosting PPE Supplies

Apr 16, 2020

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

U.S. Sen Maggie Hassan says although she is eager to get the economy up and running again, that decision should be based on science and data.  

Hassan was among a bipartisan group of senators who spoke with President Trump Thursday about reopening the economy – a move Trump has been eager to get underway.  Hassan spoke with The Exchange hours before that discussion.  

“What experts tell us is that as we reopen the economy, the way we will prevent a further surge of this illness or a resurgence of it, and the need to then shut everything down again, which would also be disastrous for our small businesses, for individuals, for the whole economy, we will need to have a truly robust diagnostic testing system and public health resources to do contact tracing," Hassan said.

(To hear the full Exchange conversation, see below. )

"So that if there is a resurgence of the virus, we can quickly identify it, identify where it is, who has it, isolate the outbreak and let the rest of the economy continue.”

Scientists and public health experts say the U.S. should be able to conduct half a million to one million rapid diagnostic tests a day, Hassan said; right now, the country is doing about 130,000 to 140,000 tests a day.  

The Fourth Coronavirus Package: On Pause.

Hassan said a fourth coronavirus package is being negotiated between Congressional leaders and the Trump Administration. At the moment, however, the bill has stalled.

Republicans want to increase funding, amounting to $250 billion, immediately for small businesses, since money designated for that purpose under the CARES Act has run out.  Although Democrats support that funding, Hassan said, “We have had to push to make sure these packages were comprehensive, including things like expanded unemployment.”

Personal Protective Equipment:  National Plan for Distribution Needed.  

Hassan said the shortage of personal protective equipment affecting health care workers and others on the front lines, including essential retail workers, such as grocery store workers, is not just about funding. “It’s a question of mobilization.” 

She said President Trump should invoke the Defense Production Act to order businesses to make more of the equipment. FEMA, she said, has the responsibility of distributing it according to priority and need.  

“And one of the things we are really pushing this administration to do is take a national approach here so that everybody, from the grocery store clerk to the nurse at a bedside, has the equipment they need to stay safe and healthy and help protect all of us.”

Air Date:  Thursday, April 16, 2020 

GUEST:  Democratic U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. She is a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC) Committee; the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee; the Finance Committee; and the Joint Economic Committee.

Senator Hassan urges anyone who is running into problems getting help promised under the CARES Act to call her office at 603-622-2204. She also recommends visiting hassan.senate.gov/coronavirus

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.

Laura Knoy:
New Hampshire U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan is with us today on how Congress has responded to the coronavirus pandemic so far and what more she thinks should be done. Senator Hassan is a Democrat serving her first term on Capitol Hill. She's also a former New Hampshire governor and state senator. We'll be taking your questions throughout the hour. And Senator Hassan, welcome back to The Exchange. We really appreciate your time.

Senator Hassan:
Thanks so much for having me, Laura. I hope you are safe and well.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I'm safe and well in my home office. And I understand you are also in a home office. So here we are both working remotely and social distancing. And Senator Hassan, you will be participating later today on a phone call with President Trump and other lawmakers about reopening the economy. The president's been talking a lot about this this week. Yesterday, he said tomorrow, "I'll be leading a call with elected officials who will consult my administration as we work to restore our economy to full speed." What do you want to see happen, Senator Hassan, before such a move, before the economy is, quote unquote, opened?

Senator Hassan:
Well, first of all, again, thanks for having me on. And yes, we are all eager to see the economy up and running again. I think all of us would like to return to a time before this virus took hold in the way that it has. But at the end of the day, we have to make sure that as we take the next step forward, we're doing it in a way that is driven by science and data, and that ensures that once we reopen, we won't go through another cycle like the one we've just had where the virus begins to spread again. And our only option in terms of containing it and saving lives is to shut everything down again. So I know it is very tempting right now as we're beginning to see the impact of social distancing.

Senator Hassan:
It looks like from early data that the curve is flattening. That's exactly what we wanted to have happen. That saves lives. It also keeps our health care system from being overwhelmed. So that's seeming to work.

Senator Hassan:
But here's the thing: What experts tell us is that as we reopen the economy, the way we will prevent a further surge of this illness or a resurgence of it and the need to then shut everything down again, which would also be disastrous for our small businesses, for individuals, for the whole economy. They tell us that we will need to have a truly robust diagnostic testing system and public health resources to do contact tracing so that if there is a resurgence of the virus, we can quickly identify it, identify where it is, who has it, isolate the outbreak and let the rest of the economy continue. And what scientists tell us, what public health experts tell us, is that we need to be able to do between half a million and a million rapid diagnostic tests a day in this country right now.

Laura Knoy:
At least half a million to a million a day!

Senator Hassan:
And we're so far away from that.

Senator Hassan:
We are doing, according to the last briefing I got, somewhere around 130,000 to 140,000 a day. So what we need to be able to do here is ramp up the diagnostic testing effort, not just for testing devices or the cartridges that go with some of those devices, but for all of the supplies, you need to do a test, a cotton swab, the reagents you need. And that's why so many of those have been pushing the president to fully exercise his authority.

