Rep. Dan Newhouse: Congress stands ready to help business survive COVID-19

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, predicted Congress will add to the $2.2 trillion it has already authorized to prop up the nation’s economy during the COVID-19 pandemic in an April 10 meeting with the Tri-Cities Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The federal government is responding quickly and doing all it can to ensure Americans can stay healthy and that our economy can be as resilient as possible so when we finally get out of the stay at home orders that are keeping us from our businesses and workers from their jobs,” he told worried business leaders in a meeting conducted via Zoom.

Newhouse fielded questions from constituents about the federal government’s response to the outbreak, prospects for added funding and his work to include homebuilding on the list of allowed activities under Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.

He assured listeners Congress will appropriate money to support business so the economy can restart when the crisis is past – a date he could not predict.

Newhouse encouraged Tri-City businesses to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, the $349 billion forgivable loan program included in the CARES Act. Businesses can apply for funds to pay salaries, rent, utilities and other costs. The loans are forgiven if jobs are kept.

As he spoke, the Senate was wrestling with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s request to add $250 billion to the PPP program total.

The upper house was unable to reach a consensus on the request on April 9. If it is unable to do so, Congress may have to return to Washington, D.C., for an in-person vote. Forcing members of the House and Senate to travel back to the nation’s capital for in-person sessions would be difficult, but Newhouse was optimistic the needed money will be there.

“I guarantee there will be adjustments to be made as we continue to watch how things are responding,” he said.

He praised the federal government’s response to the crisis. He defended decisions to move ventilators and personal protective equipment from Washington state to harder-hit regions, saying the government must balance need.

“We have to make sure the ventilators and PPE are available and used in states with the most need,” he said.

Newhouse supports most aspects of Gov. Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order restricting nonessential activity and closing large swaths of the state, including business and education.

“It’s tough thing to have the health and well-being of seven million human beings on your shoulders,” he noted.

That said, Newhouse is pressing the governor to add residential construction to the list of essential activities, as it is in most states with similar stay-home rules in place.

“If a construction worker in Seattle (on a government project) can be safe, why can’t a construction worker on a condominium complex in Kennewick be safe?” he said.

Newhouse called the coronavirus pandemic the greatest challenge the country has faced in modern history. He challenged Americans to practice handwashing, social distancing, and other measures to prevent its spread. Congress is committed to helping business come through the crisis.

“We clearly are in unprecedented times in our nation’s history,” he said.

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This story originally appeared in the April 2020 edition of the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business. It is available on their website here.

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