U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, responded to submitted questions on the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy during a Monday virtual town hall meeting on Zoom. Dave Gruber, associate commissioner of Texas Department of State Health Services, answered questions as well.
One attendee noted that small businesses continue to feel the pain of the recent shutdown and asked Williams if Congress plans to make additional Payroll Protection Plan loans available.
“As a small business owner myself I understand,” Williams said. “There is still about $190 million in PPP loans that have not been applied for. And the program has worked. About 90 percent of the loans went to businesses with 60 employees or less.”
The PPP loans, Williams said, helped assist about 6,000 businesses and 58,000 employees in CD-25.
Williams urged any Congressional District 25 business owners considering applying for the loan to contact his office so that his staff members can help them out.
Williams pointed out that the deadline to apply for a PPP loan has been extended from June to Aug. 8.
Another participant asked if a second stimulus package is planned.
Williams didn’t rule out a second round of stimulus spending but said Congress has to determine how effective the first one was.
“Our economy is starting to move in large part because of our low taxes and interest rates,” Williams said. “[Congress] is going to have to look at liability testing. A lot of businesses are afraid to hire right now because they’re afraid they’ll get sued by lawyers. So that’s something we need to look at.”
Such questions include situations where an employee contacts COVID-19 or a customer claims to have contacted it at the business, Williams said.
Another participant said she’s working from home for now but will soon return to her office. The woman said she’s concerned about what will happen to her children should schools not reopen this year.
“I want to see the schools reopen,” Williams said. “Of course, safety is paramount to our kids and teachers. But I don’t think we get our country back until we have our kids back in school again.”
Williams said that time with friends and development of social skills is also important to students just as is the educational component.
Williams, when asked how he supports law enforcement, said he co-sponsored a bill that includes protocols to oversee police training, which has yet to pass because the “Democrats decided to play politics.”
“We need law enforcement,” Williams said. “Let’s not ever forget that. And we’re thankful for what they do every day.”
Gruber fielded medical-related questions.
Reports are accurate, Gruber said, that the resources of several hospitals throughout the state have been stressed because of rising COVID-19 numbers.
DSHS continues to monitor those capacity numbers and to take action, he said.
“We’re deploying additional staff, thousands of people, to hospitals that need help,” Gruber said.
No miracle drugs exists as yet for COVID-19 treatment, Gruber said.
In answer to another question, Gruber said it is safe to donate blood.
“The blood banks have their own screening criteria to ensure the blood supply remains safe,” Gruber said.
Williams concluded the town hall by crediting Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon and other local officials within his district for their vigilance and hard work throughout the pandemic.
“Texas is leading the way to reopening and getting back to business,” Williams said. “My goal is to get the economy going again and get people back to work while ensuring the health and safety of our district.