Journal Opinion: Congress Must Act NOW

Even as help is on the way with vaccines for the coronavirus moving closer to distribution, more needs to be done NOW to address the economic consequences of the pandemic. 

Millions of Americans remain out of work – as of the week ended Dec. 5, 36,327 Ohioans and 40,033 Pennsylvanians filed new unemployment claims, contributing to the 853,000 filed that week across the country. Capacity limits, curtailed hours of operation and reduced demand resulting from the pandemic have placed businesses and nonprofits in dire straits.  

There is no doubt that the Paycheck Protection Program helped many navigate the uncertainties of the pandemic. The program, launched in April, provided loans totaling more than $1.06 billion to 9,628 businesses and organizations in the five-county region, supporting more than 126,000 jobs.

Our painstaking reporting on this program and everyone who benefited received some blowback. Our website provided links to PDFs that listed the loans by name and amount. Coverage noted who got the most money from the SBA, including banks that earned fees (see pages 22-25). Our reporting included that the Youngstown Publishing Co., parent of The Business Journal, received a PPP loan in the amount of $137,000. Full disclosure, after all.

But more help is needed, especially as the pandemic worsens. At press time, Ohio and Pennsylvania reported more than 10,000 new cases daily and deaths nationwide approached 300,000. Restrictions placed on businesses continue to tighten, with Gov. Mike DeWine extending the state’s 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew through Jan. 2 and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants and all high school sports.

A recent poll by the Ohio Restaurant Association found that 60% of operators expect to close within six months without additional government aid. Businesses of all kinds are suffering, and will need help to survive until widespread vaccine distribution can be achieved.

The end of supplemental unemployment assistance at the end of this month and the expiration of restrictions on evictions and foreclosures will place millions of Americans into catastrophes they never thought possible. Congress must act as soon as possible. Additional support for frontline workers, as called for in legislation earlier this year, also is essential, given the strain on health care workers, first responders and even grocery store clerks.    

It’s undoubtedly an expensive proposition.

Instead of action, we’re treated to grandstanding in the form of members of Congress – including U.S. Reps. Bill Johnson and Mike Kelly – endorsing a lawsuit initiated in Texas to throw out votes cast in four battleground states. States rights, anyone?

The country needs economic relief NOW and no doubt again in the first hundred days of the Biden administration. Stop the bickering, stop the grandstanding and get to work.