As Congress and the White House continue negotiations for more federal stimulus for the coronavirus-crashed economy, Republican Rep. Michael Waltz is pushing for more help for small businesses.
That includes his opposition to calls, mostly from Democrats, to renew the $600 federal unemployment compensation program that expired last week. Waltz said business owners are telling him that much money in federal aid to unemployed people is hurting their efforts to keep and recruit workers.
In an interview Monday with Florida Politics, Waltz, of St. Augustine Beach, said his top priority for the next coronavirus crisis relief bill is another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans available for small businesses to maintain their payrolls
The first round, part of the CARES Act Congress approved in March, allowed more than 4.8 million small businesses to split more than a half-trillion dollars in short-term loans to cover payroll, loans which will be forgiven if the business did not lay anyone off.
Right now much of the relief bill negotiations involve Senate Republicans and House Democrats. Waltz, whose 6th Congressional District covers a stretch of coast from St. Augustine Beach through New Smyrna Beach and then westward into Lake County, is neither. But he still has influence and a vote.
“We’re really focused on how to improve and extend, and we would like to do another round of PPP. There certainly were some high-profile abuses of it. But overall I think it was a very successfully program, given the amount of time we had to stand it up from scratch,” Waltz said. “The statistics that really stand out … are that 85% of the loans were for $150,000 or less, and about 60% were for $50,000 or less. So that tells us the program was hugely helpful to small businesses.”
Among revisions Waltz said are being discussed that he supports are a revenue-loss means test for businesses, and perhaps a reduction in the maximum size of a business to 300 employees from 500.
As for continued federal relief for the estimated 30 million people who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis, Waltz said he supports a proposal to require some form of national or community service, through various existing public and private organizations such as AmeriCorps. The idea is floating in the Senate.
But $600 a week in federal pandemic unemployment compensation checks, like those in the program that expired last Friday? No. He said $600 is too much. And he does not want any unemployment programs “extended all the way into next spring, which is the current Democratic proposal.”
“I’m getting business owner after business owner saying, ‘Look, I can’t hire my people back.’ I don’t think that’s just a talking point. We’re getting the calls. I’m getting the calls, particularly in hospitality, restaurant and like landscaping and other hourly wage type jobs.
“Its tough. People obviously still need assistance. The state piece ($260 a week) is there. I think we’ll settle in some middle ground for some shorter amount of time,” Waltz said. “But beyond that, the amount we’re spending ,and I think the perverse incentives that is putting in place, we need to phase that out, sooner than later.
“And this is the piece getting lost: not only is it very difficult for them to hire people back, it is really detrimental to the morale for the people they kept,” Waltz said. “I just talked to one landscaping owner who said it is devastating. His guys are out there in 90-degree weather laying out pavers and their colleagues are at home making the same amount of money.”
Is he also hearing from unemployed people about what they want?
“Some, many, would like their jobs back,” Waltz said. “But we have heard from others that as long as they are able to make the same amount, then they’re going to do that.”