Ernst favors extended PPP

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

We have been encouraged to hear Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, endorse the idea of extending the Payroll Protection Program for a second round of funding to small businesses for whom funds expire this month. The PPP was a vital lifeline to 6,000 Iowa businesses that extended loans that turned into grants so long as payrolls were maintained. It has been a huge help to restaurants, health care providers, retailers and, yes, this newspaper. Were it not for the PPP we are not sure we would be publishing today.

Ernst is a member of the Senate Small Business Committee. She is in a difficult re-election battle. Now is not the time to play deficit hawk. Iowans from all walks of life, especially small business owners, desperately need help. Restaurants have shown great restraint and community commitment by staying closed or relying strictly on outdoor seating and takeout orders. They deserve reciprocation, and so do their employees. The retail environment is uneven — Amazon and Walmart are doing well, but independent Lake Avenue retailers that otherwise were fine now are struggling.

The Senate, controlled by Republicans, has been dragging its feet on another relief package awaiting signals from the Trump Administration. The waiting is over. Senators like Ernst must move, and that’s good. We need continued big federal action to keep the economy afloat and stave off a depression — we are already in a demand recession, where consumers are holding back on spending for everything.

The PPP has been criticized because, of course, it was abused by greed. Hedge funds were getting forgivable loans. There was bound to be waste in a massive project thrown together in a matter of days amid a pandemic. It is up to the Administration to police it, and it is up to Congress to seal holes left from the first legislation. But it is not a reason to throw people onto the unemployment rolls where they risk losing health insurance amid a health crisis. Some have complained that law firms received loans — legal secretaries have to eat, too, and the partners can’t afford to pay them when the court systems are shut down. In Iowa, the funds have been accessed responsibly by community banks, primarily, who know their customers and their needs, and who have good relationships with the SBA.

In urban areas, minority businesses have not had the same sort of access because they are largely unbanked by huge corporate chains. They deserve a special stream of revenue, especially as communities of color have been hit disproportionately hard by the virus.

Ernst can play a leadership role and put herself in good stead with Iowa small business owners, a key swing bloc of voters in this election who are not impressed with the overall direction this country is taking. She should work across the aisle with Democrats to extend the PPP program, provide more aid to local health systems and to testing, and extend unemployment benefits. We should maintain paid sick leave and protect our workforce. It will be cheaper and more efficient for the federal government to subsidize the economy for the near-term than try to dig out of a depression over the long term. It took 10 years to recover from the 2008 recession. We can’t afford to go through another austerity period like that, and Ernst knows it.

Leadership in Alta

Alta Mayor Kevin Walsh pledged to turn down the heat and improve the town by working with people, not against them. The results already are tricking in: A vacant building on Main Street that was a liability is being taken over by a local developer who will rehabilitate it into commercial and residential space. It will be a great improvement.

Walsh is trying to address concerns over deteriorating or abandoned properties by working with the owners or finding alternative solutions, as with the Main Street building that had become a city liability. The previous administration learned the hard way at Westview Mobile Home Park that working with the residents is an easier way to clean up properties than threatening people until they are paralyzed.

Real leadership that brings people together gets things done. Walsh is showing how it’s done. Congratulations also go to the council members who are more interested in serving their community than arguing with it.

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