Senator Hassan:
I believe the Defense Production Act, which would allow him to say to all of the private labs and pharmaceutical companies in the country that produce testing, you need to ramp up this effort. And that's all you need to be doing right now. And I'm going to get other manufacturers to help you. That's what we need to be doing. And what experts and economists all tell us, as scientists and economists all tell us, is that until we have both the testing and the contact tracing workforce that you need to go with testing, it would be premature to open up the economy again, because what we would see is a reopening, a resurgence of the virus, and we would go through everything. We've began to deal with the impact on our hospitals, the impact on our small businesses, the impact on everything on our daily life. And that will be even more devastating to the economy so that nobody wants to recreate that (crosstalk).

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, what we have been going through. You know, you use the word premature. And I want to ask you about something around that, Senator Hassan. There's been so much talk of, in the last week or so, about reopening the economy. The president is certainly talking about it. Governors are talking about it, although with lots of caution. What do you think, Senator Hassan? Is it even premature to talk about this? People are dying. Health care workers don't have enough protective gear. Should we even be focusing on this right now?

Senator Hassan:
Well, I think it's really important always to think ahead and plan. And if we don't think about what reopening the economy looks like, we're not going to put into place the pieces we need to have in order to do it.

Senator Hassan:
But to your point, I think it is really important for us all to take a moment right now when we are all dealing with this new stay at home social distancing life of ours, to remember that there are people on the frontline who aren't able to take a work or stay home. They are on the front lines, often working without enough personal protective equipment, without enough resources to save lives. We know that our friends and neighbors are losing loved ones to this awful disease. I have friends and neighbors who have been lost to this awful disease.

Senator Hassan:
And so it's really critical that we both kind of we renew our commitment to do what's right for our public health at this moment in time. But it's also important that we think ahead to how we can get some of our economy at least reopened sooner rather than later, because the ripple effect of a shutdown economy also can have some devastating consequences. Those are consequences we have tried to address in the most recent bipartisan package in Congress. And we are going to need to continue to address, to be sure. But we need to be thinking about both. But our decisions have to be driven by science and data.

Laura Knoy:
Well, the Senate is scheduled to return now on May 4th. That was changed just recently. Is there anything in place for the Senate to conduct its business remotely, Senator Hassan, or do you have to get on a plane and fly to D.C.?

Senator Hassan:
Well, we don't have remote voting rules right now, and that is a issue of some debate within Congress. But what we do have already in place is the capacity to pass bills by something called unanimous consent. Even if we aren't all physically present in Washington and that's actually how the House passed the last package at the end of March.

Senator Hassan:
So what's happening right now and what is urgent and we need to get to vote before we are scheduled to return on May 4th is a negotiated package for the next set of measures that we need. We need to obviously expand and infuse more cash into the small business programs that we created. We know we probably need to continue personal cash assistance and unemployment for people. We know that our hospitals and our state local governments are going to need more assistance than what has already been provided. Those negotiations are taking place right now between the administration and congressional leadership. And we are hopeful that we can get to an agreed upon package that then could be passed by unanimous consent when literally one or two senators who are already in D.C. go to the floor and make the motion and it passes.

Laura Knoy:
I see. Well, Senator Hassan, I have lots of questions about that business package. We did a whole show on it yesterday and more broadly about what everybody's calling Phase 4 of stimulus. But our listeners also want to jump in with you. Lots of questions about what's happening on Capitol Hill, especially regarding this health crisis that we're in right now. It's your chance to talk with U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan. You can send your questions in my e-mail exchange and h.p York. And Senator, Mike's calling in from Manchester? Hi, Mike. Thanks for being with us.

Caller:
Thank you so much for having me.

Caller:
I just want to thank Senator Hassan for her support of the CARES Act. I run the transit system here in Manchester and we were really struggling trying to figure out how to keep essential service going so that people could get to places like dialysis and pharmacies. But absent the revenue from the fare box that we normally rely on is obviously ridership is way down. And thanks to her support of the CARES Act, we received the funding that we needed to keep the system going so that our employees can still make sure people are getting to doctors, getting to work, getting to those important medical trips without having to worry about how on earth are we going to scramble to pay for this.

Laura Knoy:
So Mike, people are still taking the bus in Manchester?

Caller:
Yeah. What we've done is suspended the fixed rate service and we've replaced it with a reservation based system, so we're only doing transportation for essential trips. But that way, people who still need to get to places like drive to the pharmacies, they can still go. You just call and make a reservation. We pick you up. That way we can limit the number of people on the vehicle and the exposure to the drivers.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. OK. It's good to hear from you, Mike. And let's talk about the CARES Act. And as I said, we did a whole program on the small business angle of the CARES Act yesterday on The Exchange. But just broadly, Senator Hassan, remind us of the without going into, you know, the long list, the clumps of aid that were involved in this 2 trillion dollar stimulus package, including apparently transportation.

