Describing the last couple of months as “… the most unprecedented challenge in our lifetime,” Texas Congressman Kevin Brady outlined what he and his fellow congressmen have accomplished as well as his next priorities.
“Congress passed four nonpartisan bills providing for 63 different tests, more than 70 kinds of treatments, two vaccine trials with more in the pipeline, a stimulus bill, the CARES Act and more,” Brady said from his office in The Woodlands.
The congressman gave updates on the CARES Act, the $480 billon COVID-19 relief package to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), and what to expect with Phase IV legislation. He spoke at the Lake Houston Chamber’s second virtual lunch-in May 5.
“We injected as much money as possible to keep people employed and made a huge financial commitment to help businesses ride this out,” he said.
Brady represents the 8th District of Texas and is the lead Republican in the House Ways and Means Committee with jurisdiction over taxes, health care, Social Security, Medicare, international trade and welfare.
“My role has been to negotiate the various bills with the House and Senate, making sure the programs are executed correctly,” the congressman said, “and, frankly, it is a miracle that the White House was able to bring the Paycheck Protection Program to Congress in just seven days. It was speed over perfection, but adjustments in the program will be made.”
Brady was critical of media reports of grants awarded to larger corporations.
“Texas was the number one recipient in the first round and the average grant was $256,000, which translates to businesses with 25 to 35 people,” he said. “The second round will assist smaller businesses, the self-employed and gig workers.”
Brady praised the area’s community banks, “… I’m in phone calls with them daily …” for their efforts in serving small businesses, keeping them up and running.
“We have to reopen in a safe and healthy workplace,” he said. “Continuing to lock businesses down would hurt small businesses and their employees. This is where you get your health insurance. It’s unhealthy to be unemployed.”
Brady outlined his next two priorities – redesign the unemployment benefit providing a “return to work” incentive, and tax incentives for companies as they reconfigure their businesses into a safe environment for employees and customers.
“We must be medically independent,” he said. “We rely too heavily on China and other countries, especially for pharmaceuticals. It’s going to take a few years to rebuild this industry.”
Chamber Chair Terry Vaughn fielded questions submitted by viewers. Regarding an antibody test, Brady answered that, had China not initially covered up the spread and severity of the virus, America would be in a better place.
“We learn more every day,” he said.
Asked about funds for rural health-care facilities, Brady responded that $10 billion of the first $75 billion package went to rural facilities and that allocations for the second $100 billion package have not been determined. More funds were distributed to state and local governments, $765 billion, than given to businesses.
“Some states, unlike our Governor Abbot, are not sharing those funds with small communities,” he said. “Those states will not receive additional funds. Senator Leader McConnell was right to say we should pause to review how states are spending the funds before we allocate more.”
About the trillions of dollars being added to the federal debt, the current spending is something Congress had to do but both parties must “… get us back into a balance of what we spend to what we bring in.”
He wasn’t sure that future funding would include nonprofits such as chambers and economic development partnerships and, when asked about how local governments have handled the COVID-19 pandemic, Brady said, “Texas has done a good job. We are second in population and ninth in number of cases. Growth is slowing down. Hospital occupancy is down. Testing is up.”
“Requiring masks was an overreach,” he said. “It wasn’t in the CDC guidelines. On the other hand, all state and local officials make difficult decisions without the information they need. We must respect what they’ve had to face, and we must work together to reopen our communities.”
The 40-minute lunch-in ended in a bit of levity, with Vaughn asking Brady about a possible meat shortage.
“There’s no way to process the meat and demand is down,” the congressman responded. “I was recently on a call with Agriculture Secretary Perdue discussing just this. This is tough for the agriculture community but I’m confident we’ll ride this out, too.”
In an effort for full disclosure, Vaughn revealed that final question came from Lake Houston Businessman Danny Sullivan.
“I understand why Danny would be concerned,” Brady said, smiling, “we’re both meat eaters.”
He predicted a 16% unemployment rate, losing all the gains made and every job recently created, and praised Abbot’s efforts to reopen the state.
“We have a strong foundation, that American ingenuity,” he said. “In the third quarter we’ll begin to gain it back. It’s a new normal, maybe a better normal.”
Check the Lake Houston Chamber’s website for information on future virtual chamber lunch-ins. A virtual Humble BizCom is set for Thursday, May 21. Register at lakehouston.org.