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Steven Horsford speaks during the Nevada Democratic Party election night event at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. He won the race for (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

The need to quickly create a massive Small Business Administration emergency loan program from scratch and a lack of guidance from President Donald Trump’s administration contributed to Nevada receiving among the lowest number of loans among states, Rep. Steven Horsford said Monday.

“It’s unacceptable,” Horsford said in an interview when asked why Nevada fared so poorly under the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, which is designed to help businesses with fewer than 500 employees and will forgive loans used to maintain payroll and pay mortgage interest, rent and utilities.

Horsford’s comment came as Congress is expected to provide another $310 billion for the PPP this week. PPP last week exhausted the initial $350 billion provided. The Senate could act as soon as today with the House voting on the package Thursday.

“The administration decided to set this program up with only a week worth of effort through the Treasury and, I'm not placing blame, but it's a reality that, to start up any type of federal program, this one with $350 billion worth of relief to small businesses within a week's worth of time, and there was not adequate guidance to the small businesses nor to the lenders.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called PPP a success when he appeared on CNN Sunday.

"We had the program up and running in a week, which was unprecedented,” Mnuchin said. “It's impacted now over 30 million Americans. We're incredibly pleased with the participation rate. And because of that, we want Congress to approve more funds right away. We think that another $300 billion -- that's what we're talking about -- should be sufficient to reach almost everybody."

Horsford argued that rules for the program, also known as guidance, established by the administration worked against smaller, main street businesses and allowed better financed small businesses to do better competing for loans by using existing banking relationships and attorneys to help speed applications.

Shake Shack, a large restaurant chain that received a $10 million PPP loan, announced Sunday that it would return the funds so smaller businesses could benefit. The program is open to businesses with fewer than 500 employees in one location and Shake Shack qualified under that provision.

Also, the SBA rules disadvantaged Nevada by making it difficult for the state's small casinos to participate. Under the initial rule, businesses that made more than 33 percent of their revenue from gambling were ineligible. The SBA later changed that to half, but the change still leaves most of Nevada’s small casinos out of the program. 

As of fiscal 2019 there were more than 370 casino operators, manufacturers and distributors of gaming equipment that employed fewer than 500 and shared in gaming revenues, according to one analysis.

Nevada received $2.01 billion in 8,674 loans, approved between April 3 and April 16, when the program’s funding was exhausted. That placed Nevada 43rd among all states with regard to the number of loans approved. Nevada was last in the amount of aid and loans compared with six other states of similar population size.

When asked whether Nevada’s low level of PPP aid is a function of the delegation’s effectiveness in looking out for the state, Horsford said it was not and noted that Congress had done its job passing three bills to help the nation in the wake of the pandemic, including the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which created the PPP.

“The fact that we were able to secure $2.2 trillion worth of relief to small businesses, to families, to workers, is every bit of an indication of how committed I am to getting the help to the people who need it the most,” Horsford said. “I'm going to continue to hold the administration accountable. Our job in Congress is to pass the legislation. The executive branch has to help get it out.”

“And clearly, you know, we have to do a better job holding them accountable to make that happen,” he continued. “I spend my morning, noon and evenings making sure that my office is doing everything we can to help those constituents that need it.”

He noted that Congress will look into the administration’s handling of the pandemic at an appropriate time. 

Of the $310 billion to replenish the PPP, $60 billion is expected to be directed to smaller main street businesses, which were left at a disadvantage for funds compared to more established businesses that had relationships with banks and legal teams help to navigate the program. 

“What I've heard from a number of my businesses in my district is that even once they were applying, and many of them have applied and are waiting, it took them longer to get their stuff in because they're just not as structured or established as some of those, quote-unquote, larger small businesses with employees under 500.”

The measure is also expected to allow other types of lenders to participate, including community development finance institutions, which typically lend to those without established credit histories and other unbanked or underserved businesses.

The bill is likely to include $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion to help ramp up testing. The legislation is not expected to include funding for states and localities, which House and Senate Democrats had previously insisted on in talks with the White House.

“I have been in touch with the governor, with our local county officials throughout my district, local mayors… All of them are asking for federal help now that their budgets are all being impacted,” Horsford said. “And the reason that that's important is we can’t open if local government and state government can't meet essential services like firefighting, public safety, health care.”

Horsford also has his eye on the next, broader package that Congress could pass as soon as next month.

In that broader measure, Horsford said he expects to be included legislation he helped introduce recently that would provide funding to pay for the cost of a worker who is laid off as a result of the pandemic to keep their work-provided health insurance for 15 months.

Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), workers who lose their jobs or are subject to reduced hours can keep their job-based coverage for a limited period of time. But they must pay the full cost paid by both employer and employees, which can be unaffordable for many. Horsford’s bill would cover COBRA premiums for workers or the full cost of health insurance premiums owed by workers who are furloughed and not eligible for COBRA.

“Nevada has seen over 300,000 people apply for unemployment, it also means that they are at risk of losing their health insurance,” the Nevada Democrat said. “And when you add them and their family members we’re well over 500,000 people, individuals who are at risk of losing their health insurance in Nevada.”

“Nationwide, we're talking about some 17 million people,” Horsford said. 

Disclosure: The Nevada Independent was approved for a PPP loan.

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