Senator Hassan:
Right. Well, first of all, Mike, thank you for the call and thank you for your comments. More importantly, thank you for the creativity and hard work that I know that you and all the employees in services like Manchester's public transportation, but all across our state, state and local work, government and work force has really been creative and just had to work around the clock to come up with new systems that help people get to these essential places, but also do it in a way that protects the public health to the greatest degree possible. And that's an example of the type of work that people are doing throughout the public sector and throughout the private economy. So kudos, Mike, to you and all of your team. Lord, the CARES package, the most recent one was a bipartisan package that touched on a lot of different areas. So we provided help, direct help, for instance, to hospitals and health care providers, because as you all know, they have really canceled elective procedures, which really brings in a lot of critical cash flow to our hospitals so that they'll be ready for a surge in Cologne virus cases. Right. So they had a major revenue source essentially go away overnight. And so the CARES Act provides some assistance to help them with that. Similarly, state and local governments, when you shut down the economy, essentially, you are shutting down your revenues just the way businesses are no longer getting their revenues.

Laura Knoy:
So we'll have taxes, for example. Right. Really coming into New Hampshire, a great example.

Senator Hassan:
Right. So we provided one point to five billion dollars in direct aid to the state of New Hampshire. That is intended not only for the state, but for county and local needs as well. We provided direct aid for child care with a particular focus on child care for essential workers. Right.

Senator Hassan:
So that if you are a nurse or a housekeeper in a hospital or a member of law enforcement or a grocery store clerk, your child can be in a safe childcare setting, where we also are focused on training child care workers about how to prevent to the greatest degree possible, the spread of the virus. We obviously had significant resources in the care package for small businesses. And we know how hard small businesses are working right now to stay afloat. And that aid was really designed in a way to help very, very small businesses right up front with initial cash needs through some disaster relief grants, but also through this paycheck protection program designed to turn loans into grants. If the small business keeps its workers on payroll through the duration of the loan, then the loan is forgiven. So we were really trying to keep workers and small businesses together again with the hope that when the economy reopens, they're all together and ready to get things started again.

Senator Hassan:
We also made investments to help individuals. Obviously, we've everybody's heard about these stimulus payments. $1200 per individual if you earn $75,000 or less, $500 per child.

Senator Hassan:
We've expanded unemployment not only to have more people eligible, but also to bump up the amount of unemployment by $600 a week. And we made investments in broadband. We provided direct relief to schools and colleges and direct relief for seniors and nursing homes and provided ways to increase support for mental health services and address particular needs of individuals with disabilities and veterans.

(crosstalk)

Laura Knoy:
And we'll pick up on some of those specifics in just a moment, but Senator Hassan, let's take another call. This is Harold in Concord. Hi, Harold. You're on the air with Senator Maggie Hassan.

Caller:
Hi, Senator. We're big fans of you and Senator Shaheen, but I thought I'd let you know kind of the state wherein we own a retail store on Main Street in Concord. We were forced to close in March like everybody else. Our employees were taken care of very quickly, collecting unemployment. Some of them had three or four checks already.

Caller:
But my wife and I, we still haven't seen any stimulus check because the way we file, I think we don't get refunds, you know, we pay in every quarter. We haven't gotten any unemployment yet. We're thankful that that got expanded. But but we still haven't received that. And we applied for the SBA, the $10000 grant, right off, we were one of the first ones. And that is just the disaster. I mean, And we're just not getting any information from anybody. I spend hours on the phone and instead, maybe they should just be putting out more press releases. But the ten thousand dollar thing has turned into was supposed to be a grant for businesses to stay open for rent. You know, other expenses that we couldn't cover because we were closed. And now we're hearing we got an email that said it was a thousand dollars per employee. Well, that doesn't even cover one employee at minimum wage for a month. So and when I am clear that we're going to get that, because I think it's I think it's just a mess.

Caller:
So, anyway, I appreciate the efforts, but it's just not getting to the people that we've gone now three weeks or more.

Caller:
We have not no stimulus, no unemployment and no nothing from the SBA. And we're not hearing anything either. That's the worst part of it.

Laura Knoy:
Harold, that's so frustrating. And I'm so glad you called, but I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. So, Senator Hassan, we hear press releases, as Harold says, about, you know, this help and that help and that help. But Harold's not getting anything.

Senator Hassan:
Look. So, Harold, thank you for the call and thank you for the support. But, boy, you are in a really difficult situation. And I'm really grateful you called a couple of things.

Senator Hassan:
Your feedback is exactly the kind of feedback that we need one so that as we try to reach an agreement for the next package, we can address some of these issues. The $10000 grant program needs more money right now. And we also need to address this issue of the $1000 per employee for self-employed folks.

Senator Hassan:
This is not workable. The other thing is that there is a portal now on the IRS Web site that you go into. You can put in your bank account information and do A to B. I think it's about a two page form that should allow you to get that direct assistance much more quickly. There's a lot more to say here. And I want to be respectful, Laura, if you need to take a break soon. But, Harold, please call my office. Thank you for the feedback. And we also know that the unemployment office in New Hampshire is working really hard to make sure that people can start getting that extra unemployment next week. It'll be retro active to April 4th, but they have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume and we're trying to make sure they get more resources to continue to make that more accessible and more timely.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Harold, I'm really glad you called, as I said. But Senator Hassan, could you please give that number again that you gave Harold? He put it on our Web site at NHPR.org.

