Winona Daily News: Congress must aid our businesses by Dan Feehan

Especially in times of crisis, we deserve transparent leadership that puts the interests of southern Minnesotans first.

Unfortunately, as the outbreak of COVID-19 continues to ripple through our communities, we have seen an inadequate federal response and a Washington status quo that has put people last, particularly our local small business owners.

I’ve spoken to business owners from manufacturers in Brown County, restaurant owners in Fillmore County and farmers all across southern Minnesota who have not been able to access the Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress created in its first COVID-19 relief package.

The confusion and lack of transparency surrounding this program have created widespread frustration for our business owners in southern Minnesota.

Here in Mankato, the Coffee Hag — one of our community’s most beloved local businesses – was forced to make the difficult decision to temporarily close its doors last month. Now, like too many of our other Main Street businesses, they have been shut out of the PPP.

These business owners are trying to chart their future, and it’s unacceptable that so many were left out of the first round of relief. Meanwhile, Fortune 500 companies and NBA teams, already bringing in billions of dollars per year, are getting massive loans through the program with minimum oversight.

For example, $69,000,000 went to Ashford Inc., a luxury hotel company that manages multiple Ritz-Carlton locations.

Politicians in Washington, D.C., may not appreciate the depths of the challenges that face our communities, but the consequences of status quo politics are felt acutely from Worthington to Winona. Now is not the moment for handouts to special interests; now more than ever, we need Washington to be working for us.

Congress did the right thing by replenishing the funds to this program, but it failed to address the broken incentives and processes that stacked the deck against actual small business owners in Minnesota’s First District.

In order for PPP to be successful, Congress needs to fix several things.

First, it must simplify the overly complicated loan process for our farmers and southern Minnesotans who are self-employed.

Next, Congress needs to create the right incentives for restaurants and bars with tipped workers by also accounting for lost tips.

Congress must also ensure our local Chambers of Commerce aren’t shut out of the program so they can continue to provide critical services for our small businesses.

Finally, Congress needs to establish strict oversight to ensure that local small businesses that need the help can actually get the money instead of it going to multibillion-dollar corporations operating luxury hotels.

Unfortunately, our current representative, Jim Hagedorn, recently voted against creating more oversight for the program.

We as southern Minnesotans understand that the path forward will not be without struggle and sacrifice, but that sacrifice must be met with transparency and accountability.

We deserve to know who is benefitting from the PPP, to ensure that our communities are not being left behind.

I will continue to stand up and advocate for the local businesses and working families in southern Minnesota, because they are critical for the future of our district.

There is no single silver bullet to solving the challenges that are before us, but we must start by having a seat at the table and fighting to make our voices heard. It will take us working together and channeling our collective voice to ensure that our economy pulls through stronger — not just for a few — but for every southern Minnesotan.