Winterset Madisonian: Axne speaks to local concerns via ‘Virtual District Tour’
Congresswoman Cindy Axne held a conference call on Friday afternoon as part of a “Virtual District Tour” of Iowa’s Third Congressional District. She plans to virtually visit all 16 counties to survey and assist responses regarding COVID-19 and its effect on county health systems, businesses, and families. Members of the Chamber of Commerce were invited to attend to discuss how their businesses have been impacted.
The call was attended by members of the City, Chamber, Economic Development, and local media who listened as Axne was grateful for what is being done to help community citizens. She recognized the challenges for small business owners, as at the federal level, they try to figure out how to protect the health of the people in this country, ensure economic stability, and come out of this pandemic without minimal damage, if possible.
She addressed the CARES Act President Trump signed into law, offering relief to state and local governments, individuals, small and large businesses, and hospitals affected by the pandemic. She included a Paycheck Protection Act, which provides small businesses and nonprofits with money to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits.
Through virtual county tours, Axne says she can speak with locals to see what is working, and also recognize any gaps that may exist.
Madison County Chamber Director Heather Riley questioned the congresswoman in regard to the opportunities with the Small Business Administration. Local membership is concerned that money already set aside might be spent. Riley asked whether there might be another round of help coming.
“Absolutely,” Axne said matter-of-factly, indicating U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has asked for an additional $250 billion, “which we are in support of, but what we want to do before we continue to fund this, is to actually make it workable for the folks that you are talking to. I am not sure if you have had any feedback, although some of the smaller businesses are not able to access some of the loans from the bank.”
Axne continued, “some of the smaller community banks don’t have access to E-Tran, the system that is used with the SBA to move the loan request forward. We want to get that money into people’s hands, but what we want to do is make sure it gets into those Mom and Pop businesses as well. What we are seeing is that some of the larger small businesses who can get around the system a little easier are getting after those loans in a more expedient manner, where smaller shops are having a harder time.
“Also, the way the loan is constructed,” she explained, “is to support payroll, and forgiveness would be required on 75 percent of the loan being used for payroll. In many of the cases with our small businesses, other operating expenses exceed that, and we don’t want people to be penalized from getting a forgiveness just because they might not spend all the money on payroll, since they do not have as many employees, but they do have costs. So those are some of the things that we are trying to iron out, so when we do provide more funding it will be usable for your members who need it.”
Madison County Development Group Director Tom Leners voiced his concern regarding lost fuel, real estate, and local option sales taxes. He also mentioned the impact of COVID-19 on local industrial plants where one plant was hit immediately and had 30 percent layoff of good jobs with benefits and a living wage. He said another local plant is starting to feel the effects. He also mentioned concerns of local bankers who had been applying for the SBA loans and had not yet received a response regarding their applications.
Axne suggested program (EIDLE) Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program through the SBA, which would give business owners an opportunity for an advance of up to $10,000 depending on the number of employees. Both Riley and Leners said they had applied but had heard nothing back.
Axne vowed to do what she could at the federal level.