WASHINGTON, D.C. [04/24/20]—U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.)—a member of the Senate Banking, Indian Affairs, Health and Agriculture Committees—said today that the U.S. Department of the Treasury heeded her bipartisan call with Republican Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to provide relief to rural hospitals amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by making them eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) created through the CARES Act.
Sen. Smith says that the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) also heeded her call to make Tribal gaming businesses eligible for the PPP. In addition, Treasury and the SBA provided additional guidance on agriculture cooperatives, making clear that they are also eligible for the PPP.
The PPP provides forgivable loans to employers who maintain their payroll during the COVID-19 emergency, with loan forgiveness of up to eight weeks of payroll based on employee retention and salary levels. Prior to Sen. Smith’s efforts, several key Minnesota employers, including small, publicly-owned hospitals, Tribal casinos and some agriculture cooperatives had been denied access to the PPP outright or were unable to obtain PPP loans because of unclear program rules.
“I’m glad that the Department of the Treasury heeded my call to get additional help to Minnesota’s rural hospitals,” said Sen. Smith. “This pandemic is stretching many rural hospitals very thin, and even forcing some to lay workers off while at the same time preparing for surges in patients. This is incredibly alarming; not only does it hurt public health but it hurts rural economies. I’m glad to make this fix so that PPP works better.”
Last week, Sens. Smith and Barrasso introduced the Rural Health Relief Act to allow small, county- and locally-owned hospitals apply for the PPP because the COVID-19 pandemic is putting enormous financial strain on America’s rural hospitals. Even before the outbreak, 453 of America’s 1,844 rural hospitals were at risk of closure. As the nation complies with federal social distancing guidelines and state stay-at-home orders to contain COVID-19, rural hospitals are cancelling elective procedures, furloughing employees, and losing even more revenue.
This week, Sen. Smith sent a letter to the Department of the Treasury and the SBA urging them to provide clarity on the eligibility of several key employers for the PPP. While the PPP has provided relief for some, a number of organizations face uncertainty about eligibility or have been unintentionally excluded from program eligibility, which could lead layoffs and force additional Minnesotans on to unemployment.