April 22 TTH Partial Transcript

This is a partial transcript of Congresswoman Schrier's April 22, 2020 Telephone Town Hall:

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

Hello everybody. This is Representative Kim Schrier your Congresswoman from Washington's 8th district, and I am so delighted to have you join me again for another telephone town hall. During this coronavirus crisis, I'm unable to have in-person town halls, see you face-to-face and shake your hands. This is my way to reach out. This is my third telephone town hall regarding the coronavirus crisis. And they've generated a lot of interest and we've gotten a lot of positive feedback and so we thought it was time to do another one because as this crisis evolves, we are learning more, things are changing and people have new and different questions.

Today we have a couple of special guests because right now a lot of what we're thinking about are the economic impacts that coronavirus is taking on our economy. Our guests are Ron Nielsen from the Small Business Development Center, the Eastern regional manager and Steve Burke the Western regional manager for the Small Business Development Center. I will formally introduce them in a moment.

But I wanted to just take a little walk down memory lane because so much has changed over a very short period of time. If you'll recall, the first we learned about coronavirus around January 8th. And we think that this started in December of '19. In four short months, it has gone from first being diagnosed in China, to the first case in Washington state on January 21st, to the first death in Washington in late February.

And so much has evolved. Just here are a couple numbers to think about in Washington state. We had one case on January 19th. Since then on March 3rd, a friend of mine was diagnosed and that was right around the same time we were seeing the Life Care Center in Kirkland have a devastating coronavirus toll. On March 5th, we saw that cases were surging in Washington state. Then we had 70 cases and 11 deaths. I flew out with the rest of the Washington delegation and Vice President Pence to meet with the emergency operations center and really get a sense for what was going on the ground and how we could be most helpful.

Not long after that, on March 17th schools closed and on March 25th, we all got these stay home and stay healthy order. By April 1st, there were 6,000 cases in Washington, and almost 250 deaths. And now as of today in Washington state, 12,000 cases, almost 700 deaths. We have seen cases skyrocket across the country with over three quarter of a million cases and almost 50,000 deaths in the country.

Nowhere is spared. This is moving everywhere and I don't think any community in the country should think that they won't be touched by this. It's important to remember that a place like New York where there is a very densely populated area, COVID-19 will spread more easily, but there are also a lot more hospitals per square mile in New York than there are for example, in Wyoming. Sure, there will probably have fewer cases in rural areas, but when they do come, rural hospitals are less equipped to handle a surge. And so everybody needs to take this seriously. And I want to thank everyone out there for really taking this seriously and listening to the recommendations from experts to stay home and avoid spreading this to other people.

Congress has been really involved in guiding our efforts in working with the States in order to respond to this pandemic. On a couple of levels. First, we passed legislation. That is what Congress does. We pass legislation, we delegate money. And so right from the start, we delegated money to develop a vaccine and treatments as well as to help small businesses. Our second bill made sure that testing all over the country was free whether you have insurance or not. This ensures that there would be no financial reasons, somebody would not get tested and would not seek care. The bill also supported two weeks of paid sick leave and extended paid family leave so that if people needed to quarantine or needed to be home with children home from school, they could do so.

The third bill was the big $2.2 trillion bill (CARES Act) that set out to help the economy overall with a robust unemployment insurance with an added $600 a week for the first four months, special assistance for small businesses in the forms of loans and, where if certain conditions were met, like keeping employees on payroll, those loans would turn into grants. These forgivable loans that have been really a godsend for small businesses even though there have been bumps in the road in terms of the rollout. Tomorrow, by the way, we would be passing more legislation to give more assistance to small businesses.

We're also helping large industries that employ lots of people because they have been hurt and this has had a devastating toll economically. And we're helping farmers because as we are hearing now, especially about what's going on with hog farms in the Midwest, our farmers are suffering, workers on farms are suffering and our food chain is threatened.

