US House approves aid for small businesses

Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips saw part of his push for small business relief come to fruition when the House signed a bill providing billions of dollars in aid for restaurants, gyms and others who depend on public gatherings and are reeling from the pandemic.

The bill passed the House on a 223-203 vote this month. Four Democrats opposed the bill, but six Republicans voted for it, adding a bit of bipartisanship to the push.

“We’re almost done with COVID, God willing,” Phillips, a Democrat, said in an interview. “We are on the one meter line and if we can just keep that last promise, I think we will have kept thousands and thousands and thousands of small businesses afloat during one of the toughest times in the world. American History.”

If the $55 billion bill passes the Senate in its current form, $42 billion would go to filling the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and $13 billion would fund a new program for hard-hit industries. Phillips said 177,000 restaurants were waiting for help because the restoration fund contained in the 2021 pandemic relief program was underfunded.

All four Minnesota House Democrats voted for the bill, including Representative Ilhan Omar. “Restaurants in Minnesota are still struggling to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic crisis,” Omar said in a statement, adding that she “was proud to support this bill to get a additional relief for restaurants in Minnesota”.

All three Republicans in the state Congress voted against the legislation.

“Structurally, this bill won’t work,” GOP Rep. Michelle Fischbach said during a speech on the floor. “There’s a lot of money out there, and it looks like the Democrats just want to throw it to the wind because when you look at how the funds are distributed, this bill won’t solve the problem.”

In a statement, Republican Rep. Pete Stauber charged that “hundreds of billions of dollars in previous COVID bills remain unspent.”

“This unspent money should be used to relieve restaurants instead of the bill passed last week that adds to the national debt and increases inflation that is already crushing American families,” Stauber said.

Minnesota state and local governments have yet to spend all of the pandemic stimulus money from the U.S. bailout, and cities, towns and counties have until the end of 2026 to do so.

Phillips said his own business background has taught him how difficult running a small business can be “even at the best of times.” The legislation aims to offset some of the costs through money recovered from fraud in programs that include the Paycheck Protection Program.

“If we don’t get through…90,000 restaurants closed during COVID, not only will more close, but those dreams will fade with it, and the jobs created by those businesses will also disappear,” Phillips said.

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