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Coronavirus

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 18, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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Mrs. SHAHEEN. Madam President, I come to the floor today to raise the concern about the need to pass another package of assistance to address the coronavirus.

I had a chance over the weeks that we were in our home States in October and after the election to travel around New Hampshire and to talk with a number of our small businesses, representatives from nursing homes, from our hospitals, from so many of the people who are affected by what is happening with COVID-19.

And what I heard was that too many people are struggling; too many people are hurting, and they need help.

New Hampshire has a small business economy. It is an economy where over 50 percent of our workers are employed by small businesses, where about 98 percent of the businesses in New Hampshire are considered to be small businesses.

And I was very proud of being able to work with Senators Cardin and Rubio and Collins to design the Paycheck Protection Program as part of the CARES Act that has helped over 24,000 small businesses during the time after it was passed--small businesses and nonprofits.

That also was instrumental in bringing $2.5 billion into New Hampshire and keeping 200,000 people employed.

Many of those small businesses have bounced back to where they were before COVID-19, but too many of them still need help, and they are worried about whether they are going to be able to get through the winter.

Of special concern are businesses in the hospitality industry--our hotels and restaurants. Tourism is our second largest industry in New Hampshire.

Recently, I had a conference call with a number of folks from the Hotel and Lodging Association. One of the things that they told me is that they are not sure how they are going to get through the winter.

For many of our restaurants, about a third of their business has come over the summer from outdoor eating, and that, of course, is ending in New Hampshire as the weather gets cold. How they are going to make that up is a real question.

Restaurants were the first businesses to be shut down in New Hampshire; they were the last businesses to open up; and now we have a huge industry that is not sure how it is going to get through the year.

The second highest number of workers in this country are in the restaurant industry. We have got to provide some help for them, and it needs to be significant. We also have to look at the hotels. Again, a big piece of what we have got to address.

There was a recent report from the American Hotel and Lodging Association that showed that business travel over the holidays is going to be down significantly. That is a big source of revenue for many of those businesses, and we have got to provide some help and some additional help for those businesses as we look at trying to get a package of assistance.

Another round of the PPP program is probably important. We know we had about $125 billion left in that program, but we need to think about how we can target it best to those industries that are most affected, also to minority businesses that may not have a relationship with a financial institution.

So as we think about what we have got to do, that is one of the big pieces.

I had a chance to visit a restaurant over in the western part of our State. It was a business that I visited 6 years ago, right after it had opened--a restaurant and pub.

When I went there, they had five employees. It is a young man and his mother who run the business. I asked him if he was able to get a PPP loan. He said, yes, but he said: My mother and I haven't taken a salary since March because it didn't seem right to lay off one of my five employees who have families just so that I could take a salary. He said: So we are doing everything we can to get by. We hope we will be able to make it, but it is not at all clear that we will be able to do that.

I looked around the restaurant, and in the middle of the restaurant was a big barrel, and it was filled with canned goods and dried goods-- food. On it was a sign that said, ``Take what you need,'' because we have so many people who are desperate--desperate for food, desperate for housing.

As I talked to the mayors in New Hampshire, particularly in our two largest cities, Manchester and Nashua, housing and homelessness is a huge issue. Homelessness has increased exponentially. In Manchester, our biggest city, we have 35 encampments of the homeless. The biggest one is on the grounds of the State superior court.

What does it say when, in the richest country in the world, we have so many people who are homeless? And the problem is getting worse. I talked to the community action agencies in New Hampshire, which are providing help for people with housing. They told me they are seeing people they have never seen before--people who need help because of COVID.

Then there are the childcare centers and camps. In New Hampshire, our camps have been a special part of our summer experience. We have people from all over the country who come to camps in New Hampshire. Only six of our overnight camps were able to operate through the summer, and they operate on a margin that says if they don't make it in the summer, they are not going to get any revenue for another year until next summer. They are worried about whether they are going to go under between now and next summer.

Our childcare centers--I heard from Jackie Cowell, who runs an organization called Early Learning New Hampshire, which is an umbrella organization for childcare in New Hampshire. What she told me is that if they get no help, by next year 50 percent of the childcare centers in New Hampshire will be out of business.

As I talked to employers at some of those small businesses, they tell me one of the challenges they have is being able to bring workers back when they are able to operate because they don't have any childcare for their kids. And, of course, with schools going so remote, there is a real concern about parents and how they are dealing with their kids. Most parents and most schools want to bring the kids back, but in order to do that, they have to make sure that it is safe, and they need help in order to make sure it is safe. They need help with HVAC systems and with the cleaning supplies and the PPE that are necessary in order to make sure the schools are safe for the students. We have to provide help for those schools. We have to provide help for the childcare centers and help for our small businesses.

Then, of course, I met with nursing homes in New Hampshire. Long-term care facilities have had about 40 percent of the deaths as a result of COVID-19 in this country, and yet they have only gotten about 4 percent of the funding. In New Hampshire, where we have the highest percentage of deaths in our long-term care facilities of any State in the country, 82 percent of our deaths have been in nursing homes.

Right now they have a workforce shortage that averages about 25 percent. It is so bad that our Governor this week reinstituted a stipend for long-term care workers. It is something that he started back in April. It ran through July. As things got better, they needed less help. But now they are back in a situation where they can't get the help they need.

I visited a nursing home in the northern part of New Hampshire, Coos County, our northern most county that borders the Canadian border. What they told me is that while they have some personal protective equipment, they don't have enough to guarantee what they need long term. So here we are, 9 months into this pandemic, and we still have nursing homes that can't get the help they need, can't get the personal protective equipment that they need. They are struggling to get by, struggling to get the workers they need.

Then there are the hospitals. In New Hampshire we have a lot of rural hospitals. One of them has gone bankrupt in the last couple of weeks because of COVID. The hospitals in our two biggest cities have had the majority of the hospitalizations that we have seen in New Hampshire. We have four hospitals, two in Manchester and two in New Hampshire, that have dealt with the most COVID patients in the State. Just when they were beginning to see their patients come back in September and early October, we are now seeing the cases rise again, and hospitalizations are up. So they are looking at financial shortfalls at the end of this year. If we can't provide help for those hospitals, if we can't provide help for some of our rural hospitals, we are going to see more bankruptcies. That means not just an impact on the healthcare that they provide, but for many of those institutions, they are the biggest employer in their community, so more people are going to be out of work.

So we are looking at this downward spiral that is going to get ever worse if we do nothing to address the needs of our businesses, of the people who are unemployed, of hospitals, childcare centers, and our schools. It is critical that we come to some agreement. We ought to be able to reach a bipartisan agreement. It is one of the things I heard as I was campaigning around New Hampshire. People need help. They need help now. Why can't we work together to get that done?

I think we need to all double down and try to come to some sort of compromise that allows us to provide help to people who need it immediately because if we don't, it is only going to get worse. The number of coronavirus cases are only going to continue to increase, and we need to work to address that.

We need to have a transition that allows the next administration to work with the current administration to make sure that the efforts to get this new vaccine out--the two vaccines that look like they are promising--are going to be effective and we are actually going to be able to get people immunized and have the funding to do that. In order for that to happen, we have to see a change in the transition, and we have to work together to make that happen to provide the help that the States need.

So I am going to be continuing to do everything I can here in this body to see if we can't come to some agreement around a package that would provide help to those who need it, and I hope that all of my colleagues will do the same, that we will all double down on the efforts. I am not saying we should help people who don't need it. That is obvious. But we should help the people who need help because they are struggling, and it is not going to get any better unless we provide some assistance.

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