March 19, 2020
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Preserving jobs and protecting small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic

J. Scott Applewhite | AP
J. Scott Applewhite | AP
The Capitol is seen as lawmakers negotiate on the emergency coronavirus response legislation, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

As of noon Wednesday, March 18, 30 Maine residents have been confirmed positive and 12 others are presumed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.

The coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the globe is a major public health emergency. It is also having severe repercussions on our economy and disrupting our daily lives. Students and teachers have abruptly transitioned to online learning; parents have scrambled to find child care; and workers have been laid off or fear they may lose their jobs as the outbreak worsens.

With dozens of confirmed cases and community transmission now occurring in our state, it is clear that we have a difficult road ahead. I am encouraged to see Mainers stepping up by taking proper precautions and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, such as limiting large social gatherings and reducing non-essential travel. This will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect those who are at higher risk of the virus, especially seniors and those with underlying health conditions.

Although medical experts predict that these measures will help “ flatten the curve” of cases, they are also inadvertently taking a toll on employers and their employees. Maine’s small businesses are not immune to this trend. The Brunswick Inn, for example, received 84 cancellations within just 24 hours of Bowdoin College suspending in-person classes. Geaghan’s Pub & Craft Brewery in Bangor was closed for St. Patrick’s Day. Countless other businesses — such as restaurants, gyms, B&Bs, retailers, gift shops, and hair salons — have been hard hit. When these businesses suffer, it has a cascading effect on employees, from housekeepers to wait staff to bartenders to hairstylists to retail clerks.

This week, I met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and some of my colleagues to discuss the next steps in responding to the coronavirus to help prevent Americans from losing their jobs and small businesses going under through no fault of their own.

I put forth a plan to provide cash-flow assistance quickly to employers who agree not to lay off their workers despite losses caused by the virus. This would allow employers to stay in business and keep their employees on the payroll. My Keeping Workers Paid and Employed Act would provide federally guaranteed emergency loans to businesses that are experiencing a sharp drop in revenue due to COVID-19. These loans would be forgiven so long as employers keep their workers employed and paid. No portion of this financial assistance could be used to give raises to highly-compensated employees or to increase returns to shareholders.

Keeping people employed and ready to get back to work will cost far less than it would to try to rescue the economy after massive layoffs and business closures. If that happens, the impact on the federal budget would be substantial — not to mention the harm it would cause to millions of families.

I recently convened a briefing of Maine health care professionals who are on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. I also met with Gov. Janet Mills and Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah. I have been impressed by the state’s preparedness and coordination.

As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I am committed to providing Maine the resources it needs to keep up the fight. I strongly supported the $8.3 billion coronavirus package, which provided $4.6 million to the Maine CDC. I am continuing to work to strengthen the federal government’s response to protect Americans from this virus and vulnerable populations like seniors in particular.

On Sunday, Maine celebrated its 200th anniversary of achieving statehood. Since joining the union two centuries ago, we have faced our share of challenges. But Mainers are resilient. By staying true to our time-tested values of hard work, dedication, and ingenuity, and by safely supporting our neighbors and small businesses in our communities, I know that, together, we will overcome this challenge too.

Susan M. Collins is Maine’s senior senator.

 


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