When The Senate Gets Back, Bennet Hopes To Leverage More Help For Small Businesses

Congress Intelligence
Andrew Harnik, Pool/AP
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., right, speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing for Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May. 5, 2020. The panel is considering Ratcliffe’s nomination for director of national intelligence. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., left.

On a call with Sen. Michael Bennet, small business owners spoke about the ongoing challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jody Corey, owner of the Spoke and Vine Motel in Palisade, just east of Grand Junction, was allowed to stay open during the stay at home orders. Despite that, she’s had six reservations in the last two months and summer reservations have been canceling.

She and her partner “tore up the budget and are going week-by-week — in pencil.”

“We are living, literally, day by day with our fingers and toes crossed that we ramp up to some level of occupancy,” she said of her less than year old business. “Because at this point, it’s very difficult for us.” 

The inability to really know when tourism will recover is one of the reasons Bennet’s bipartisan RESTART proposal appeals to her. The bill looks further down the road than the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program and recognizes that not all businesses will be able to re-open at the same time.  

The Colorado Democrat is working with Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana. The plan looks to fix some of the major complaints of the PPP plan, however, most people on the call were more interested in the longer-term loan ideas.

RESTART would give loans covering up to six months of expenses. Part of that money would be forgiven based on the percentage of revenue lost in 2020. The rest would be repaid over seven years.

According to Bennet, small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy. While some in Congress say the government shouldn’t do more, Bennet said that “with all the uncertainty about the pace of re-opening over the next six months, the need for capital to buy inventory, re-hire staff and to start getting ready to re-open, I just think it’s not an acceptable answer.”

Durango’s Carver Brewing Company has been closed for the last 12 weeks. Bill Carver is in week seven of the PPP loan he was able to get. The government assistance is specifically designed to be used in eight weeks. But because the brewery been closed, he hasn’t been able to utilize it.

“Obviously, PPP has not been very usable.”

Carver said the program hasn’t been well-suited for hotels, restaurants, gyms and other places that had to close. To him, either a PPP fix that gives “a longer runway” to use the loan or RESTART would help those businesses.

The House of Representatives just passed a bill to extend the PPP program to 24 weeks. The Senate, which is expected back in session at the beginning of June, could work to pass the House bill or its own measure.

Either way, Bennet told the business owners on the call, he and Young will work to convince their colleagues to include the ideas in RESTART in any next coronavirus aid package.

Disclaimer: Colorado Public Radio applied for and received assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program during the coronavirus pandemic.