Senator Hassan:
Sure. Our office number is 6 0 3 6 2 2 2 2 0 4. And we have dedicated staff who really are working to help constituents with the challenges of navigating this new reality.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, coming up after a short break.

Laura Knoy:
More on just navigating all these new programs that are out there, making them work for people in the way that they are intended. And we'll keep taking your calls. Our phone number here in The Exchange is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
And Senator Hassan, right back to our listeners with lots of questions. Sarah in Keene is calling in. Hi, Sarah, you're on the air with Senator Hassan. Go ahead, please.

Caller:
Good morning. Good morning. My question was the stimulus package checks that came out. Twelve hundred for individuals, 2400 for couples. Five hundred for dependents. There was a cutoff for age 16 and over dependents that didn't get the five hundred stimulus. So I'm just wondering if it could be expanded on why this cutoff was age 16 for minors rather than 18.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, that's interesting. Sarah had not heard about that. Thank you for calling in. Senator Hassan?

Senator Hassan:
Sarah, thanks for the call. And that's an issue that I have heard a lot about and I am concerned about. We are trying to change that in the next package going forward, not only to include dependents up to age 18, but there are families who have adult dependents, for instance, people who may have disabilities, who live at home and or dependents of their parents still as adults. And that's another group of people who I think should also be getting additional support. So those are some of the kinds of issues we are trying to address in the next package.

Laura Knoy:
Well, sure. And there's a whole bunch of college students who are now living back home with mom and dad. Now the colleges are closed down. So that's another group of people who are definitely older than 16, but are relying on their parents. I want to ask you a little bit more about faith for of this stimulus that we've been talking about. And I'm wondering, Senator Hassan, if there might be more in the next round for research, for a better understanding of this disease, for better treatment and yes, please, a vaccine. So what do you know about that? Senator has said? What are the efforts?

Senator Hassan:
There are considerable efforts in the scientific community, both privately funded and federally funded, on finding out more and more about this illness and developing a vaccine. The reality of the process that it takes to develop a safe and effective vaccine is that it generally is anticipated that it takes about 18 months in the best of circumstances to get a vaccine from the early stages to full clinical trials and then manufacturer a distribution in 18 months is considered speedy.

Senator Hassan:
I know how hard the scientific community is working on this. And I know how important it is to not only public health and the safety of each and every one of us, but it's also obviously really important to be able to reopen and grow the economy where people feel safe. So there's lots of effort going on about that right now. But people should understand that what the experts tell us about vaccine development is that if you don't test a vaccine vigorously, it can do more harm than good because it can, for instance, elicit a very hyper immune response that can really damage people's health in extreme ways. So we really have to do this safely. And that is why there is such a focus right now by so many of us on getting the diagnostic testing where it needs to be so that we can do that if we see resurgence of the virus or cases of the virus and contain it and not have it ripple through all of our communities and our economy.

Senator Hassan:
And then there's another kind of testing that there's a lot of research going on about right now, which is called serum testing, testing for antibodies to the virus. So the most accurate thing we can do right now is to test to find out who has it at the moment. That's the diagnostic testing. But you also should be able to test for antibodies to an illness like this, which tells us whether somebody has had the illness. And the assumption here is that people who have had the illness, who have antibodies in their system to it, will have some level of immunity to it. That is usually the case with corona viruses generally. That's another kind of testing going on. It still is in the pretty early stages. But if we can develop it and it becomes reliable or we can get a reliable test that would enable us perhaps to know who's had it and who's immune to it.

Senator Hassan:
And obviously that's very important knowledge, too. So those are some of the scientific experts, along with working on getting treatments so that we have more tools at our disposal when somebody presents with a serious case of this illness.

Laura Knoy:
So very briefly, Senator Hassan, was there more funding for this in the last stimulus package for these critical research breakthroughs or will there? The funding for it in the next phase, phase four that we keep talking about. Is it not even a matter of money, Senator Hassan, maybe just a matter of time and workforce to get this done?

Senator Hassan:
One of the things we have been trying to do is give our federal health researchers more flexibility in how they use research funds. But I will get you the details of the public health funding and research funding from the last package. But it continues to be an area where we know we have to invest and we know how important it is to really fully addressing this pandemic and getting us back to a much more stable economy and society.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Another call. This is Dan in Bedford.. Hi, Dan.. Go ahead. Thanks for joining us today.

Caller:
Thank you, Senator. And it's OK with you. I have a couple questions about the CARES Act and specifically the payroll protection plan portion of it. I'm a business here in Bedford. I use contractors. I don't have full time employees. And as I've looked through the SBA documentation, I see contradictions of whether it only covers full time employees or if it also covers contractors. So I've gone ahead and after I found something, it looked like they probably do cover contractors that went ahead and applied. But now it looks like I was too late. I played on Monday and I'm supposed to hear back tomorrow or next Monday. But it sounds like the first phase of this is going to run out of money today. So I'm warning about the renewal of it and what the timing is of that.

