When we have a tornado warning on the Eastern Plains, wailing sirens inform my neighbors and I when we need to take cover and when it is safe for us to emerge from shelter. Millions of Americans are now sheltering at home because they heard the dire warnings from our state and national leaders about COVID-19 and the dangers we saw in Washington, California, New York, and Italy.
Part of the anxiety caused by this pandemic comes from the absence of an “all clear” siren telling us it is safe to go back into our communities. I hear it in the voices of Coloradans on the telephone town halls I’ve held in every county: “When will this end?” “How long must we keep our businesses closed?” “How long can we go on like this?”
There’s no easy answer, and certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer from Washington. That’s why I’m working with Governor Polis to support a phase-in approach that’s right for Colorado. Communities all over the country will look ahead to the end of this hibernation from their own unique vantage point, with their own unique circumstances.
But there are steps that Congress must take to mitigate the harm as much as possible and help the American people and the American economy prepare to bounce back. Congress can help pave the path back to prosperity that our local communities can take – when it is safe. For instance, rapid, widespread testing for COVID-19 will be key to re-opening the areas that have demonstrated they have the virus under control. Congress must do what it can to make that testing as available as possible. I believe the nation needs to get to a point where coronavirus tests are widely available – even at the nearest gas station for purchase.
Congress must also make sure the Paycheck Protection Program, one of the most crucial elements of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, is fully funded and improved where needed to better support America’s small businesses. The Paycheck Protection Program was created in order to keep employees on payroll and bills paid, so workers can keep their jobs, salaries, and benefits, and small businesses can hit the ground running when they’re able to resume operations.
It costs valuable time and resources to lay off workers and later rehire and onboard employees. Some businesses may not survive the interim time period of uncertainty and lack of income, which is why the Paycheck Protection Program is vital to hold together the backbone of our economy. In the program’s first two weeks, Colorado small businesses received 41,635 loans totaling more than $7.3 billion to keep workers on payroll and businesses open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We should do everything we can to make the Paycheck Protection Program and the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program a success – I’ll continue to work with Governor Polis and the Administration to push for better services and support for Coloradans during these challenging times. Anyone interested in finding more information about available resources and financing for businesses to keep the lights on and workers paid can visit my website at Gardner.Senate.Gov/COVID-19.
With the foundation secure, we should then explore the immediate, shovel-ready opportunities for economic activity and employment – the opportunities that will benefit every American and create the conditions for a quicker recovery.
One way we can pave the path back to prosperity is by literally repaving. Our national infrastructure needed repairs long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Our roads need repaving, our airports need refurbishing, our rural communities need access to reliable broadband, and our power grids need security updates. There’s currently an approximately $20 billion backlog of maintenance projects on the public lands we own that are managed by the National Park Service and other land management agencies. I’ve already secured support from the President and a majority of the Senate on my bill to address this backlog, making it a ripe opportunity for bipartisan action.
Has there ever been a better time to gainfully employ Americans and make these improvements to the property we all own than when the economy has been disrupted and Americans are looking for work?
Nearly 280,000 workers in Colorado filed for unemployment in four weeks. In one week, more Coloradans filed unemployment claims than in all of 2019. COVID-19 caused more than 26 million Americans of every walk of life to file for unemployment in the worst stretch of American job losses on record. This isn’t a problem for only the left or the right wings of our politics – it’s an unprecedented American challenge that requires bipartisanship and bold ideas. But big national challenges often bring out the best in Americans.
It’s understandable why Coloradans are eager to get back out there and enjoy our great state, and how mentally and emotionally draining it is to be isolated from the people, places, and activities we love. But if we take these steps now to prime our economy for reignition, we can shorten the amount of time it will take to for our beloved state and our Colorado way of life to recover from COVID-19.
Cory Gardner represents Colorado in the U.S. Senate.