O'Halleran says aid from Washington needs to speed up

April 8, 2020
In The News

CASA GRANDE — Even though most of Congress is not in the Capitol, its members are still working, said Rep. Tom O’Halleran.

O’Halleran, D-Sedona, represents Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, which includes most of Pinal County. He said he’s taking about eight to nine calls a day from other Congress members, constituents and local officials.

Congress has already passed three bills that have been signed by President Donald Trump in an effort to get more supplies and funds flowing to medical providers and financial relief to individuals and businesses.

“We want to keep cities and towns as functional as possible,” O’Halleran said in a telephone interview.

The most important thing right now is the speed at which money from these bills is reaching people and businesses, he said. At least two programs, one which would send direct payments to individuals and families and a short term loan program for businesses are not moving as quickly as O’Halleran would like.

He had hoped that the direct payments to individuals and families would be shipped out a week after the bills were signed but it now looks like those payments may not start arriving in people’s bank accounts until April 13 at the earliest. For some people, who don’t have a bank account on file with the Internal Revenue System or Social Security, it may take even longer, he said. It could take up to 20 weeks for some checks to reach their recipients by mail.

A portion of that delay is caused because rules have to be made as to who is eligible for the funds and how to get the funds to individuals and businesses, he said.

O’Halleran said that process is taking longer because of reduced staffing in a number of the federal agencies that are in charge of these programs. In order to save money over the last several years, the federal government hasn’t been replacing federal employees who have left due to retirement or other reasons. This has left some agencies short staffed.

The small business Paycheck Protection Loan Program, which was approved last week, was also delayed because the federal government and banks had to work out the details of how the program would be administered, he said.

The program is designed to allow small businesses to take out a loan to cover basic needs like rent, payroll and other costs. The idea is to encourage businesses to keep employees on their payroll during the crisis and reduce the number of people applying for unemployment. It should also help businesses reopen faster after the crisis is over by allowing them to keep their staff.

Although the program is now open for businesses to apply to, the banks and federal government are still debating the details.

All of these programs were designed to get money into people’s hands so that it could be spent and keep the economy going while people were staying home and out of work, O’Halleran said.

Congress is working on a fourth bill, he said. The details of that bill are still being discussed but some possibilities include additional aid to individuals and businesses, as well as to the healthcare sector and hospitals.

A better outline of the bill should be available by the end of the month, he said. There was tremendous bipartisan support for the last series of bills, and he expects that support to continue through the crisis.