Laura Knoy:
You said you also had another question now Dan, so go ahead. We'll definitely ask about the renewal. That's a big issue. Yeah.

Caller:
And the other was about covering the cost of contractors.

Caller:
Yeah. And we've gotten a couple emails from others also because there are so many businesses in New Hampshire like you, Dan, who work with contractors. So I'm really glad that you called in to important question, Senator Hassan, first about the renewal of this money. Everybody says this small business payroll protection plan or program, PPP is going to run out very soon, if not today. But from what I read, the effort to inject another $250 billion into this program has run into political trouble. So what's the latest there, Senator Hassan?

Senator Hassan:
Well, first of all, Dan, thank you for calling in and thank you for having the business in our state. A couple of things. The P P P program is a really important program. And we know small businesses in New Hampshire are our backbone and they are the vast majority of our businesses. So we need to reinvest in this program, put additional funds in there to be sure, and we need to do it with urgency. And that's why there are negotiations happening right now with congressional leadership and the White House to really push forward and get another package done as quickly as possible.

Senator Hassan:
We also know that as important as renewing the PPP program is and getting more cash to the front lines of our business community, that that alone is not going to be able to sustain our small businesses now and into the future, because without some additional individual assistance, without extending the unemployment benefits for longer or without more money to our hospitals and our state, local governments and without a robust testing program like the one I've talked about earlier in the show and public health efforts, we are not going to be able to sustain ably reopen this economy and allow small businesses to get back to work. So that's what we're trying to do here. We are all in this together. And the next stage of this has to be as comprehensive as the last stage. We also have to address the kind of issues that Dan is highlighting right now with this question about contractors.

Senator Hassan:
We're hearing from small businesses all over New Hampshire about some of the challenges with the BPP program. The ambiguity, for instance, about whether contractors are covered. We're also hearing from small businesses who have never had a loan from a bank or a credit union and their difficulty in getting banks or credit unions who are issuing these loans through the TPP to take their applications and act on them. So I don't want a small business that's never needed a line of credit from a bank not to be able to participate in this program. And those are the types of things that we need to address right now as we also work to get more money into the program.

Senator Hassan:
So I think, Dan, for the question, we are working, you know, we are all pushing for this package to happen as quickly as possible, but it has to be comprehensive and it has to address some of the issues that small businesses are already telling us are a problem. For instance, you know, we we heard from the person who had applied to the disaster relief for the ten thousand dollar grant. That program is also out of money and needs some additional funds, but also some additional improvements and reforms.

Laura Knoy:
So shows you the the extent of the need.

Senator Hassan:
Right.

Laura Knoy:
That these programs just were rolled out two weeks ago, basically, and they're already starting to run out of money. And right at your point, Senator Hassan, about, you know, needing to inject this cash quickly, Republican senators and the president say they want to move quickly. They want to put $250 billion dollars more into this program. Right now, they say Democrats are holding up the money that needs to get into the lending system.

Laura Knoy:
Now, you know, I hear you saying we need a more comprehensive next phase, but Republicans are saying, OK, maybe that's the case, that we are going to do a phase for of stimulus. But right now, this business program is proving very, very popular and people really want this money. So can we just approve this now, please? So what's your response to that, Senator Hassan?

Senator Hassan:
So Democrats agree that there should be at least another 250 billion dollars in this program. But we also know that if we don't do the other things that I mentioned, that that 250 billion dollars won't be able to sustain small businesses and the full economy and the full health and well-being of our people that we all need to have happen. And we have had to push to make sure that these packages were comprehensive and included things like expanded unemployment. And I do want to go back to one of the things that Dan raised about contractors.

Well, I hope, Dan, that you will. Call my office and see if we can help you sort out the question you have about contractors. So again, 6 2 2 2 2 0 4 people who are independent contractors should know that when we took the measures in the last CARES package to expand unemployment, we need more independent contractors and self-employed people eligible for the unemployment, which includes an additional six hundred dollars a week on top of the maximum state payment. So that may be something that folks who are contractors may want to explore. I understand it is hard to get through to New Hampshire unemployment insurance right now to the Employment Security Department, but they are working. They've expanded their hours and they believe they should be able to begin to get these additional $600 payments out next week.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, again, if anybody wants that number that the senator has given out, it is on our Web site as well. Another call. Senator Hassan, this is Donna from Salem. Hi, Donna. You're in the air. Go ahead.

Caller:
Good morning, Senator and Laura, thank you so much for taking my call. Senator, I actually run the chamber down in Salem and ...

Caller:
Hi, how are you?

