Michigan Senator On Paycheck Protection Program Vote
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Help is on the way for small businesses. That is according to the Senate, which today approved new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, the PPP. It was part of the $2 trillion relief package passed late last month, and it supplies forgivable loans to small businesses that keep or bring back workers during this pandemic. Well, that PPP pot of money ran out last Thursday, thus this stopgap funding to top it up. There's also money in the package for hospitals and more testing. Well, joining me now is Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. She chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.
DEBBIE STABENOW: Well, Mary Louise, it's good to be with you tonight.
KELLY: Give us your brief take on this deal today. Are you pleased with where this has landed?
STABENOW: I am. I think this is a positive step forward. And, you know, the original small business program that we called Paycheck Protection Program was obviously something that there was a tremendous amount of need around. But we also found that there were particularly our smaller mom and pop businesses, minority businesses that were using community development and financial institutions or others that - our smallest banks and credit unions and farm credit for farmers and so on, they were left out - a lot of them...
STABENOW: ...The first time around. So...
STABENOW: That needed to be fixed.
STABENOW: So we basically have the - you know, that money and then all together 370 billion in total for business. But the final thing I will say is it was incredibly important for us as Democrats to make sure we were focused on health care. This is a pandemic, and if we don't continue to focus on health care, we're never going to get done with this.
KELLY: Speaking of fixing things, this program, the PPP - as you mentioned, it was advertised as - it's supposed to help smaller mom and pop businesses. And yet we saw giant chains - Potbelly Sandwiches, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Shake Shack...
KELLY: ...All getting in on the action. Did you intend for big corporations to have access, or is that a loophole that should be closed?
STABENOW: Well, that's not what I intended. And I think what the majority of us intended - what ended up happening is that those who have ongoing relationships with banks, and particularly larger banks, were able to move quickly and get at the front of the line.
KELLY: Has that been fixed? Has the loophole been plugged in this...
KELLY: ...Latest bill?
STABENOW: I believe, you know, it's not perfect. I think some of this is going to take oversight - you know, an inspector general doing long-term oversight. We have to have transparency on where these - what are the loans and who are they going to. But a big piece has been fixed by adding a specific amount of money for minority-owned businesses, our farmers, veteran-owned businesses, others who - in rural communities that were left out the first time around.
KELLY: Just before we move on from this point, should those big, publicly traded companies - should they have to pay back the money?
STABENOW: Well, that's something we've got to take a real look at. I mean, if they were doing something that was illegal under the program, I mean, that's one question. Ethical is another question. We've already seen some, you know, begin to say they're not going to take the money. I think that would be the right thing to do. Just because it's available doesn't mean that somebody should run at the head of the line because they're well-connected. So I think we've got to really look at that from a number of different angles.
KELLY: Yeah. I mean, just to step back and note, the sums here are staggering. Four spending bills now to fight the coronavirus - today's adds up to nearly half a trillion dollars, and it's a stopgap.
KELLY: Should Americans be terrified that we're spending our way out of a pandemic and right into a financial hole we're never going to dig out of?
STABENOW: Well, right now we have just probably the biggest challenge of our lifetime - yours and mine and everybody listening right now - when someone can go from having a thriving business to zero income, somebody who's got a good job and then is forced to stay home. And so - and it's all because of a pandemic. So I would say, first of all, that while - you know, two pieces of what we've been trying to do through all this. One is if you have to stay home or if your business is closing that you have income in some way available. And by the way, we need to, in the next round, be reimbursing and adding to the funds of the people who have to work - have...
STABENOW: ...To be a big priority for us as Democrats, a Heroes Fund. But I will say that if we don't get our arms around the magnitude of the health crisis and if we are not doing the level of testing to give us information...
STABENOW: ...So that the people who are sick stay home instead of everybody else, we are never going to get out of this hole. And so...
KELLY: It sounds like - just in the few seconds...
KELLY: ...We have left, it sounds like your answer to my basic question - can we afford this? - is we can't afford not to. There's no choice.
STABENOW: We can't afford not to, but we'd better keep focused on the health care pandemic...
STABENOW: ...Because if we don't get our arms around that, this is going to go on a long time.
KELLY: That is Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow.
Thank you so much, Senator.
STABENOW: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.