Democratic demands that a bill to provide more funding for a business loan program also fund other projects for economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic are delaying help to small companies, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler said Thursday.

Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, held a news conference moments after it was reported that the Paycheck Protection Program had used the $349 billion allocated through the CARES Act, signed into law in late March.

Bipartisan support to provide $250 billion in additional funding to the program surged last week, but a Democratic demand that the bill also include $250 billion for struggling hospitals and state governments stalled it.

“We needed this money last week, and it’s disappointing that they blocked efforts to get money in there when it was running out,” Hartzler said. “I think it may be some politics at play now, that (Democrats) want to have a greater say in what was in this bill, but I don’t know.”

Hartzler represents Missouri’s Fourth Congressional District, which includes 24 counties in central and southwestern Missouri.

As of Wednesday, Hartzler said the PPP had provided 1.1 million loans to small businesses, totaling $270 billion, and by Thursday morning the remaining money was accounted for, leaving the pot dry to those attempting to apply for support.

“Missouri had over 34,088 small businesses that had received forgivable loans through the program totaling $6.4 billion,” she said. “The governor said last night that Missouri was ranked eighth in the most approved loans in the nation.”

Columbia Chamber of Commerce President Matt McCormick championed the program as an asset to Columbia’s businesses and also expressed disappointment that negotiations fell through.

“We’ve seen a lot of our small businesses that have been able to go through the process and get their loan taken care of with the PPP,” he said. “Some businesses have already received their loans.”

He couldn’t provide exact numbers but said the program has been a benefit to those businesses attempting to keep their doors open and workers on payroll.

He said it’s his hope that both political parties can come together to free up additional funding for the program by the end of the week.

Hartzler called the PPP a critical tool to keep Americans on the job and businesses thriving. She said the push by Democrats to ask for additional funding was an unnecessary move.

“I think it’s premature at this point to be adding additional dollars when the original money hasn’t been spent yet and hasn’t been allocated,” she said. She added that she would be willing to consider additional funding where it’s needed in a future bill, but that the critical need currently resides with small businesses.

Yet as an additional 5.5 million people filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total to a record 22 million over four weeks, there are some saying the need for additional funding is already there – especially for rural hospitals, state governments and the U.S. Postal Service.

The already struggling USPS reported to Congress on April 9 that it was expecting a $13 billion revenue loss and a $54 billion loss over the next decade due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

President Trump has rejected the agency's calls for financial support.

Hartzler said she was unaware of reports that the USPS was in financial trouble.

“This is a new issue that has not been raised with me before, so I need some more information before thoroughly answering your question,” she said after being asked what Congress had planned to aid the troubled agency.

In a statement released Saturday, the National Governors Association’s chairman and vice chairman called on Congress to immediately send states at least $500 billion to combat budgetary shortfalls, saying the money must be separate from funds that could be provided to local governments.

“In the absence of unrestricted fiscal support of at least $500 billion from the federal government, states will have to confront the prospect of significant reductions to critically important services all across this country, hampering public health, the economic recovery and our collective effort to get people back to work,” the association said.

Missouri hospitals, meanwhile, are expected to receive the first $34 billion tranche from the $100 billion provided to hospitals last week through the CARES Act, Hartzler said.

The Department of Health and Human Services “is preparing a second tranche of the $100 billion for our hospitals, and I’ve been told it’s going to help prioritize rural hospitals,” she continued.

But questions remain whether the $100 billion aid package will be enough.

Missouri hospitals, many already drowning financially, face a pandemic that may finally sink them, according to a recent report by Chartis Center for Rural Health, which indicates at least 40% of Missouri’s rural hospitals are financially vulnerable and at risk of closure.

Lindsey Simmons, Fourth District Democratic candidate running to unseat Hartzler in November, was also critical of the dispute in Washington but again asserted that the need for additional funding, especially for rural hospitals, is very real.

“The best, long term way to help businesses and workers is to end this public health crisis,” Simmons wrote in an emailed statement. “For that reason, hospital funding must be prioritized.”

She said rural hospitals have been historically cash-strapped and underfunded, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this issue.

“It’s why Bothwell Hospital in Sedalia furloughed 50 workers this week,” Simmons said. “The question for Vicky Hartzler is, why are you blocking funding for hospitals during a global pandemic?”

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