The plight of small businesses, re-opening the economy safely, and dairy farming were some of the topics discussed during a Monday evening tele-town hall called by U.S. Congressman Fred Keller, R-12, that largely concentrated on issues surrounding COVID-19.
"It's necessary that we reopen our economy quickly and safely," Keller said in his opening remarks. "These two concepts are not mutually exclusive."
Every day, Keller said, he is hearing from small businesses and workers who have had their lives "put on hold by a virus we did not ask for and are doing our part to stop."
Keller was joined in the tele-town hall by Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.), House Republican Whip.
"People want to get back to work," Scalise said. "But in a safe way. "There is no trade-off for safety of an individual's health, but there is also an understanding that social distancing should be adhered to. Wearing masks. That is something we need to start thinking about now."
Keller talked about the success of the CARES act, and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which has been vital for small business survival. One caller said her small business might not have survived without loans funded by the PPP.
"The PPP had its hiccups when it first rolled out," Keller noted, "But its working very well, as intended."
The difficulties of dairy farming concerned a caller. Keller said he was well aware of the problem — some dairy farmers dumping milk because of low demand. "We need to find ways to increase demand," he said. "When restaurants open that will help. One thing we're doing with the PPP is making sure dairy farmers survive during this difficult time."
The subject of the national debt came up as a concern.
Keller and Scalise both are fiscal conservatives, but the situation called for the kind of spending that both political parties thought was immediately necessary.
"We had to keep businesses alive until we got to a point where we could re-open the economy again," Keller said. "What we want to do before we spend anything more is to make sure that the monies in the CARES act and the other acts that have followed are doing what is intended."
Asked what has been learned by the government during this pandemic, Scalise said, keeping our health care system — and the supply chain of PPEs (personal protective equipment), ventilators, gowns, masks, and other medical equipment — at the ready for another pandemic, should it occur.
"One of the things we've learned," Scalise said, "is we have to make improvements on the national stockpile. This gets back to the supply chain issue. We have to make more PPEs in the United States."
Clearly, he said, the National Stockpile did not have enough for a pandemic. "Things are improving," Scalise continued, "but we need to ensure that now and in the future hospitals get what they need to protect doctors and nurses."
There are a lot of lessons learned from any disaster, he said. "That is surely one of them."
Federal and state governments, and the respective emergency management agencies, have learned how to work better together, Keller said, "when it came to getting things to our health care providers."