Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn that it has spurred on, and in the steady approach to a competitive senate re-election, Sen. Joni Ernst met with the Mason City Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday afternoon to discuss what the federal government has done to help small businesses across the state of Iowa and what more it could afford to do.
One of the most relevant issues that came up more than once during the 30-minute Zoom meeting was additional funding for the "Paycheck Protection Program," a loan program intended for small businesses to utilize during this time that ran out of its initial allotment of $350 billion last week and had larger business chains such as Ruth's Chris Steakhouse taking tens of millions of dollars.
Marti Rodamaker, president and CEO of the Mason City West Branch of First Citizens Bank, asked about the possibility of protections for banks such as hers while worrying that bigger banks would push past community banks when new funding opens up.
"There will be. That is part of the plan right now. I do know that," Ernst said before acknowledging that "That could change at any minute."
Another key facet of the latest relief package the federal government is looking to finalize is about $75 billion in funding for hospitals and health care providers who have had resources drained by the pandemic. That kind funding will be especially useful for rural hospitals that, in some instances, have had to furlough workers.
While fielding a sort of question from Shannon Latham, a 2020 candidate for the State House Seat in Iowa's 54th District, about broadband access in rural America, Ernst suggested the past month or so has been a sort of benefit for rural communities when it comes to issues like hospital funding or broadband access.
"The pandemic is horrible but it really has brought to life some of the struggles we have in rural America and people are starting to understand why this is so important to us."
Along with the broader health topic of added funding for rural hospitals, another participant in the meeting wanted to raise concern about the mental health issues being exacerbated during this time of social distancing and self-quarantining.
Crisis Intervention Services Executive Director Mary J. Ingham informed Ernst that her organization had seen increased calls in the past month and Ingham worried about the ability to address those concerns.
"Our concern is the ability to continue to meet ongoing needs," Ingham said. "We’re able to meet the current need but I don’t know how we’re going to meet that surge."
Ernst, who is a survivor of abuse herself, affirmed her commitment to the issue especially during a time like right now.
"One of my priorities is really pushing for additional dollars that will benefit those types of nonprofits and those types of agencies...We need to make sure that this vulnerable population is taken care of as well."
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Reach Reporter Jared McNett at 641-421-0527. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @TwoHeadedBoy98.