Caller:
We're made up overwhelmingly of small businesses. And Harold hit it right on the head. What I'm hearing from my small mom, from my members is where is the money? It's not going to where it needs to be. It's not hitting. As you know, we get it in process and all this stuff. And it really there they are struggling to keep their doors open and they need that money sooner rather than later. We've talked a little bit about that earlier. But one of the things that is concerning as the chamber, we are doing everything we can, even to our state association to pool our resources and help all local businesses throughout New Hampshire, where we're sharing webinars between the Manchester Chamber and the Concord Chamber and the Lakes region, where we're doing our best to get the information to the small businesses that need it and the instruction. And we're pushing gift cards and everything. But what's really interesting is that as non-profits Chambers struggle once these fixes had been left out of the PPP program, and that's something we've really been working again with the retail association and the automobile dealers as well.

Caller:
But in particular, Chambers 501c6 have been left out of some critical funding. Can you discuss that or push for that?

Laura Knoy:
Donna, thanks a lot. Yeah, and the chambers have been doing tremendous work. We talk some wonderful people from the chambers and Exeter and Manchester recently. So thank you, Donna, for doing the work that you do. And go ahead. Senator Hassan.

Senator Hassan:
Sure. Donna, thank you for the call. And again, thank you for the work you're doing. So the PPP program in New Hampshire as of April 30th had approved about 70, 100 loans. So seven thousand one hundred loans for a total of about one and a half billion dollars. So the positive news from the PPP program in New Hampshire is that it is getting to some businesses. The other side of it is what we're hearing from Donna, what we're hearing from Harold, what we're hearing from others, especially organizations, both not for profits.

Senator Hassan:
And I'm not talking about the associations like the chambers right now, but other kinds of non-profits are eligible to use the P P P program and so on. The positive is that there is money that has gone out the door and venture to thousands of businesses and nonprofits. The harder part is that for truly small businesses, many of whom don't have an ongoing lending relationship with a bank or credit union. This has been a very hard problem to access. And so that is one of the things that we're hearing, and that's one of the reasons we are trying to drill down in these negotiations about the next package to make sure we're addressing some of the issues that we've seen, perhaps saying that there's a certain set of this money that's going to go for truly, you know, the really, really small businesses that we have a lot of here in New Hampshire or the businesses that don't have a lending program.

Senator Hassan:
We've seen some authorization over the weekend of some other kind of lenders like PayPal and Intuit, who generally have relationships with smaller businesses. And we think that that may be helpful, but we need to address some of the things that we're hearing as we design this next package. And that's why the feedback from Dana and others is so important as we are in these negotiations right now. And Donna, on the 501c6 issue, that's a risk code for a particular kind of nonprofit association. We are hearing that from associations across New Hampshire and across the country sitting. Yeah. And I'm hoping I'm hoping we can address that, too.

Laura Knoy:
I see. I thought that all nonprofits were eligible because we did a whole show on this yesterday. But you're saying, Senator, hasn't certain types are not and you would like to see them become eligible?

Senator Hassan:
Yes. nd that's you know, and look, all of the provisions of these programs were obviously negotiated very quickly. It was important to get money out the door. It was important to use existing vehicles to do it. That was one of our kind of mantras as this package, the last package was negotiated was what existing systems do we have that we can use? And that's why using lenders and credit banks and credit unions who already were authorized by the SBA was really important. But that has had its limitations here. And that's why we're pushing so hard not only to do an additional 250 billion dollars into the PPP program, but to make sure we're improving it and reforming it as necessary, given the feedback we're hearing.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, Senator Hassan coming up after short break, I want to ask. You about expanded Internet access, given that so many people are working at home and kids are learning from home. And then we've seen the expansion of telehealth. So we'll talk about broadband and Internet access after a short break. Also, I want to return briefly to the idea of protective gear. Again, we hear so much from health care workers, grocery store workers that they do not have enough. So talk about that after a short break and keep taking your calls. It's great to hear from you. 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy.. This hour, we're talking with U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan and exchange listeners. Let's hear from you. What do you want to ask? Or let the senator know about Senate policy when it comes to the coronavirus? Let us know. And Senator Hassan Jeanne wrote us. She says, You've probably seen the recent article in USA Today that highlighted some of the struggles we are having with broadband Internet access here. And we are not alone in New Hampshire. At our house, we have to take turns because we don't have enough bandwidth for teaching and meetings at the same time. It looks like we are going to continue to need to use telehealth and to work and school from home. So Jean says we need some rapid deployment of better access. Not two years down the road, she says. What can you do to help? Jeanne, you're absolutely right. I've got a full house myself here and there are points where we are all online, all five of us. So it gets crowded. I really appreciate you writing, Jeanne. And Senator Hassan, I know you and Senator Shaheen were working on this.

Senator Hassan:
Yeah, we have been. And Jeanne, thank you for the question. And it's a really important one. And, you know, even before this pandemic hit and made us all even more dependent on the Internet than we were. I've been working on increasing access to broadband, especially in rural or less dense areas and center capital. And I'm from West Virginia have been working on ways that local governments can finance more of that broadband in more rural areas. But now, of course, the pandemic is here and we are all doing our social distancing and staying at home to save lives and to make sure that people at greatest risk don't get the illness and to keep from overwhelming our health care system. So, first of all, just kudos to all Granite Staters, because everybody's pitching in here and doing their best to socially distance and it's making a difference. So thank you. But we did also anticipate that we were going to need more support and funding for broadband as a result. And the last package we did, the CARES act includes important provisions to expand broadband. So just going down my list here quickly, funding for broadband expansion in rural areas. We put more money into something called the Reconnect program. We provided additional funding to support distance learning and telemedicine in rural areas through the USDA, the Department of Agriculture, as well as $200 million for telehealth in the Federal Communications Commission funding.

