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Delaware Senators offer their priorities for future coronavirus relief

Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s U.S. Senators are offering their priorities for when Congress reconvenes in a couple weeks with another coronavirus relief package likely to be on the agenda.

The state's junior Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) serves on the Small Business Committee. He says he’s encouraged by bipartisan efforts there and by the recent bipartisan support to extend the deadline for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

But Coons adds a new relief bill must provide federal funding to smooth the budgets of state and local governments.

“We have to provide support for state and local governments that have seen their revenue fall off a cliff,” said Coons. “There have already been 4.5 million public employees across the country laid off.”     

Gov. John Carney reduced Delaware’s 2021 spending plan by about $400 million from what he proposed at the start of the year as a result of budget shortfalls related to the coronavirus. But he was able to avoid layoffs and pay cuts.

Delawaere's senior Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) says states like Delaware should receive targeted funding.

“The federal government is not interested in providing financial aid to states that are badly managed,” Carper said. “For states that have pension funds that are unfunded, we’re not interested in going there. But for states like Delaware that are well managed, well run, have AAA credit ratings, have created rainy day funds and those are being drawn down, drawn down, drawn down. We want to make sure that we don’t punish good behavior.”

Carper adds the Senate is looking at keeping unemployment funds full and funding transportation projects around the country. He, as well as Coons, also stresses the importance of keeping public schools fully funded so they can be ready to open safely this fall.

The two are also among Senators looking to target relief towards the poultry industry.

Nineteen Senate members, including the six from Delmarva, wrote a letter recently to Senate leadership requesting future coronavirus relief legislation include direct payment to chicken farmers who have lost at least five percent of expected revenue during the pandemic.

Poultry farmers were not eligible for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP, which was passed as part of the CARES Act earlier this year and provides direct aid to many other farmers. 

“There’s been significant dislocation and challenges in poultry growing, integrating and processing, and I keep working on behalf of chicken farmers in Delaware and those who work in the chicken processing plants,” said Coons, who co-chairs the Senate’s Chicken Caucus.    

Delmarva’s $3.5 billion chicken economy includes more than 1,300 family farms. And the five chicken processing companies on Delmarva employ more than 20,300 people, according to the Delmarva Poultry Industry.

Coons was also among those pushing through the extension on the PPP loans before Congress went into recess. The U.S. Small Business Association can now approve PPP loans through August 8.

Now he says he’s working on a bill that would give a second round of PPP loans for small businesses.

“I’m hearing regularly from small businesses and nonprofits from Delaware that the economy is not opening as quickly as hoped, largely because the pandemic in our region is not completely under control,” he said. “So it is to find a targeted and relevant way to extend this program.”     

Coons says his new measure will be for businesses that have suffered a 50% or more loss in revenue.

The PPP has already distributed $540 billion to more than 4 million businesses nationwide, including $1.4 billion to Delaware businesses. About $130 billion from the program has gone unspent.

Coons notes he is concerned about adding to the national debt with further federal coronavirus relief, but calls the current moment “possibly one of the single greatest challenges [he’s] seen in his adult lifetime” and says Congress will have to address the deficit at a later date.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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