By Brandon Martin
Ninth District U.S. Rep. Congressman Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, discussed some of the ongoing federal efforts to address local concerns with the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce during their 2020 Post-Legislative Update on Aug. 14.
During his comments, Griffith reminded the chamber that applications for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) were no longer being accepted effective Aug. 8.
“Although, all of the money hasn’t ran out, so if you already had an application in then let us know what we can do to help facilitate that,” Griffith said. “If you got it in before” the deadline “then there is still a good chance you could get it.”
Chamber President Lisa Watkins asked if individuals who have already received Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, would be excluded from any future federal funds.
“There’s a lot of funding out there and some of it is passed down to the states, but a lot of it has restrictions, so that if a company received PPP” or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan “that they are not eligible for a lot of other funds,” she said.
Griffith said he thinks the CARES Act has many flaws, largely due to the speed in which the legislation was passed.
“The pieces don’t all completely connect and it’s one of the reasons that I hoped we would be able to do another bill to straighten out some of the bumps,” he said.
Regarding federal funds that were received and distributed by the state, Griffith said “we gave a block of money to the states and said they could distribute it. They would have the authority under CARES to do that — to say, if you’ve already gotten money directly from the federal government, then we are going to put the people who didn’t get money from the federal government in line in front of you so you will not be eligible at this time or we do not think there will be money available.”
Griffith said that language was not something directly in the CARES Act, but that since the federal government gave money to the states to distribute “as they saw fit, then I can’t say that they didn’t have that authority.”
He added that he would be reaching out to state legislators to clarify that the method of distributing funds chosen by the states was not mandated in the original CARES Act.
Griffith said he is hopeful that legislation to forgive PPP loans for less than $150,000 will be taken up. The bill provides for automatic forgiveness of a PPP loan that is not more than $150,000 if the recipient submits a one-page form. It also prohibits any enforcement or other action against a lender relating to loan origination, forgiveness, or guarantee based on the lender’s reliance on certifications or documentation submitted by a loan applicant or recipient.
“I think the administration is in favor of that as well,” he said. “So, if we can get a bill across the table, then I think it might be included. We will continue to work on that, whether it be legislative action or administrative.”
Griffith said that he believes the PPP loan forgiveness has “a real good chance of passing.”
He said he also thinks money will be available for municipal governments but added that he wouldn’t say he “had great confidence it will pass.”
Griffith said that some states are attempting to use federal funds to cover debts that are unrelated to the pandemic, such as pension plans. He added that Virginia was not among them, however.
“There are some states where their congressional delegation is maybe looking to backfill spending holes that they had before coronavirus came along,” Griffith said. “Well that’s not what this is about. States have to be responsible for some of the decisions they made in the past. Coronavirus is different.”
Griffith said that he does expect some money to go to local governments who have taken on additional expenses due to the pandemic.
In addition, Griffith said he would like to see schools return to normal operations as well with in-class instruction.
“Part of that I think will require us spending some federal money to help local school systems,” he said.
One example he gave is paying to hire more teacher aides.
“If you have a teacher with co-morbidities or over the age of 60, and they don’t feel comfortable coming in, then I understand that. That makes sense to me,” he said. “So, in those cases, maybe we need to hire some additional teacher’s aides. That would be something that I think the federal government should pick up.”
This could potentially be accomplished by having the teacher join the classroom via Zoom, according to Griffith.
“The kids all sitting at their desks, socially distanced, wearing their masks but then have a teacher’s aide there, who does not have co-morbidities and is not in one of the risk groups,” to enforce rules and ensure that children are actually being presented the material, he said.
Griffith said if the teacher can’t see the student then “the student will turn it on so they are counted as being there and they just put their head down or play on their video game off to the side,” and he fears students aren’t getting the proper instruction.
Griffith added that the problem is compounded by the lack of broadband access in some localities.
While he said more money could be set aside for broadband, “in a district the size of mine, you aren’t going to get to everybody.”
Additionally, “if we appropriated that money today, it would be two years before anybody would start getting broadband. These kids need to be getting their education now. I’m not blaming the school systems. I’m not blaming the states. This is a problem that we have to figure out together,” Griffith said.
He added that fixing these issues with virtual learning “may require the federal government to spend some money,” and “I’m prepared to spend that money. It hurts me because I’m a conservative, but this is a unique situation.”
Griffith said there has been a halt in discussions for the next round of funds and his largest frustration has been the attempt to include legislation not directly related to the coronavirus.
“Do one issue. Do coronavirus relief and don’t worry about sticking in some provision that might have to do with the Green New Deal or voting issues,” Griffith said. “It just gums up the work and makes it harder to get a bill passed.”
Speaking on recent efforts by President Donald Trump regarding the United States Postal Service, Griffith said “I do cringe. The post office has a lot of issues. It has had issues for a number of years. I do cringe when he ties anything with funding to mail-in balloting.”
He noted that mail-in balloting is a state decision and “I’m nervous about it, but that’s not my call.”
Griffith said that the move “could be a godsend for the post office. More mail means they can be, in theory, more efficient with the money because there is still going to be postage stamps.”
Admittedly disagreeing with other Republicans on the issue, Griffith said that he supports a separate bill to reform the post office.
“The post office has had problems for a lot of years, and we need a post office reform bill across the board,” Griffith said. “Not one that deals with coronavirus or one that only deals with the upcoming mail-in ballot situation.
“We may have to look into some emergency stuff on mail-in ballots because a number of states are going there, but it does make me cringe when the mail-in balloting and postal reform are linked as being one in the same. They are actually two completely, separate issues,” he said.
A few weeks after having contracted the coronavirus, Griffith also gave a brief update on his experience with the virus and his current health.
“We have to be very careful. It’s a strange virus,” Griffith said. “It does not act like other viruses. We know I have immunity for two months but after that, we are just going to have to figure it out.”
He added that the only person that seems to have passed the virus along to is his wife and “she is not happy, but we had a mild case. Masks have a benefit. The bottom line is that masks may not keep you from getting it, but they are pretty effective about making sure that you don’t give it to other people as well.”