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Every weekday morning CAI brings you coverage of local issues, news, and stories that matter. Join us for Morning Edition from 6 a.m. to 9a.m., with Kathryn Eident.

Keating: New Federal Money for Businesses Will Help, But More is Needed

Credit: sba.gov

Starting Monday, small business owners around the country can apply for the latest infusion of federal money meant to help small businesses keep their workers on the payroll for as long as possible during this pandemic. 

The federal government has also directed $12 million in funds to help the Steamship Authority, which is struggling financially due to a significant drop in ridership. WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked with U.S. Representative Bill Keating of Bourne about both of those packages. 

Eident Good morning, Congressman.

Keating Good morning, Kathryn. Thanks for having me on.

Eident Glad to have you this morning. I want to talk first about the $484 billion package the President signed into law last week. The vast majority of the money, $310 billion, will go to the Paycheck Protection Program. Are there provisions in this bill that will help ensure that more small businesses can get access to this money?

Keating Well, Kathryn, anyone that was listening to their own small businesses knew that the massive first infusion that came out, it really didn't reach as many of the community banks and the smaller businesses that really affected by this. And there was a tension, as was reported, between the House and the Senate as to how to address it.

The Senate and the President wanted to just go out with another $250 billion in the same way that the first moneys came out. The House really won its point, I think, by making sure that there was a change in direction and a large amount of this where it was going to go to the smaller community banks, which had a better working relationship with small businesses around the country. So, this is this was important directional change. Two things going forward though: none of us that have followed this closely believe this alone will be enough. And, we're also looking to really direct it even further, so [the money] gets down to the smaller businesses. So we were able to get a change. We think there'll be a need for a greater change, too.

But, what was really at stake with this was critical for those health care workers that are on the front lines. We want to make sure there was moneys going to the hospitals right now to make sure there was moneys for the personal protection equipment of these frontline health care workers and first responders, as well as for the hospitals just to function because they're losing all this revenue by not having things like elective surgery. And we wanted to make sure also that the frontline first responders in cities and towns would get some needed money because the states and the communities are strained. We were successful with getting the hospital money. We were only successful in garnering a promise to deal with cities and towns and states in the next coming package.

Another thing that wasn't reported much was $25 billion that went to testing. And we really tried to hold the Senate and the President's feet to the fire because, without testing in place, we're going to be that much further away from reopening.  So, there was $25 billion in that for testing, $11 billion going to the states so they could administer it. We're already seeing plans come from the states working with communities on how to deal with that testing. So, it was an important-- those were important changes that we fought for. And we're able to get most of what we wanted.

Eident Yeah. And you mentioned, and there's already been reporting that there is, you know, another bill yet in the works that may address needs at the state level for states across the country?

Keating That's something is already being discussed and planned for. As well as when we hit the recovery stage, dealing with infrastructure issues as well. Important issues, obviously, for the Cape and Islands is something we're focusing attention on, making that two big bridges and the replacement of those bridges become a part of that. So there's a lot of work that's been done on behind the scenes, even though we're not there, we're working remotely. Logistically, it creates some longer times dealing with things. But it makes our days longer, actually.

Eident Hmm. Oh, I imagine it does, because it's not as easy as it is if you can just talk to somebody face-to-face. Are you hearing from constituents who had problems in the first round getting some of that payroll protection money who are, you know, just really hoping that they get something this time?

Keating I've heard from that loud and clear. In fact, when that was first issued, I had publicly gone to all the business community, small businesses affected, said, 'please try and get there first in line' because this was going to be done on a first-come, first-served basis. I was worried that the bigger institutions with the bigger connections to the bigger banks in place would get the lion's share of this. And unfortunately, that's just what happened.

Eident Yeah, yeah. And hopefully this time it will be a little different. I want to quickly just talk about another much smaller package, but certainly important. And that's money for the Steamship Authority. As we've been reporting, the ferry service losing about a million dollars a week because of such a big drop off in ridership due to this pandemic. And you helped secure about $12 million in federal funding for Steamship.

Keating Well, we are able to get through the CARES Act, that gigantic $2.2 trillion package, moneys for regional transit authorities, and Tom Cahir, who runs the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, took some of those funds and said, "Look, we have to work with Bob Davis and make sure as they face it, actually, what could have been a total interruption of service just in a few weeks, [and] have that money allocated for that." The trouble was that money was going to come too late. So, I was able to work in the last week with the FTA to try and get that money sooner. And we extracted a promise that that money would come sooner so that there wouldn't be that interruption. That would have been devastating for the islands and for our overall economy.

Eident I understand you had to kind of convince the Federal Transit Authority or Administration that the Steamship, in fact, is a commuter service.

Keating Well, back in January, not knowing what we're facing with this [pandemic], Tom Cahir came to me with information that said, "You know, there's a pool of money we think we'd get out there if we can convince them that we're a greater commuter service than we were."  And as you know, and I had a house on the island for 10 years on the Vineyard, people take one mode of transportation, and they sometimes take another one back. And they weren't being counted. Well, we were able to make a case for the next two years as they go forward on this, that they get reimbursed for that. That is what opened the door for the moneys that we needed now. So, we were working on that then, not knowing that we're able we're going to be able to access this in such a crisis.

Eident And, that is Congressman Bill Keating. Congressman, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to talk about this, and the Payroll Protection Act and the latest stimulus package. Stay safe.

Keating Thank you. Kathryn, stay well.

*This transcript has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Kathryn Eident was the Morning Edition Host and Senior Producer of News until November 2022.