Senator Hassan:
We also provided additional funding for the emergency needs of our public schools and colleges that have resulted from COVID 19, including funding for needed technology for remote learning. So those are some of the things where we have done in this last package. I continue to urge the Federal Communications Commission to help provide Wi-Fi hotspots or devices with Wi-Fi capability to students who lack Internet access at home. We also provided additional funding to the V.A. so that it could help veterans who don't who have been able to afford high speed Internet access to get it. That's particularly important, obviously, for telehealth visits, but it's important generally for access. Those are some of the things that already were in the cards act. We know there is more to do, but it really highlights this pandemic has highlighted not only the need for affordable, quality health care for everybody, but also the need for connectivity, high speed broadband access for everybody, regardless of zip code, regardless of the size of their neighborhood or their town. And that's something we've got to continue to push.

Laura Knoy:
I want to ask you about an effort by some Senate Democrats, and I'm assuming you're part of that, but you can correct me if I'm wrong about voting.

Laura Knoy:
Some are calling for more money in the next stimulus package for vote by mail. How do you feel about the prospect of vote by mail, Senator Hassan?

Senator Hassan:
Look, our most fundamental right in a democracy is the right to vote. And it's really important that people not be put in the position of having to choose between their health and voting.

Senator Hassan:
I've talked to a lot of very civic minded Granite Staters who are really concerned about this because they tell me they've always voted. They love going to vote. But boy, especially if you're somebody with a pre-existing health condition and you're told by your doctor that you're running a really serious risk of going out in public and going into a voting booth, you may decide to sit this one out. And that's not a choice. We want any Granite State or any American to make. So I think it's absolutely. Critical that every state and states generally control the mechanisms by which people vote. The systems that they have that every state, including New Hampshire, start planning for what we may need to do in November to make sure that people have the choice to vote by mail if they want to. I was pleased that the governor announced that the secretary of state had interpreted our absentee ballot law in a way that means that if people think it is safer for them to vote by mail, they can request an absentee ballot and vote that way, even if they normally would vote in person. I think that's a really important step.

Senator Hassan:
But we still have questions like how do you register to vote if you just all sorts of details involved with absentee balloting?

Laura Knoy:
I've tried to do that once or twice. And it was it was not a simple process.

Senator Hassan:
No, it isn't. So. That's the type of thing that we're continuing to encourage states to think about. There is money in the last package that we did to help states expand their vote by mail systems. And I hope very much that we are able in New Hampshire to take advantage of that. We know that states will probably need more resources than what we provided in the last package. So part of what we want to see in this next package is additional resources to states for vote by mail, along with additional resources for states to deal with the revenues that they've lost. What we need to make sure that we're doing here is providing states enough dollars so that they don't have to do layoffs adjust at the time when we're trying to reopen the economy, for instance, because states all have balanced budget requirements. Right. So there's a lot going on here. But vote by mail is really important and it's something we need to plan to do now.

Laura Knoy:
I want to return to just a fundamental issue that we hear about again and again and again. And you and I touched on it earlier, but I want to hit it straight on. This is the continued lack of protective gear for health care workers, for grocery store workers, for nursing home workers, for bus drivers. We hear from a bus driver earlier. You know these folks. It's almost sounding cliche. They're on the frontlines, but they are. And they tell us again and again, again, they don't have what they need, basic stuff, masks, gloves and so forth. And I just wonder, we keep talking about funding, but is it a funding issue, Senator Hassan, or is it just that these things do not exist right now? The country is just not producing them? What is what is going on here? I guess that's wha t I'm trying...

Senator Hassan:
So, first of all, to everybody who is working in a nursing home or a hospital or in a police department or fire department, are EMT is our bus drivers are grocery clerks.

Senator Hassan:
Thank you for everything you are doing to keep people safe. And one of the things that a lot of us in Congress want to do is make sure that people on the frontlines get a pandemic or hazard pay because you are risking everything to help your fellow Granite Staters and Americans. And we could not be more grateful. Second, that's also a reason that you not only need, but you absolutely deserve the personal protective equipment that is necessary to keep you safe. And we provided a lot of funding for PPE in the last package. And I do not think at this point it is just a question of money. It's a question of mobilization. Now on Easter Sunday.

Laura Knoy:
Senator Hassan, did we just lose you there?

Laura Knoy:
You were saying that the lack of protective gear for workers wasn't just a matter of money. It was a matter of mobilization. And Senator has sent you back with us. All right, well, while we wait to reconnect with Senator Hassan, let's take another caller. And hopefully Senator Hassan can hear the call. But if not, I'll summarize and let her know what the caller says. Glenn is calling from Windham. Hi, Glenn. You're on The Exchange. Go ahead.

