By Aila Boyd
Rep. Ben Cline (R-6th) participated in the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce’s new virtual series called Botetourt Community Conversations with government officials last Wednesday.
During the event, Cline spoke about the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s a challenging time for everybody, especially for businesses,” he said. “Government has done its part to try to eliminate the virus and lessen the number of future lives lost, while urging practices that contradict many of the characteristics that make America great.”
He noted that asking citizens not to eat out at restaurants or to attend church services is “a big ask.”
“As a nation, we have to be committed to defeating the virus on both the health front and the economic front as well,” he said.
In response to the virus, Cline noted that Congress has met four times since wide-spread closures started occurring. He said that he hopes Congress will continue to meet as time goes on.
“During those four times, we passed four of the biggest bills we’ve ever passed,” he explained. “We’re trying to provide assistance to those businesses who are being asked to change how they operate.”
The bills included aid to individuals in an attempt to “try to inject liquidity into personal finances” through emergency relief checks and aid to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program. To date, there have been two rounds of funding for the program.
Aid to middle and large sized businesses was distributed through the Main Street Lending Program, which is under the purview of the Secretary of the Treasury, he said.
Cline explained that Congress has also provided funding to state and local governments, hospitals, community health centers, and other providers. “For as long as governments are going to be asking the business community to cease their activities or requiring businesses to shut down, we have a responsibility to make sure that those businesses are given the lifelines they need to make it through,” he said.
He went on to give a breakdown of the CARES Act, which provided $2 trillion in funds was followed by legislation that provided an additional $300 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, $60 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, $75 billion to hospitals, and $25 billion to enhance state testing capabilities. “There have been a few issues with these programs and the agencies,” Cline said. He noted that the Trump administration has submitted guidelines so that large entities that may have taken advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program funding in the first few days that funding was made available are expected to pay back what they have received because the program was intended for small businesses. Additionally, he said that loans through the program are “strong” with the average loan amount being $15,000.
He went on to talk about Virginia’s response to the virus.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation. My preference is to encourage the governor, with cooperation from state and local officials, to phase in a reopening,” he said. “We’re succeeding in flattening the curve and managing this virus, albeit with great loss of life and loss to our communities. We will hopefully develop a vaccine in the near future. Nobody knows when that will be, if at all. But we’re going to try to reopen in the meantime, while still maintaining social distancing, which has helped us flatten the curve.”
Cline, who was sworn into Congress for his first term last year, is running for re-election this November.
This week, Del. Terry Austin will participate in the conversation series. He represents the 19th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. To register for the free event, visit the chamber’s event page at botetourtchamber.com.