‘There are very serious gaps in rescue money’: Rep. Madeleine Dean on how Pa. should move forward with coronavirus recovery

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U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) (Emily Cohen for WHYY, file)

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) (Emily Cohen for WHYY, file)

Congressional leaders continue to consider options to help individuals and small businesses stay afloat financially during this COVID-19 economy of high unemployment and continued stay at home orders for many Americans.

Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District is on the House Financial Services committee. She’s been proposing options going forward.

She spoke to Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn from her home in Jenkintown Monday, about a week since her mother-in-law passed away in a nearby nursing home from the coronavirus. Jennifer asked Rep. Dean what her mother-in-law was like.

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My mother in law, Joan Cunnane, was wonderful. She was born in Scranton. And so whenever anybody talked about where they’re from, she said, I’m from County Lackawanna. She said, baptized a Democrat before she was baptized a Catholic, just a person who really was opinionated for equal rights, for women’s rights, for civil rights. A woman who was a devoted wife, fantastic cook. She was a wonderful grandmother to our children.

Yes. Very, very sorry for your loss.

Thank you.

Now at work, you’re facing so many things on the health front, also financially as a leader in our region. This is also a reelection year for you for a second term representing the 4th Congressional District. Now, this encompasses Montgomery County and a section of Berks County. Now, these counties are really itching like so many others to bump up to that yellow phase and Pennsylvania’s reopening plan. What is your advice to the people in these areas?

I am absolutely sure people are itching to go back to a little bit more normal life. But I’m really proud of our folks here for recognizing that we have to make sure we isolate and test, test broadly and then contact trace those who have been in contact with anybody who has the disease in order to isolate it and tamp it down. So while we’ve seen Governor Wolf is going to open to that orange level, some counties that have not been hard hit, I hope we here in southeastern Pennsylvania are patient and demand the universal testing and isolation treatment until we can reopen more safely and economically.

Federal money for families, individuals and small businesses has been released in waves. Some has gone to states that need it for one thing, but it’s supposed to be used for another. Also, sometimes, states that don’t have a lot of COVID-19 cases were given funds that perhaps could have been used by other states with higher numbers of cases. Is this a symptom of federal relief plans that were just rushed and not thought through?

I don’t agree that they weren’t thought through. I do agree they were rushed. And I think appropriately, our first two bills were smaller emergency bills, then we did the very big bill, the CARES Act. There was $150 billion to state and local governments. We have learned from elected leaders here in Pennsylvania they need more flexibility with those dollars. The dollars cannot be tethered only to expenses from coronavirus because their revenues are in such dramatic decline. So I want to be a part of bills moving forward. They drive more money to state and local governments, smaller local governments and municipalities that are particularly hard hit because that means we’ll be getting dollars to everyday people.

Congresswoman Dean, who are you worried may be left out and won’t get the rescue money that they need?

There are very serious gaps in rescue money. Families of mixed status, immigration status have been left out of the relief. ITIN holders, those who pay into our system of taxation or do not have Social Security numbers. They’ve been left out. The postal service, they are frontline workers. They have been left out directly at the hands of President Trump. It was he who rejected any support for the postal service. We will make sure in that tax package that the postal service will get the $25 billion or more that it needs. All of the frontline workers, I think of my mother-in-law’s nursing home and the heroes that work there at not enough wage at great risk. We have to make sure they’re supported both in compensation and protection.

And I think I’m hearing you admit that there have been some cracks in the federal relief money system. What problems can be avoided with more money probably set to come through at some point?

What I hope we can continue to do, and you saw this when we passed the supplemental bill, is we tried to direct it to the smaller banks, to the community banks, to the credit unions in order to get to the smallest of businesses. Every single day, I get the chance to talk to small business owners to find out how they’re making out, what is reaching them and what is not helping. They need long-term help in order to reopen. With a short-term PPP, as well intentioned as it is and as valuable as it is a resource, we’ve got to do something broader and longer term.

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And of course, PPP is the paycheck protection program. Is there anything in the Finance Committee that you’re on that is being looked at that is more specific for the smallest of these small businesses?

Restore America’s Main Street is being looked at. That’s direct cash. It’s not tied to an application. It would be processed through the IRS based on the business tax filing. You don’t have to apply and be approved. If we can get this across, it’s just like direct cash to individuals. So I hope that that comes through. It’s also aimed at businesses of 50 or fewer employees. So some of the things that we’re worried about is that they will bail out in billions and billions of dollars, large industries, and the money won’t get to the smallest of businesses and the workers that are connected to those businesses.

Thank you so much, Congresswoman Madeleine Dean.

Thanks for having me.

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