Caller:
How you doing? My name is Glenn and I'm a respiratory therapist and currently are working in one of the hospitals COVID unit directly with positive patients. My concern has been outside of that. When I go to the grocery stores, I live in Wyndham. I shop in Londonderry. There are three major grocery stores there. And a couple of weeks ago, I went and found that nobody was wearing a mask in terms of plaques and baggers or even the other individuals in the store. So I started talking to them individually and encouraging them. What ended up happening, to sum it up, was I ended up being told that I was causing concern among the staff and that I shouldn't be there. And if I didn't leave as they were going to call the police and I explained to them the fact that we have these young adults that are at those groceries stores and the baggers who are elderly, they are so at risk of getting this. The last thing health care workers need more patients because we're not doing the right thing by them. I called the Shaheen's office. I've called the governor's office. I've called the commissioner of health in New Hampshire, begging them to get back in touch. Nobody has. I just left Market Basket. I would say maybe 30 percent of the employees that had on a mask. The rest didn't. If they're so vulnerable and I'm begging our state to try to do something to mandate that these people on the front lines get those just as I do and help them. But they're more vulnerable than I am. They have 100 people coming in front of them every single hour, practically.

Laura Knoy:
Stay on the line, Glenn. It's so good to hear from you. So you are working in health care and you are taking care of covered patients right now in winter. In winter. But that's where you live. Where are you working, Glenn?

Laura Knoy:
If you don't mind telling us.

Caller:
I don't. I prefer not to say where. It's one little problem.

Laura Knoy:
Sure.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. And how's it going for you taking care of of the COVID patients? What's it what's it been like for you?

Caller:
Well, my employer has been able to keep us well protected, and we thoroughly appreciate that. When I go into the unit, I am completely garbed up. There's nothing more that they could be providing for me. So and I think my colleagues would agree, we all feel very comfortable that we have been fortunate. But it's because of the hard work of our employer going out and finding this stuff every day. We have different types of things, but they're still able to provide it. And that's really to be honest. The only reason why a lot of us can say doing it because we feel protected. God forbid the day comes when they don't have the supplies we need. I don't know what we will do. I hope we never, ever cross that having to make a decision about that.

Laura Knoy:
Glenn, thank you for doing the work that you do. Thank you for truly, truly being on the frontlines. And I'm glad for now that your employer has what it needs to protect you. And we're all hoping, of course, that will continue. And Senator Hassan, I know we lost your line for a moment. We just heard from Glenn, who is taking care of covered patients at a hospital in southern New Hampshire. He preferred not to give the name. He said not sure how much you cut. Senator Hassan, he said he and his colleagues have the protective gear they need, but he's very upset about grocery store workers not wearing gloves, not wearing masks. And he's really just passionately urging someone to get these grocery store workers what they need. So, Senator Hassan, I wonder what you think about that.

Senator Hassan:
Well, look, thank you. And I'm sorry that the line did cut out, but thank you, Glenn, for the call. I'm glad you have what you need. We continue to hear from people on the frontlines about their concern about having PPE. And I don't know how much. I don't know precisely when I cut out, but I was talking about how grateful I was to Jim came in for coordinating through his persistence and creativity, the large delivery of PPE that New Hampshire got on Easter Sunday, a miracle of sorts, to be sure. But at the end of the day, every state doesn't have a gene came in and that equipment is only going to last so long. And we need to have a coordinated national effort not only for our health care workers, but for the very people like the grocery store clerks that Glenn was talking about. And I know how concerned some of them are for their health. And they also know they don't want to make other people sick either. So it's critically important that we continue to surge the production of personal protective equipment. That is something that I have urged the president to do through the Defense Production Act. Sometimes he says he's invoking it and other times the administration seems to pull back. But the federal government has the power. The president, through the DPA Defense Production Act, to instruct different manufacturers to make equipment at a certain rate to, you know, stop making other things and turn their attention to making this critical personal protective equipment.

Senator Hassan:
And then FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has the responsibility of making sure that it is distributed according to priority you need. And I am the ranking or top Democrat on oversight for FEMA in the Senate. And we have been pushing them to help us understand what their method is for not only gathering personal protective equipment, purchasing it, but also distributing it.

Senator Hassan:
And one of the things we are really pushing this administration to do is take a national approach here so that everybody from the grocery store clerk to the nurse at a bedside has the equipment they need to stay safe and healthy and help protect all of us.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Glenn from Windham called earlier again, who's treating COVID patients, Thank you again so much. And and our best luck to you, Glenn, and thanks to everybody who called today. It was really wonderful to hear from our listeners and their concerns. And Senator Hassan, we're also grateful that you were able to be with us. Thank you very much for your time. And we'll talk again.

Senator Hassan:
I hope so very much. Thanks, Laura. Everybody be safe, be well, keep socially distancing and just know that it makes a real difference. Take care.

Laura Knoy:
That's U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire. The Exchange is a production of NHPR and I'm Laura Knoy.