The other thing that we have been doing in the Washington delegation is working hand in hand. Or maybe I should say phone in phone because we are not meeting in-person, but our delegation, Democrats and Republicans, we are on the phone with the governor, with FEMA, with CDC. We're on the phone with the state department, with small businesses and small business administration with unemployment. Trying to do our best work, to do the best for the state. And so when our state needed to figure out how to create hospital capacity in case of a surge. We worked with the hospital administration and the doctors and the governor. And when our state wasn't sure how many ventilators we would need or how many field hospitals we would need, we all spoke with a unified voice to make sure we could look out for the people in the 8th district and the people in Washington state.

So I want you to know that behind the scenes we have all, Democrats and Republicans, Senators and Members of Congress, been working to make things work smoothly and to make sure we do right by you.

With that, I want to introduce our guests both from the Small Business Development Center of Washington. Ron Nielsen, who is the Eastern regional manager and Steve Burke, who is the Western regional manager. I would love for them each to introduce themselves. Ron, why don't we start with you. You can say hello and tell us a little bit about what you do. And then I'll let Steve chime in and then we'll start taking some questions.

Ron Nielsen:

Great. Thank you Congressman Schrier. I want to thank you for your work that you have been doing. I know you're probably not getting much sleep these days, but to thank you for the efforts that you and your colleagues have been doing to provide these relief programs for our small business community and responding. What I will say is in a very quick and prompt manner. So thank you very much for that.

Ron Nielsen:

I've been with the Washington Small Business Development Center for 16 years. I've had another four years in the Arizona SPDC program as well. So this is my 20th year. I'm a native of Washington state and I've owned and operated three businesses for a total of 17 years in Washington state. And I'm located of the Wenatchee Office.

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

Thank you, and Steve.

Steve Burke:

Yes, Congresswoman Schrier. Thank you so much. And to everybody listening. My name is Steve Burke. I've been with the Washington Small Business Development Center for just over 10 years. And one of the things to point out is that Ron and I have both been veterans of the center and a lot of the work that we do are doing now is helping small businesses in that regard.

The Washington Small Business Development Centers is part of a nationwide network that was created by Congress about 40 years ago as a federal state partnership. And as such, a lot of myself are both employees of Washington state university because SBDCs around the nation, are connected to an Institute of higher learning. And then we've got some involvement and management oversight with the Small Business administration. And our job is to work one-on-one with small business owners, which we do every day.

During this time Ron and I have been doing numerous webinars and events similar to this. And locate an advisor near you by going to wsbdc.org. The acronym stands for Washington Small Business Development Centers or wsbdc.org. And there you can find a lot of information about relief and help for small business owners as well as upcoming webinars that we are doing. And how to contact an advisor in your area, wherever it is that you might be if you're looking for assistance as we move into a recovery phase in this crisis time period.

So I encourage all of you to check in with us. We've been doing this for quite some time and have a fair degree of success in helping small business owners through the challenges that they're facing. But with that, I'll turn it back over to you, Congresswoman.


How are we going to be increasing testing so we can safely reopen Washington state?

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

We've been very limited in testing to the point where here we are still, we're two months into this and we still are really only able to test people who are in the hospital or people who are working in the hospitals or emergency providers. And that is just an unacceptable way to try to tip toe back into a working economy without knowing who's infected, who's not, what percentage of the population is infected. We need to be able to identify hotspots before all of a sudden people are ending up in the ICU, which is three weeks after they get infected. So what you are bringing up, I think I have to start by saying what are the conditions like what are the conditions to lift the stay at home order and how do we proceed really carefully?

And the first condition is we should see decreasing incidents of new infections over about a two week period. There is a general consensus about that. And what's really spooky about this is that we've been watching the numbers and even with everybody's staying at home, we have essentially plateaued. We're not seeing a market decrease in the number of new cases. And so we really need people to continue to take this seriously because that has to be a condition for stepping out forward. We want to see a downward trending curve of new cases. Second, if we need to be able to have really robust testing, we need to be able to test everybody who's working in a nursing home every day. We need to be able to sample the population. Say, "You know, if we tested 0.1% of Washington's population every few days, we would get a really good early warning system for when we were going to see a spike of infections, a hot spot in the state.

