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Sen. Joni Ernst optimistic about more PPP funds, but not until after election

Sen. Joni Ernst responds to a comment at a roundtable discussion with Sen. Chuck Grassley and leaders from local nonprof
Sen. Joni Ernst responds to a comment at a roundtable discussion with Sen. Chuck Grassley and leaders from local nonprofits and grassroots organizations Sept. 2 at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids. On Tuesday, she addressed Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Impact CR during a virtual forum. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, remains hopeful that Congress will approve another round of coronavirus relief that includes more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and support for health care and for child care.

PPP was “one of the most bipartisan” parts of the coronavirus packages approved by Congress over the past six months, Ernst told members of Cedar Rapids economic development groups in a virtual forum Tuesday. “The PPP is something we all agreed on.”

The initial round of PPP provided $5.1 billion of support to 61,418 Iowa businesses in an effort to keep employees on the payroll. Most of those loans were for small amounts, Ernst told the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Impact CR, and she would like to see loans of $150,000 or less forgiven.

However, nearly 84 percent of PPP borrowers have spent the entirety of their loans and 59 percent of small businesses still have only enough cash on hand to cover two months or less of operations, according to Ernst, who sits on the Senate Small Business Committee.

Given the need and the bipartisan support for PPP, Ernst is optimistic the GOP-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House will include it in another round of pandemic relief. But not until after the Nov. 3 election.

“I hope I’m wrong,” she said during an hourlong question-and-answer session. “Things are a little contentious right now. That might be an understatement.”

Her Democratic challenger in the November election, Des Moines businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, is scheduled to meet with the groups Oct. 8.

The House and Senate each have plans for another round of coronavirus relief, but so far have failed to reach a compromise. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are in discussions.

As Republicans have worked on another round of PPP, Ernst said, they have considered allowing a “second pass” for those businesses that suffered a loss of 50 percent or more of their revenue compared with last year. After hearing from small businesses, now they are looking at opening that to businesses that have had a 35 percent revenue loss from a year ago.

Ernst also wants the next COVID-19 relief package to include support for the health care industry. Many smaller hospitals have seen large drops in revenue from elective surgeries during the pandemic.

“That’s what a lot of our smaller health care systems rely on,” she said.

There’s also a need for more funding for schools as they try to provide learning in the classroom as well as virtually, Ernst said. That would include dollars for personal protective equipment.

Republicans also have included support for child care providers and help for the neediest families, Ernst said.

She also supports $20 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use to support farmers, food processors and producers, including the biofuels industry, and more flexibility for states to use CARES Act funds to help communities.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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