A Discussion on the Federal Response to COVID-19 with Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen

Cardin Van Hollen introduction
On April 21, 2020, the Greater Baltimore Committee hosted a discussion with Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen on the federal legislative response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the impacts on business. More than 150 GBC members attended the webinar, moderated by GBC President and CEO Donald C. Fry.

In his introduction, Fry said, “This is an equally challenging time for our elected leaders in Washington as we have not experienced a public health pandemic of this magnitude and its impact on our economy. Maryland is fortunate to have two United States Senators that have a wealth of experience at the state and federal levels of government and are knowledgeable about business, economics, and have the influence to work with other senators to find common ground for the good of the citizens of Maryland and the country.”

Both senators spoke about the various stimulus packages available, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and the news of a new stimulus relief package that would add $310 billion into the PPP, with $60 billion set aside for lenders that have roots in under-served communities.

Speaking first, Sen. Cardin said, “We’ve got to get through this pandemic and we’ve got to do it in unity. Our first priority is to deal with the health crisis.” He added, “Every day in Maryland, we’re losing about 30 of our citizens to the coronavirus and that is continuing. It is not ending.”

Sen. Cardin also focused on how the small business community has been impacted by the coronavirus and how vital it is for these organizations to have a support system during trying times.

“I was directly involved with the provisions for small businesses. [They’re] the growth engine of our economy and they’re the most vulnerable when we go through a pandemic like this,” Sen. Cardin said.

Sen. Van Hollen opened his remarks by thanking Sen. Cardin and Governor Larry Hogan. “It’s been a real statewide effort to make sure we can all weather the storm together and come out the other side and rebuild.”

Referring to the new bill, Sen. Van Hollen said, “The latest agreement improves the PPP program. …We pushed for some common sense and bipartisan changes to make the PPP program more useful for certain businesses, especially restaurants.”

In regards to the CARES Act, Sen. Van Hollen said jurisdictions like Baltimore City and Baltimore County will get direct support from the U.S. Treasury. “Baltimore City, $106 million, and Baltimore County, $144 million. These are to pay for costs that are incurred in response to the coronavirus.”

Sen. Van Hollen also talked about the need for supplies and testing capabilities. “All the health experts have told us that if you want to get back to some sort of normalcy, we have to dramatically increase our testing. Right now we are woefully behind nationally when it comes to our testing capacity and we need to get that up and running fast through greater use of the Defense Production Act.”

Sen. Van Hollen added that we need about five times more than what we already have when it comes to testing.

In closing, Van Hollen said, “This is a time when we have to pull together.”

Both senators answered questions from attendees about the Paycheck Protection Program and money available for women- and minority-owned businesses, early applications for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan that haven’t been responded to, a potential infrastructure package, and potential support for arts and cultural organizations.

The senators encouraged individuals who are waiting on responses back to contact one of their offices and banks to get more information. Sen. Cardin also reiterated the fact that the stimulus bill has not changed the eligibility rules for resources but that it could be addressed in the next stimulus package.

The event closed with Sen. Van Hollen thanking members for their time and encouraging them to reach out to either senator (vanhollen.senate.gov  and cardin.senate.gov) with input they might have.

See Senator Cardin’s April 21, 2020, Statement on Passage of the Interim COVID-19 Relief Package here.

Also see:

COVID-19: GBC Coverage and Response

Special Update on State and Federal Legislation Related to COVID-19

COVID-19 Resources and Helpful Websites