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The Paycheck Protection Program expires soon. Small businesses still need help

SHARE The Paycheck Protection Program expires soon. Small businesses still need help
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A sign lets customers know that City of Industry is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic on Broadway between 200 East and 300 East in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 18, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

East Zion Experiences looked forward to a fully booked spring season to lead clients on unique cayoneering tours through the slot canyons of southern Utah. That was before COVID-19 hit, the national parks closed and cancellations spiked. The friends who started the business worried they might lose everything. Then the company discovered a program freshly passed by Congress to help small businesses like theirs survive the nationwide quarantines.

The Paycheck Protection Program represents a rare achievement in Congress — a new government program that works as intended. Businesses with 500 or fewer employees can apply for a loan that the government will forgive, so long as employees remain on the payroll. The program proved so popular that Congress quickly returned to replenish the funds.

East Zion Experiences and some 50,000 Utah businesses have received loans. The program has allowed many of them to keep their employees and survive the quarantine. But we are not out of the woods yet, and more relief will be required. No one knows what course the virus will take in the fall and beyond. In fact, Utah and many other states have already experienced an uptick in COVID cases. Congress should pass another relief package to promote a stable recovery.

Several issues deserve attention. The Paycheck Protection Program sunsets on Aug. 8. New loan applications have slowed, but some small businesses need additional assistance while social distancing restrictions remain in place. Utah Sen. Mike Lee and others have argued that the program was intended to serve as a short-term solution. That makes sense. Congress should develop an alternative that can provide the neediest small businesses an extra boost for a limited period. 

As colleges, hospitals and businesses act in good faith to protect employees and patrons from COVID exposure, Congress should provide limited liability protections to prevent frivolous litigation. East Zion Experiences, for example, has decreased tour sizes and enforced social distancing among patrons. Employers all over the state will continue to do their best to keep people safe. Thankfully, the Utah Legislature has led the nation by passing state-level protections. Congress should follow suit, because many Utah employers have operations out of state that need similar certainty.

Congress should also provide funding for state and local governments hit hard by the pandemic. Utah’s shortfall could reach $2 billion, with nearly every municipality suffering a precipitous drop in revenue. Even so, COVID relief should not become a pretext for bailing out those states not as fiscally responsible as Utah. Congress should carefully backfill legitimate COVID shortfalls only. Congress should also address the $600 per week unemployment insurance bonus set to expire on July 31. While the extra benefit has served as a lifeline for millions of COVID unemployed, it has created a genuine disincentive to return to work, especially in lower cost-of-living states like Utah. Smart proposals include converting it to a “return to work” bonus.

In May, the House passed a $3 trillion bill that even Utah Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams labeled a “wish list.” It included a provision to allow marijuana banking, a bailout for union pensions and $50 million for “environmental justice” grants, among other Democratic priorities. This is not the legislation we need to achieve a successful recovery. The Senate should take the lead on crafting a bill that can garner bipartisan support.

We want Utah’s employees, customers and communities to do well. Given the chance, East Zion Experiences has seen clients flocking back to enjoy Utah’s beauty. Let’s keep it going. Congress should move quickly to promote a safe recovery.

Corey Astill is a business association executive, former senior adviser in the U.S. Senate and host of the “Conservative Minds” podcast.