Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is back in Washington along with the rest of the Senate. He's calling for changes to be made to the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program, which has been distributing millions to businesses to keep employees on the payroll during the pandemic.
The program recently received another $321 billion from Congress after the initial funds ran out. Future coronavirus stimulus packages may add even more money, but other aspects of the program may also be adjusted after criticism about who is receiving funds.
Portman says business owners who may otherwise qualify for a PPP loan are being denied due to a prior criminal conviction, a restriction he calls unfair.
“You want somebody who has made a mistake to come out of the system and not just turn his or her life around, but contribute to the community and help others," Portman said.
Portman says other reforms are needed, including an extension of the eight-week period a business has to spend its loan, and more flexibility on what the money can be spent on, including rent and utilities.
Portman says he’s working with other senators to make the changes based on feedback from business owners.
At the same time, Ohio's junior senator is advocating for Congress working and meeting remotely, as millions of Americans have begun to do during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Portman, held the first remote meeting in the history of the Senate last week. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the viability of Congress meeting and voting remotely, and Portman says the fact that it went well proves it's possible and should be expanded.
“When the Congress cannot come together or should not come together, we can work remotely, just as my constituents do," Portman said. "Probably half the people I represent have been working somewhat remotely or entirely remotely for the past six weeks, at least.”
Portman says even when not in a time of crisis, remote hearings should be more common practice. He says Congress should use them during times of recess so they can get work done even when they are not together, and remote meetings could give the public more access.
Portman says he knows at least two other committees have remote hearings scheduled for this week. He hopes Congress can reach a temporary agreement also allowing for remote voting until it's safer to vote in person.