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Tillis: Economic leaders need to collaborate to reopen businesses

By Liz Moomey

liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis says there should be a follow-up to the CARES Act, an economic relief package passed to help people during the COVID-19 outbreak, but hesitates to say whether it would be the same fiscally.

During a question and answer session hosted by the N.C. Economic Development Association Thursday morning, Tillis said programs developed as part of the CARES Act should be expanded to entities that aren’t eligible, such as 501(c)(3)s. He said there should be added precision to the eight-week period for the Paycheck Protection Program because some businesses are likely to lag in resource need.

Tillis, the junior Republican senator for North Carolina, said the Senate is working to add another $250 billion to the Payment Protection Program, which is “very popular.” He is hopeful to get unanimous consensus with his Democrat colleagues. The funding for the program ran out Thursday, he said.

By the end of the week, half of those eligible for the individual assistance will receive money through direct deposit, he said. The other half could take weeks or up to a month to receive a check.

Chris Platé, economic development association legislative committee co-chair, asked Tillis for advice to give to economic development leaders to communicate with Congress about the community’s needs.

“One thing that we need to focus on collectively is what are reasonable, safe start up looks like for non-essential businesses, and the timing of that,” Tillis said.

To get the economy back to where it was in February and early March, economic leaders need to come together to craft a plan to reopen businesses. It will “start with implementing more strenuous measures for the essential businesses that are open today,” he said.

Tillis said the goal is to manage the reopening of businesses so that the health care system is not overburden and the economy is not distracted and impacted by an increase in COVID-19 cases.

He said it is important to take the governor’s executive orders seriously. Tillis said Gov. Roy Cooper “has done a very good job under the circumstance.”

Tillis said there has been economic opportunities as a result of the pandemic. The state’s textile sector, he said, has been retooled to generate personal protective equipment, like masks and gowns. The pharmaceutical and biotech industries will need to work quickly to showcase North Carolina as the home of manufacturing capabilities as some will move out of China.

Tillis said he “had a problem” with China before the pandemic. The were a bad actor economically, Tillis said. Now, the country is a bad actor of how they responded to COVID-19 by not providing information that would have given the U.S. an extra month to respond to the outbreak, Tillis said.

Tillis also said the federal government has worked to mobilize the CARES Act and work through constraints, such as when Wells Fargo reached an asset gap and was no longer able to underwrite loans. Fixing some problems will require congressional action. He said the federal government needs to come up with a mechanism to take the edge off the costs endured by state and local governments in response to the pandemic.

He said some in the private sector have stepped up to provide resources in the pandemic, and that Congress should do their part to help with the economic consequences.

Tillis said he expects the Senate to go back in early May after the peak of COVID-19 cases.

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