ABINGDON, Va. — U.S. Sen. Mark Warner on Monday said the federal government must do more to assist small businesses and families amid the public health pandemic while noting localities may get some breaks on federal CARES Act funding restrictions.
The Virginia Democrat hosted an hourlong town hall meeting with 14 Southwest Virginia community leaders and residents during a campaign swing through the region. He faces Republican nominee Daniel Gade, an Army veteran and instructor at American University, plus two independent candidates, on Nov. 3.
Part of the discussion centered on the federal response to COVID-19 and the negative impacts on the economy, businesses and the public and private sectors. Warner said federal officials must do more. Negotiations regarding a second wave of federal financial support stalled more than two weeks ago, and the Senate adjourned Aug. 13 with no apparent prospects of returning this month.
“The CARES package was good for the short term, but none of us expected this to be going on six months later. We [Congress] need to come back and put additional money into small business support,” Warner said in response to a reporter’s question. “Fifty percent of our workforce works for small business. These businesses are as stretched as they can be; we need to come back and do our job. I’m disappointed [in] Speaker McConnell [Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.]. We need to bring the Senate back into session, and we need to provide that additional small business support.”
Warner said additional assistance should come before the November election.
“The families that need that assistance, whether it was a wind-down on unemployment insurance or small business assistance, they can’t wait until after the election,” he said. “I don’t always agree with the president, but the president picked me to be on his reopening commission. My message to the White House and to leaders on both sides in Congress is let’s provide that additional small business support, additional health care support. I think the first CARES bill did a pretty good job of keeping people out of poverty, but I think people are getting close to their breaking point.”
Bristol Virginia City Manager Randy Eads and Jill Carson, vice mayor of Pennington Gap, both expressed concern about CARES Act provisions that all allocations must be spent by Dec. 30 and that no funds can be used to offset revenue losses — even those caused by circumstances of the pandemic.
Eads told Warner it will be “virtually impossible” to comply with that deadline because some allowable equipment isn’t currently available.
Warner agreed, saying Congress should extend the spending deadline and allow more flexibility so funds can be spent to help cover revenue losses.
“I think there was complete agreement that money that went to local governments to say you can’t use it for revenue loss is just crazy,” Warner said after the meeting. “I don’t want money to be spent on some new building, but if you lost revenues because sales tax revenues are down or meals tax revenues are down, you shouldn’t have to lay off a law enforcement officer or an EMT. Let’s give local governments flexibility.”
Warner also said CARES Act deadlines for local governments may be extended, which Eads termed good news.
“Hopefully, Congress gets that worked out that localities can spend some of that CARES Act funding for revenue loss we’ve suffered over the past six months,” Eads said. “If that happens, it gives us a lot more different opportunities to be able to utilize that funding.”
The city received about $1.4 million in the first round of disbursements and expects to receive another $1.4 million in the second round.
Some of the personal protective equipment the city is trying to acquire is now unavailable.
“When it comes to PPE, right now every locality across America is attempting to get this same PPE equipment we’re trying to get. Things are on back order, and we may be up against a deadline we don’t necessarily want or need to be up against,” Eads said.
Warner also called for a massive expansion of broadband services, especially since many school systems are using online platforms to deliver lessons and a greater need for telehealth services amid the pandemic.