Kustoff admits two congressional wrongs in providing COVID-19 relief

By , Special to the Daily Memphian Updated: June 10, 2020 4:54 PM CT | Published: June 10, 2020 4:54 PM CT

U.S. Rep. David Kustoff said Wednesday Congress was too generous in doling out unemployment benefits and put too many restrictions on how businesses could spend Paycheck Protection Program funds.

He also told officials and attendees at the Arlington Chamber virtual luncheon Wednesday he is a “maybe” for approving additional COVID-19 relief next month and would not support more federal unemployment payouts, but perhaps a back-to-work bonus.

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“In the middle to the end of March, it looked like the economy could very well be falling off a cliff,” said Kustoff, who voted for the $2 trillion CARES Act package and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help small businesses.

“President Trump made a remark that the SBA made more loans with the Paycheck Protection Program in 14 days than it had done in 14 years,” Kustoff said. “It’s really amazing.”

When the program ran out of money within a couple of weeks, Kustoff went back to Washington to help appropriate more money for it. In Tennessee, almost $9 billion has been loaned to small businesses through the PPP.

“We did a lot of things right,” he said, but restricting businesses to spending 75% of PPP funds on payroll was something “we did wrong.”

Since many small business owners had other expenses to consider, he and his colleagues went back in and were able to amend that figure down to 60%.

While initially not crazy about the idea, he eventually voted in favor of stimulus checks for individuals making up to $99,000 per year by considering that some of those people might’ve lost their jobs as well.

“One thing we did wrong — and I think a lot of us knew that it was wrong when it was passed, but again this was part of the greater CARES package — was giving a rich unemployment benefit of $600 per week on top of the state unemployment benefit,” he said.

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Kustoff is now hearing from employers that are having problems trying to bring employees back to work because some of them are making much more on unemployment than they would by coming back to work.

With the possibility of Congress voting on another stimulus relief package sometime in July, and with more than $3 trillion total already appropriated, Kustoff says he is a “maybe” right now on further relief. He wants to see the economic data and says he will not support another unemployment benefit.

“Small business can’t afford it. No business can afford it,” he said. “You can’t compete with the federal government when people are making that kind of money by staying at home, when (employers) are ready to go back to work, when the jobs are there.”

Instead, he suggests a one-time, return-to-work bonus of up to $1,200.

“But we can’t keep doing $600 per week,” he said.

He also wants to see liability protection for business owners and health care providers related to employees that contract COVID-19.

“It’s been a very trying time for everybody, from a health perspective and from an economic perspective all around Shelby County, all around West Tennessee, all across the nation,” Kustoff said. “In the end, we’re going to get over this. We’re going to get beyond it. Like we always do as a nation, we’re going to be stronger for it.”

Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman also offered an update on the Back-to-Business timeline, expressing disappointment that they were not able to move into phase 3 on June 8 like he had hoped.

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“It was a little discouraging for many of us,” Wissman said. “The plan is to move into phase 3 with the announcement on June 15.”

Because the health directive from the Shelby County Health Department is a fluid document at this point, that date is not set in stone.

“It was told to us that the protests do add a new challenge,” Wissman said. “The big concern is: will the protests alter the data to delay phase 3?”

The virtual luncheon is the second for the chamber, and Arlington Chamber Director Tonia Howell said she is glad the virtual platform is allowing members to ask important questions of and interact with elected leaders.

“This is feedback the elected officials want,” she said.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do. 

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PPP Paycheck Protection Program David Kustoff expanded unemployment benefit coronavirus

Michael Waddell

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian with more than 20 years of professional writing and editorial experience, working most recently with The Daily News and High Ground News.


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