And so I just think everybody should be prepared for frequent testing to an extent that we've never even imagined. Estimates range for how many we're going to need. I have heard everything from 15,000 to 85,000 tests per day in Washington state. And just to put that in perspective, right now we are averaging about 4,500 tests per day. So we could need anywhere from 10 to 20 times what we are currently doing in order to really manage this.

And then the last thing we need to do is to be able to test anybody who has symptoms and if they're positive, we need to have a public health infrastructure with actual people on the ground to reach out to that person who tested positive and to identify all of their close contacts so that they can quarantine themselves and not put other people at risk. This will be an ongoing situation with ebbs and flows really until we have a vaccine that is available to the majority of our population. So sorry for that very sobering dose of reality, Jody. But thank you for asking the question.

How do you increase testing? There was one way to do it and it really is in the President's hands. Right now if you were listening in on the phone calls that I'm listening and on about what goes on to get test swabs and involves things like chartered flights to China because somebody knows somebody who knows somebody who makes masks or a chartered flight to another part of China where they know somebody who makes the right swabs and a flight to Italy where they can get other swabs or reagents to run these tests. We should have already weeks ago, months ago been manufacturing what we need to get through this right here in the United States.

And that means manufacturing everything along the way, means the machines that run the tests. That means the swabs that people stick in their noses, that means the masks and the gallons that the nurses or the doctors who test people need to wear it means the reagents and everything else along the way. We've even had shortages of test tubes and pipettes that have blocked our ability to test. And the only solution to that, and I am not the only one saying this, there's broad consensus, is that we need manufacturing right here in the United States. This is a national security issue and we should not be depending on China.


With the PPP, my understanding is that I need to spend 75% of that on labor on paying individuals, which sounds great except it needs to be done with it eight weeks. Is there a chance of them changing those rules so that we'll have more time to spend on those payroll checks? What do I do with employees who are making more on unemployment and are reluctant to come back to work?

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

So just a quick overview. The paycheck protection program, the idea behind it was, "Hey, if we can keep employees working at their jobs or even if they're not working, getting a paycheck, then as soon as this economy is ready to roll again, everybody will be in place.”

People will be made whole, people can stay and still get their insurance through their jobs. That is a way to keep our economy resilient. And we also wanted to make sure that the people kept their jobs. And so we put the requirement on there that 75% of the money lent should be used to keep people on payroll. And that if you can keep people on payroll for eight weeks, then that loan becomes a grant. It becomes free money for that business to stay open. We want to help the economy.

I'm a cosponsor of legislation to be able to reapply to renew this every six to eight weeks depending on the situation on the ground. The other thing is some people are doing better getting unemployment than they would do if they were on payroll. And especially that is especially the case for tipped workers, for example, where their salary is only a small part of what they take home. That's why bringing them back, I think you have until the end of June to do that. And then the clock could start ticking then for eight weeks, which gives you a little breathing room.

Steve Burke:

What I'm going to share with you may not be everything that you want to hear. And that completely answers the question. I do want to support the Congresswoman's comment just now being pursuing additional legislation that may fix some of the ongoing concerns that people and business owners like yourself may have. But to specifically address the first part of your question, the SBA describes the PPP program as employer directed unemployment and the intention was in fact for you to pay your employees so that they did not have to go on unemployment during the eight week time period and the eight weeks starts when you actually received the funds. And from that point in time you have those eight weeks to utilize 75% of that loan on payroll. And then you will have to produce payroll records to document the fact that you during those eight weeks, utilize that payroll whether those employees were doing actual work for you or not.

And then at the end of that eight weeks, you can then go back to the lender that you are working with and apply for the loan forgiveness, a portion based upon your use of all or a portion of those funds. And the portion may not then have loan forgiveness if you didn't use all of those funds for that purpose.

