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Mitt Romney, other Utah leaders seeking more coronavirus economic relief

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Sen. Mitt Romney sits and listens while attending the HELP Hearing: Implementing the 21st Century Cures Act on Capitol Hill in 2019.

Cheryl Diaz Meyer, for the Deseret News

Sen. Mitt Romney is apparently among a bipartisan group of senators reviving COVID-19 relief talks during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Meantime, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani called on Romney, R-Utah, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to support a targeted economic stimulus package, and Attorney General Sean Reyes is urging Congress to extend the coronavirus relief bill until the end of 2021.

Politico reported Monday that Romney is part of an informal group of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, citing sources familiar with the talks. The talks mostly involve telephone conversations because physical meetings in the Senate are limited amid the virus’ grip on the nation’s capital. Much of the discussion took place over the Thanksgiving recess last week.

Romney said in early November that there are a number of areas where Republicans and Democrats agree, including additional unemployment benefits, extending the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and more funding for schools, hospitals and airlines.

“Where we sort of come apart is $400 or $500 billion of additional borrowing going to states and localities,” he said, adding that doesn’t make sense.

The federal government doesn’t need to send tens of billions of dollars to New York, California and Illinois that have massive pension obligations, Romney said. He said Utah government leaders don’t see the need for billions of more dollars coming to the state.

Still, most lawmakers don’t give a comprehensive stimulus package much of a chance to pass before the end of the year, given the gap between Republicans and Democrats on key issues.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have repeatedly insisted upon a multitrillion-dollar deal with lots of money for states and localities and argued that no deal is better than an agreement that leaves that funding out, according to Politico.

Congress passed the massive $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March. Some key provisions expired in July while others, including expanded unemployment insurance and eviction moratoriums, expire at the end of the year.

Reyes joined 43 attorneys general in a letter Monday asking federal lawmakers to extend the deadline.

“Although the new vaccines offer significant hope for the future, the coronavirus pandemic is not over, and there are thousands of Utahns suffering economic and other hardships because of it. Congress should take action on extending the CARES Act, and I am urging them to prioritize this and get it done as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.

The spring package provided billions of dollars in economic stimulus to state and local governments to combat the impacts of the pandemic. The funds must be spent by Dec. 30. 

As infections rise throughout the country, states and local communities will continue to incur pandemic-related expenses next year. By extending the deadline, communities will be able to more strategically use the money, the attorneys general said.

“This time frame likely made sense in late March when the CARES Act was passed, but we have learned a great deal about COVID-19 in the past seven months. Among other things, we know that the pandemic will continue to challenge communities well beyond December 30, 2020 — a deadline that now seems unreasonable,” according to the letter.

Ghorbani is helping organize the “Save Utah Jobs” initiative, which is urging businesses to contact Romney and Lee to ask them to be leaders on an additional coronavirus relief package. About 90 businesses, mostly eateries, have joined the effort.

“Small businesses are at the heart and soul of Utah. They need our help right now,” she said on KSL Newsradio’s “Live Mic.”

The state’s service and hospitality industry has taken an especially hard hit. Ghorbani said 452 restaurants have closed down and “there are many hanging on just by a thread.”

Ghorbani said buying gift cards from restaurants would give them a much-needed cash infusion.