Mainers are accustomed to long, tough winters, but for many small-business owners and their employees, this winter is likely to be the most difficult and uncertain they have faced since they opened. Small businesses, particularly those in the hospitality industry, have had to cope with unprecedented challenges caused by COVID-19.

Earlier this year, when our nation first confronted this once-in-a-century pandemic that threatened catastrophic damage to small businesses and employees, Congress took unprecedented, bipartisan action to help them survive.

Over the course of just a few weeks in March, the Paycheck Protection Program I co-authored with a bipartisan group of colleagues went from an idea to a massive relief effort that injected more than half a trillion dollars into the American economy, helping to sustain upwards of 50 million jobs. In Maine alone, three out of four of our small businesses received forgivable loans totaling $2.3 billion, helping to support more than 250,000 jobs. The average size of a supported business in Maine is just seven employees.

By any fair measure, the PPP is a shining example of the positive difference that bipartisan government action can make in the lives of people and communities. To cite just one example, Hussey Seating Co. in North Berwick – one of Maine’s oldest family-owned manufacturers – was able to keep sending paychecks to every single one of its 300 employees as a result of a forgivable PPP loan.

It is ironic to read story after story in the Press Herald – a PPP recipient – implying that the PPP has enriched big companies at the expense of small employers and their employees. It stands in stark contrast to facts and to the firsthand experiences of the 28,000 Maine small-business owners and their employees, many of whom have described the program as a critical lifeline that made all the difference. Ironically, the Press Herald is one of those success stories. This paper and its parent company received a $3.8 million PPP loan – the 37th largest in Maine – which helped to pay the salaries of 300 reporters and other employees.

In designing the PPP, my goal was to help maintain the vital connection between small employers and their employees, so both would be in a position to quickly rebound when the COVID-19 crisis passes. That’s why we directly tied the maximum size of the loan that each small business could receive to average monthly payroll costs and the amount of the loan that could be forgiven to actual amounts paid to employees as well as certain overhead costs. We also capped the salary costs per employee that could be included in the calculations for the loan and forgiveness amounts to prevent high earners from exploiting the program.

It’s worth noting that not a single small business was prevented from receiving a PPP loan because of a lack of funding for the program. It is the authorization that expired in August and must be extended.

The cruel fact is the virus is still spreading, and many of the steps being taken to fight it – though necessary to protect the health of Americans – are still a threat to the small businesses and employees who are still unable to return to normal operations. Given the length and persistence of this pandemic, I have strongly advocated for providing small businesses with additional relief. I am encouraged that Congress is nearing an agreement to allow the hardest-hit small businesses to receive a second forgivable PPP loan.

For the past several weeks, I have led a bipartisan group of our colleagues working night and day to author emergency COVID-19 assistance, which includes a second round of PPP for small businesses as well as support for struggling families, our health care system and other priorities. For those facing a tough and uncertain winter, this relief cannot come a moment too soon.

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