As far as the unemployment picture and your employees, you're facing a situation that many are, but the reality is that under Washington unemployment law and the rules that are under what they are referring to as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program or PUA. Under that program, if you call your employees back to work or begin to pay them, then they are no longer eligible for unemployment. And if they refuse to come back, then they are still no longer eligible to receive unemployment because then they have refused work and they would properly have to report that they refused work on their weekly unemployment claim.

The purpose here is to be able to retain your employees at the level that they were at rather than having them getting essentially unemployment funds to help them at a higher level than they were before they were employed. And as the Congresswoman said, "One of the holes there is relative to tip-based workers in a restaurant bar, that thing." And the hole that they may have if those tips are not reported on their W-2 wages.

So hopefully we're seeing additional legislation as the Congresswoman said, there should be additional legislation that will help possibly identify some of these issues that hopefully get signed tomorrow and soon after that by the President. So we're looking forward to hearing what the details of that are going to be.

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

Let’s just say that Joe is in a position where his employees are doing better right now on unemployment. He still has a loan with very good terms. I think it's a 1% loan. You don't have to start paying it back for one or two years. It might not be unreasonable to just use the loan part to pay for rent and insurance and all of the other things that you would need to just keep the lights on. Or at least to be able to flip them on again when you go back to business. And just not be able to take advantage of the forgivable part. Is that maybe just another way to think about it?

Steve Burke:

Yes, that's true. But from a business advising perspective, from the work that we do, we are really encouraging people to do what we refer to as future cashflow forecasting. So if they receive a PPP loan for say $100,000, and it all depends on the size of the business and what their business model is, but if they receive that and they choose to not meet any of the obligations relative to the loan forgiveness and they wind up owing on that, then they will have to pay that back with 1% within two years. They don't have to make any payments for the first six months, but by the end of that two years, they're going to have to pay that back and their business model is going to need to support their ability to pay that back.

So that's something that they have to factor in. What payments are going to have to make on that loan. It would be a lot better if that loan was something that was 10, 20, 30 years even. And they could have a smaller loan payment, but paying back $100,000 in two years from the time that they get funded might be a struggle for some businesses and could be something that causes further stress down the road.

So we're suggesting that people do real cashflow forecasting so that they identify potential funds coming in, or opportunities that they have and put that up against their costs so that they have a real clear picture and a better piece of mind as to how these things are going to impact them one way or another, and how they can best use their money.


As a city council member, we are facing huge cuts in our revenue. We want to protect our core services fire and police officers and health. Can you talk about the relief that might or might not be coming to our smaller cities?

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

We have been pushing very hard to get money for small cities and for States because right now in the last bill we passed, we had money for States and for large cities. And the restriction was there only because we had to negotiate with both sides of the aisle. We wanted it to go to every little tiny town possible. But there was also a stipulation that it was for COVID-19 related costs. And the thing is that all cities and counties are getting hit so hard by this because when restaurants close and businesses close and there is no sales tax coming in that supports our local economies. And we don't have the property taxes coming in. We don't have things coming in that support our local services.

And where does that money go? It goes to our parks, it goes to our ambulances, our first responders. It goes to police departments and we can't let our cities and our counties fall apart and they are close to falling apart too. We forget how much of our economy and how much of our population really depends on local government. And so we were not able to negotiate that into this package that we're passing tomorrow, but we have assurances from the President that he will sign our next bill that has money that goes directly to all size counties and cities and towns and to States because they are severely underwater.


What do we know about the long-term damage from coronavirus and harm from ventilators?

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

There's a lot that we're learning. There've been some really good articles lately. There was one in the New York Times just the other day about the damage that coronavirus does to our lungs even before we end up on the ventilator. And that because there is no treatment for coronavirus, the damage really depends on your immune system to reverse. And yet at the same time, it's the immune system that does a lot of the damage and we are finding that for the few people on the order of 20 to 30% who come through and get off of a ventilator and leave the hospital, that there is a lot of residual damage.

