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Politics and Policy

Sen. Cortez Masto On What Else Rural & Tribal Communities Need In Pandemic Relief

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The U.S. Congress has passed three bills related to relief for the COVID-19 pandemic. They are now working on a fourth.

The U.S. Congress is putting together another stimulus package — its fourth — in an effort to lighten the heavy effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Catherine Cortez Masto is one of Nevada’s senators. She spoke with KUNR’s Bree Zender about what’s in the works.

Zender: So considering this fourth package… a bill was introduced by Democrats in the House of Representatives this week that would provide $2,000 monthly payments from the federal government for people who receive less than $130,000 dollars annually. That’s a part of the package, yes?

Cortez Masto: There's a conversation going on with respect to that, yes. So there's going to be a number of things that we are focused on for the fourth package. It really identifies the gaps right now. The gaps in where their money hasn't gotten to the community. Where we need more money to put it into individuals' pockets. The goal at the end of the day was to make sure we have resources and money going in to address the health care piece so we can stop the spread of the virus. But at the same time, until we have a rapid, statewide, national testing to help us identify how the spread is occurring so that we can isolate it, we have to shelter in place. And when we shelter in place, as you well know, that means we're not going to work. Businesses are shut down and we are in our homes. And there's no revenue then coming into our businesses and no revenue coming into [the] bank accounts of so many Nevadans that are being furloughed now. So the goal was to pass a stimulus package so that we are putting money in individuals' pockets so that they can continue to pay the rent, mortgages, put food on the table. And then also putting money in liquidity into our businesses — our small businesses and medium size businesses — so that when we can open our doors again, it will be that much quicker for our economy to spring back.

Zender: You frequently work with both tribal and rural communities. What are you doing to help those areas during the pandemic?

Cortez Masto: Same thing. So I have been and will continue to advocate. I've been on calls both with our leaders in our rural community and our tribal communities as well. Things that [are] important that I've learned from our rural communities is we still need funding to get into our rural communities. Not only for the local government to still continue to support our law enforcement, [but] there are firefighters or teachers, everybody from a local government. But we need to make sure that when we pass legislation at the federal level for state and local, that our rural communities get direct funding. That they don't have to go through the state.

Zender: Members of the Nevada congressional delegation have voiced concern about small casino operators not receiving aid under the Paycheck Protection Program. That's due to current small business administration regulations. What have you heard from those business owners in the state?

Cortez Masto: I talk with them regularly and am completely outraged by the narrow definition that the Small Businesses Administration, working in conjunction with treasury, has put out there as a guideline. That was not the intent of Congress when our entire delegation voted to support this most recent third piece of legislation, the CARES act. We voted for it with the intention that every single business who was impacted in the state of Nevada, because of this coronavirus, those businesses would be able to access these funds. And what has happened is as we appropriated it and put the money out there, the Small Business Administration and the treasury have then used their discretion to narrow those who might be able to access these funds. And what they have determined is that if you're a gaming operator, or you have any type of revenue coming from gaming, you may be ineligible to receive these funds. The impact of this archaic, I think, reckless decision and guideline that has been put out by Small Business Administration has the impact of prohibiting 265 gaming locations in Nevada from participating in the Paycheck Protection Program. That was never the intent of Congress, so we are continuing to fight this. We are putting forth legislation. If the Small Business Administration and treasury are not going to change it, then we're going to pass legislation to as part of the fourth package.

Zender: As you know, there are reports of backed up phone lines for unemployment offices, limited supply of loans for small businesses, as well as delays for some in the $1,200 payments to Americans. How do you make this process easier for people who desperately need this support?

Cortez Masto: Combination of things. I would refer everybody to my disaster resource guide on my website and it's cortezmasto.senate.gov. Go there, [it] answers a number of questions. If you still need help, call my office. We will talk you through it. We will work with you. We will connect you with resources in the state and we'll let you know what's going on. The other thing I would say is, just to the extent that people can, be patient. There is over $2 trillion that is coming into a system now that gets into our state agencies and the case loads have increased overnight. And so, I know right now our Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation has had to ramp up its workers so that they can handle the high volume of cases that we see. And they are doing and working as fast as they can and as hard as they can to make sure that they can get to everyone and get the relief, particularly those that are seeking that pandemic unemployment insurance. So I would ask people just to be patient.

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