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East front of the U.S. Capitol June 8, 2018. Photo by Humberto Sanchez

Businesses would have up to 24 weeks rather than eight to spend funds borrowed under a Small Business Administration emergency loan program and still qualify to have those loans forgiven, under legislation overwhelmingly passed by the House last week.

The vote came as the Democratic-run House also voted to go to conference with the Senate to square differences between bills passed by both chambers that would restore intelligence community surveillance powers that expired in March. 

The Senate was not in session last week for its Memorial Day recess.

The House also sent President Donald Trump a bill that calls for the sanctioning of a Chinese national responsible for violating the human rights of Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, the location of re-education camps where the Chinese government has imprisoned an estimated 1 million people. That measure passed 413 to 1 with all members of the delegation voting for it. The Senate approved the legislation a little over two weeks ago by unanimous consent. 

PPP

In addition to giving small business borrowing through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) more time to spend loan funds and still qualify for loan forgiveness, the House bill, approved 417 to 1, allows small businesses to spend up to 40 percent of the loan funds on non-payroll expenses, such as rent, mortgages or utilities. 

Under current law, businesses are permitted to use up to 25 percent of their loan on non-payroll spending. The bill also would give businesses five years to repay the debt instead of two.

The Senate could act on PPP parameters as soon as next week. Before going on recess, the upper chamber unveiled its own legislation, which included a provision to extend the eight week in which the loan funds must be spent to qualify for loan forgiveness under current law to 16 weeks. The overwhelming House vote puts pressure on the Senate to consider the House bill. 

The House failed to pass a bill that would have required the SBA to identify borrowers with loans above $2 million and explain the approval decision-making process, including for both PPP and the economic injury disaster loan (EIDL) program. The bill also would have required disclosure of assistance to socially and economically disadvantaged small business owners as well as to women- and veteran-owned businesses.

That measure was brought to the floor under a suspension of the rules and failed to receive the two-thirds majority needed to pass. All Nevada House Democrats voted for the bill.

Rep. Steven Horsford argued that the measure would help provide oversight to determine that the funds are going to small, Main Street businesses. 

“I have heard time after time from Nevada’s small business owners, the backbone of our economy, that they are unable to access the SBA loans created under the CARES Act. Congress must act to guarantee that Main Street and its mom and pop shops receive the financial support they need,” Horsford said.

Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted against the disclosure bill. He believes the measure is unnecessary and that Congress will do oversight of the program through the committee of jurisdiction. He also believes it could have a chilling effect on businesses seeking PPP loans. 

“You want to find out who got one from Greater Nevada Credit Union?” Amodei asked. “I can find that out. I don't need the bill. I don't need to further chill the whole process.”  

The votes came after the SBA recently released data on the PPP. An analysis showed that Nevada received the fewest PPP loans through May 23 compared to six other states with similar-sized populations.

FISA

The House voted 284 to 122 to go to conference with the Senate on legislation that would reinstate surveillance powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Speaker Nancy Pelosi had initially planned to consider a bill passed by the Senate earlier in May. That bill added legal protections for U.S. citizens to a measure approved by the House in March. 

But a Trump tweet urging House Republicans to oppose the measure helped kill the bill’s chance of passing, with conservatives pledging to join with progressive Democrats who were already skeptical to vote it down.  

“The president said he would veto the bill, so all of the Republicans then abandoned their commitment to security and said that they were going to vote against the bill,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday.

All of Nevada’s House Democrats voted to go to conference with the Senate, but Rep. Dina Titus, who voted against the House bill in March, said she too would have opposed the Senate bill. 

“Congresswoman Titus would have voted to prevent this legislation from becoming law because she believes that more reforms are needed to protect civil liberties," her spokesman Kevin Gerson said.

The amendment added by the Senate would allow for oversight by neutral third parties over FISA warrants on U.S. citizens. Both Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen backed the amendment and the bill.

Amodei opposed the motion to go to conference with the Senate citing concerns about the FISA court, which has been accused by the Department of Justice inspector general of abusing the process in the surveillance of former Trump 2106 campaign advisor Carter Page. 

“It leaves me with the impression that the court has chosen not to or is not in a position to enforce its own rules on truth and veracity and that's a problem,” Amodei said. 

Miscellany

More than $1 billion in pandemic relief funds have gone to Nevada, said Sens. Cortez Masto and Rosen in a joint release Thursday. That includes nearly $900 million from the $2 trillion CARES Act, the main pandemic relief measure approved to date, and $112 from federal appropriations and grant funds.

Cares Act funding included $241 million in direct cash payments to Medicare providers in Nevada for pandemic response, $88 million in grant funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for testing and contact tracing and $70 million to health care providers.

Other appropriations and grants include $6.5 million CDC for COVID-19 planning, preparedness and response through the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act and $2.4 million in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide food and housing assistance.

“Despite the vital steps we’ve taken to shore up our small businesses, support our vital tourism, gaming and hospitality industries and protect hardworking Nevada families, there is much more that needs to be done,” they said.

The two also took part in a conference call with president of AFSCME Local 4041 President Harry Schiffman, an electrician at UNLV and other public service workers to call for Congress to provide funds as state and local governments to offset revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic. 

“It's up to Congress to keep up our end of the bargain for these essential frontline workers, who really are keeping our communities running,” Rosen said. 

“The state and local county governments are being squeezed on both sides,” Rosen added. “They have to spend billions of dollars on emergency response while losing tax revenue. And so the closure of businesses, the economic losses to citizens is very profound and without aid from the federal government, or state and local governments are going to be forced to cut essential services.”

Rosen also signed on to a May 27 letter from 14 Senate Democrats to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson seeking guidance on how states and localities are permitted to spend $9 billion in HUD funds under the CARES Act.

While HUD has announced the issuance of more than $2 billion of the funds, “states and local communities are still waiting for comprehensive guidance from HUD about how CARES Act and prior year funds can be used to address COVID-related needs, as well as administrative requirements they’ll need to follow,” the letter said.

The lack of guidance creates a disincentive for communities to spend the funds, the letter continued.

And legislation introduced by Rosen in July 2019 to provide teachers with dedicated federal funding for resources and training necessary to teach our students the important lessons of the Holocaust was signed into law last week.

“At a time when anti-Semitism is groing here in the United States and across the globe, the best way we can work to prevent an atrocity like the Holocaust from ocurring again is through education.

Education was a concern for Rep. Susle Lee, who spoke on the matter when she addressed the House floor last week in favor of Congress providing funds to state and local government in the next pandemic relief bill. 

She raised concerns about an expected $38 million cut to Clark County schools. 

“Congress can help by prioritizing federal funding to states, towns, and communities to relieve budget shortfalls, so our education, health care, and public services don’t suffer,” Lee said.

Also, Trump on Friday vetoed a bill introduced by Lee to keep a Department of Education rule from going into effect that would make it more difficult for borrowers who are defrauded by their school or harmed by their school’s closure to receive restitution. 

“With his veto of my bipartisan bill to overturn Betsy DeVos’s 2019 Borrower Defense rule, President Trump sent a message to the American people that he cares more about enriching predatory schools than protecting defrauded students and veterans,” Lee said in a release. 

The measure passed the House in January and was approved by the Senate in March.  Pelosi said Friday that the House would vote to override the veto soon.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 7011 – To establish a Pandemic Risk Reinsurance Program, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 7061 – To promote the domestic exploration, research, development, and processing of critical minerals to ensure the economic and national security of the United States, and for other purposes.

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