Representatives Susie Lee and Steven Horsford held a Community Conversation online, April 20, 2020. The event covered a wide range of topics related to the COVID 19 crisis. Speakers included the moderator Shandell Newsom, Chair of the Urban Chamber of Commerce, with special guests Sonny Vinuya, President of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, and Peter Guzman, President of the Latin Chamber of Commerce.
Shundell Newsom of the Urban Chamber opened the meeting with an introduction of the Congressional and Chamber representatives then asked Representatives Lee and Horsford to open the proceedings with individual statements related to their activities pertaining to the supplemental relief package making its way through Congress. He later took questions from the webinar viewers related to the topics discussed and comments from Peter Guzman, President of the Latin Chamber and Sonny Vinuya, President of the .Asian Chambers.
Representative Lee began by stating that, “Our community, our country is in crisis. This is a war time scenario that takes all of government all of our community coming together; this is a public health crisis and the economic crises will end when the public health crisis ends.” She stressed that, “The impact has been uneven by far impacting our minority communities much more significantly.” She blamed the extreme measures we are taking now on a slow response from the Federal government and “…as a consequence no state will have the economic devastation as our state because of our dependence on tourism dollars.”
She indicated that Congress passed three significant relief bills relatively quickly. The “Family First Act” extended and upgraded unemployment insurance, extended family leave, and for the first time provided unemployment for 1099s and independent contractors. The “Cares Package” brought essential resources into the health care industry, state and local governments, front line firefighters, police offices, health care workers. The “Paycheck Protection Program” or PPP was designed to provide money to the small businesses to help them keep their employees and support them through the crisis. While she gives kudos to the entire Nevada Congressional delegation, Assemblymen Horsford, Titus and Amodei and Senators Rosen and Cortez-Masteo for supporting the original bill, she bemoaned the fact that “Gaming got screwed.”
Lee explained that Congress has found major flaws in the original PPP package during its initial implementation that they are now working on to make changes before approving additional money. “Nevada got screwed in the PPP package because it was the intent of the legislation…to incentivize companies to continue to pay their payroll so we didn’t have to turn too many people over to unemployment. It didn’t say in the legislation ‘every employee except gaming.’ The SBA, a federal agency, took an interpretation and implemented that. So we are continuing to fight to make sure that our small companies who rely on gaming to get some of their revenues will get access to this program.”
Lee went on to explain in more detail that in Nevada the SBA, using their own “administrative language unilaterally cut out gaming from accessing these loans.” She indicated that in 7 other states with comparable populations, Nevada ranks last in access to the loans. “As of last week we had 8,600 businesses obtained loans totaling $2 billion dollars. Compare that to Iowa…they received 29,400 loans totaling $24.3 billion dollars.”
Since then the SBA has relented loosening its restrictions but not eliminating them so the Nevada delegation put together a bill calling for new “statutory language that basically says, Paycheck Protection Program means all paychecks. It doesn’t matter where your paycheck comes from.” Lee stressed that if the changes sponsored by the Nevada delegation is not included in the pending supplemental legislation the delegation will continue to pursue in the future, anticipated Cares Package 2.0 Act.
When asked how smaller businesses were going to be able to access new relief funds if the legislation passed, Lee explained that the supplemental bill has money dedicated for disbursement through credit unions, small local and regional banks and programs like the CDFI. “CDFIs are so important because their mission is to work with minority, women veteran owned business…” the bill specifically carves out $60 billion dollars for the money to go to “the mom and pop shops and independent contractors who were left behind.”
Representative Horsford also reiterated the importance of the CDFI program. “This is something we had to fight to get a carve-out for.” He stressed the unfairness when truly small businesses with 2, or 5, or 10 or 25 employees had having to compete with businesses employing 300, 400 or 500 employees. “Everybody needs help but it [existing legislation] disproportionally disadvantages those really small, minority owned businesses many of whom didn’t even have the ability to get in and be considered by the first traunch of funding. We understand that this is a priority for everyone but we absolutely understand that we cannot leave minority, women and veteran owned businesses behind because structurally they are not able to compete with some of the larger, small businesses.”
Additionally, Representative Lee noted the $50 billion added for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Relief (EIDL) program as well. EIDL makes loan advances up to $10,000 for businesses currently experiencing temporary difficulties. It is currently not accepting additional applications until additional funding is received. However, Representative Horsford explained that he had heard from a large number of businesses in his district in relation to these loans and that those who have already applied and are waiting will be first in line when the money is made available for SBA to give those approvals. “If you are having a challenge, I want you to know that we are here, if we can follow up on up once this funding gets disbursed we will, so please reach out and contact our office and we can follow up as well.”
Horsford added that as a member of the Congressional Ways and Means Committee he has worked with the Chamber presidents in attendance to help shape legislation on behalf of small business. He noted that earlier this week he has introduced a bill called the Worker Health Protection Act that would provide 100% funding for Cobra benefits covering both the employer and employee contribution for up to 15 months. “So no person goes without health insurance during this public health crisis.
He informed the participants that members of the Nevada congressional delegation were already talking to State and local governments developing information to apply to planned fourth upcoming bill which will address areas not covered by the three previous relief packages or the supplemental which is going through Congress now. It will suggest additional financial support for unemployment insurance, additional cash payments, and help for State and local governments so they can maintain essential services.
Both Representative Horsford and Lee stressed that they were there to help their constituents and all Nevadans with information, resources and support.
Peter Guzman, President of the Latin Chamber of Commerce then spoke about his members. He stressed the need for the Congressional delegation to understand the narrow profit margins on which many of the businesses in the Hispanic community operate. “My members they don’t have the time to obsess over politics right now. They’re obsessing over payroll and trying to make sure people are working. That’s what entrepreneur spirit is all about and that’s what they do…”
Guzman stressed the Chamber’s support for its members and their willingness to work with all small business to get them information and support through the present crisis. “America, we can bring back economies. We cannot bring back bodies. That is something we absolutely have to live by now. We are strong…so let’s do this right. Let’s do it with science. Let’s be prepared.” He stressed that no matter how swiftly the change came, that businesses should be ready for the changes coming in reopening and be ready to attack and embrace them and that the Latin Chamber was there to help them.
Sonny Vinuya of the Asia Chamber had similar comments. He indicated that Asian business owners are worried about the future and how to pay their employees, rent and taxes. They are studying relief packages and asking questions and looking for assistance. The chamber is providing information and resources, helping them with contacts, banking connections, and working with Community partners.
He stressed that it is about being kind but it’s also about not condoning behavior that will injure other people. As far as the economic downturn, he is asking how the Asian Chamber can better support for their business as things begin to open because we don’t know how American is going to be different.
During the conversation everyone stressed the need for the whole community to comply with safety measures; take time to thank those who are working hard to protect us; and have patience with the local officials who are working under ultra-stressful conditions. Susie Lee summed it up, “This virus has really shone a light on who exactly are our essential workers. …We understand now just how important our minority community is to providing essential services to all of us, and honestly how underappreciated and underpaid they are for doing so.”
Shaundell Newsome closed by saying we are, “Six feet apart or six feet under. We have a very clear option as individuals right now.”
Events like this Community Conversation are listed on Representative Lee’s and Horsford’s websites and Facebook pages. You can attend by a reservation to attend on their websites or Facebook events sections.