We are still learning about this virus and long-term effects, but we're seeing weakness or seeing neurologic deficits. We're seeing lung problems, kidney problems and the like. And I am answering this question because I think it brings up something important that we all should be doing. I sat down with my husband and talked with him about what I would like to happen if I need to go to the hospital with COVID-19. This is a really awful illness and one of the ways that it is so awful is that when you're in the hospital, you're there alone because they can't let healthy people, they can't let anybody from the outside into a hospital for fear of transmitting this infection. And so you're there alone and you need to take that moment to have a discussion with your family before you're in the hospital about how you want to be treated, to what extent you want interventions, what they should do with the ventilator.

I think we all should have a conversation like that with our loved ones, but this seems like a good reminder to have that conversation now and hopefully you will never need it. But I wanted to relieve my husband of that responsibility or guilt of having to make a decision and wanted to give him that blessing of knowing what I would want.


I'm 74. I have high blood pressure. I've been home since the 6th of March, do we have to stay home forever?

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

I would feel so much better about going out if I knew that circulating numbers of COVID cases and infections in my area was around about one in 1,000 than if I knew that it was one in 50. I think it's that knowledge that helps us decide what risk is acceptable for us. In the meantime, please go outside. Please take a walk. It's good for your health, it's good for your mind and your mental health.

You just keep the six foot distance from others. I think everybody in our neighborhood is getting used to everybody crossing to the other side of the street when someone's coming. Just keep that safe distance, and if you're in a place where you can't keep a distance and put on a mask and you still have to live, you just have to make that risk calculation for yourself. So that's where testing helps and being outdoors will help your health.


How do we manage large influxes of people into our communities? Even if people are being tested and contacts are being traced, how are we going to manage this?

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

Just a word about travel in general. It's really not a great idea to do a ton of traveling during a pandemic. But I really would ask everybody to take the right precautions, to be very careful in their decisions about where they go because we all want to feel safe when we're out and about. And the way to do that is for us to all behave responsibly and limit travel.


Does being on social security affect how much people receive from the direct payments?

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

People who rely on social security, if they don't exceed the income requirements, should get the financial assistance checks. For people who filed taxes, many of them have already received that. If you don't file taxes, I believe next week is when you should expect it. And if you are a person with social security disability who does not file taxes, I believe it's the first week in May that you can expect your check.

I should just mention, I think there are some seniors who have been frustrated that they have not gotten this. The income that is used on your tax form includes your social security but also includes dividends and any capital gains. If you exceeded the maximum, then that would either disqualify you or lower the amount of the financial assistance that you will get straight from the government which should make sense.


What can be done to ensure a safe election in the presidential election in 2020 at a national level?

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

I think it is a critical question and it is something that is really fundamental to our democracy. It was horrifying to see what was going on in Wisconsin where people had to choose between their health and exercising their right to vote. And nobody should have to do that. And in particular with this coronavirus that takes such a devastating toll on the elderly and on people with preexisting conditions, to ask them to go out and cast a vote and put their health at risk, it makes absolutely no sense and it was highly irresponsible. We cannot allow that to happen across the country. We are so lucky in Washington state that we have postage paid mail-in ballots and that's great for Washington. We need that in the rest of the country.

Frankly it matters for Washington too because we all share Congress, the Senate, our President. And so how voting happens across the country really does matter for all of us. We put in a marker in our second bill for funding for States to be able to do mail-in or enhanced absentee ballots, but it needs to go farther than that. We really need to provide the funding from Congress that says, we've got you covered States, whatever it costs to do a 100% mail-in postage paid ballots, we will provide because we need to make our democracy functional. This is not a partisan issue. This is a patriotic issue.


Are you pushing hard for some of the remote areas to open up? We rely on our restaurants and tourism.

Congresswoman Kim Schrier:

The thing is, your medical resources at Kittitas Valley Healthcare for example, are not as robust as in Seattle. And so it may be that simply having 20 people who all need to be hospitalized would overwhelm the system. And so that's why we're being really careful even in rural areas. And it is also why that surveillance testing is going to be so important, so that we don't miss an evolving hotspot and end up having it be lo and behold in Clallam. We are seeing these little spots pop up whether it's in Georgia or in Nebraska where even in a very small rural area, we can see this happen.