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Congresswoman and Senator-elect Jacky Rosen speaks with media at the Nevada State Democratic Party headquarters in Las Vegas on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

As Congress debates the next massive coronavirus relief package, Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen is working to ensure that small casinos are not locked out of relief as they were for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

“We do have prescriptive language that I will fight to put in the fourth package,” Rosen said in a call with reporters Wednesday. “I don’t think there’s any reason to think it wouldn’t be.”

Rosen has yet to secure any Senate GOP support for her measure, but said she intends to seek it out from those who represent the 43 states where there is legalized gaming. 

“I want to work with senators across the country that also have gaming in their state,” Rosen said. “They are our natural allies here and we're gonna fight to put that in.”

It’s also unclear if the White House would support the measure, which has been slow to accommodate small casinos.

Rosen said she had initially hoped that pressure from the state’s congressional delegation and other lawmakers representing gaming states would be enough to make the Treasury Department and the SBA change the rules for the PPP to allow small casinos to participate.

The effort did lead to SBA loosening its criteria to allow some small gaming companies to apply for loans. Initially, the rules precluded companies that make 33 percent of their revenue from gambling. SBA subsequently changed that to 50 percent, which still left out most of Nevada’s small casinos.

“This is just arbitrary, what they set up,” Rosen said, adding that she is still in discussion on the matter with the Treasury and SBA.

On Wednesday, Rosen and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto wrote a letter with four other Senate Democrats calling on leaders of the Senate Small Business Committee to ensure that all legally-operating small businesses and non-profit organizations be allowed to access PPP and other small business-focused aid. 

Rep. Susie Lee led a bipartisan group of 10 House members, including Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, in an identical letter to the leaders of the House Small Business Committee.

“Lacking firm guardrails and with broad discretion to act as it sees fit, SBA has interpreted language in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act regarding PPP in a manner that has excluded many small businesses from receiving relief, and we urge you to rectify this for that critically important program and others in any forthcoming legislation,” the letter said.

Rosen is also trying to help small cannabis businesses get access to PPP and other aid. On Wednesday, she signed onto a letter with eight other senators, including Cortez Masto, urging Senate leaders to allow state-legal cannabis small businesses to access SBA emergency loan and grant programs.

“I feel that if you're operating legally within the laws of the state, you're paying taxes, you're doing business, you have employees, you're providing a service, and you should have access to these disaster relief loans,” she told reporters.

A possible vehicle to help small casinos could have been this week’s nearly $500 billion measure, the third and largest coronavirus relief bill so far passed by Congress. Approved by the Senate Tuesday, the bill, which will be considered by the House on Thursday, provides another $321 billion for PPP. 

The bill passed by unanimous consent. Rosen could have delayed the measure’s passage to try to force her casino language into the legislation, but said that the funds were too urgently needed to wait for a debate on the issue. She also cited her support for the $75 billion included for hospitals and $25 billion to increase testing of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and for contact tracing capabilities.

“We realized when we passed the CARES Act, the few trillion dollars, that everything has to happen so fast because COVID is happening to us so quickly,” Rosen said. “So you think that you give all this money, you put it out there and then you realize that the needs are so much greater or sometimes even more expanded than you initially thought. So the 3.5 package, we wanted to get that out as quickly as possible.”

She also praised provisions in the 3.5 bill that would require $60 billion of the PPP funds to be provided through smaller lenders including community development finance institutions, which typically lend to those without established credit histories and other unbanked or underserved businesses. The bill also includes $60 billion more for the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, $10 billion of which would be in the form of grants.

The timing of the fourth package remains unclear. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wants the Senate back before Congress embarks on passing another package. The Senate is scheduled to be back the week of May 4.

In a preview of the upcoming fight on the package, McConnell told Hugh Hewitt in a radio interview Wednesday that he doesn’t support providing more emergency funding to states and localities, which Democrats have said is needed in order to re-open the economy. The Kentucky Republican recommended that state and local governments explore bankruptcy.

Asked about comments made by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who has advocated for opening Las Vegas despite the pandemic, Rosen said reopening has to be done in a “smart way.”

In an interview Wednesday on CNN Goodman said that the City of Las Vegas could be used as a “control group” to determine whether social distancing procedures were effective.

She said that it has to be done according to guidelines established by the nation’s medical experts and that each place is different and adjustments would need to be made to protect lives.

“The cost is too great,” Rosen said of opening too quickly. “It doesn't mean that we don't open, but I think it means that we make a plan, work the plan, we keep analyzing and adjusting as we go because Nevada will be ready to bounce back. And I think if we can do it in a smart and safe way, Las Vegas is going to be what it was just a few, what seems like a lifetime ago, but just two months ago."

“I understand that people are anxious to go back to work, but we need to be smart about it,” she said.

Rosen is also a member of a White House task force that will advise the president on re-opening the economy. She said she plans to get input from the delegation, the governor and state and local officials in order to put together a list of questions and concerns that can be addressed by the task force.

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

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