Merkley and Wyden pitch $2 trillion stimulus bill to Portland business owners

Oregon U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden were in the middle of an online Portland Business Alliance town hall on Friday when the House of Representatives passed the $2 trillion federal COVID-19 relief bill.

Both senators were assuring around 230 regional business leaders that the provisions will help them stay in business and retain or rehire their workers, just as Wyden said he had received word of its passage. He called it “great news.”

The discussion did not pause, however, as the PBA members still had many questions about when and how they could apply for the loans and other provisions intended to help businesses in the lengthy legislation.

Merkley and Wyden also said the historically large stimulus package has provisions to help employees and independent contractors who are out of work. Highlights include:

• Tax credits and loans up to 125% of payroll for businesses who retain employees through the crisis or rehire them shortly after it ends.

• Debt relief provided by a six month suspension of Small Business Administration loan payments, which Wyden said will benefit 4,000 small businesses in Oregon.

• Expansion of the existing federal Work Share program to help pay the wages of existing employees.

• An addition unemployment insurance benefit of $600 per month funded by the federal government for four months.

• Allowing independent contractors and “gig economy” worker — such as Uber or Lyft drivers — to qualify for unemployment insurance for six months, including the additional $600 per month.

Wyden also said the legislation has a State Fiscal Relief program that will provide funds to state governments and cities larger than 500,000 people — including Portland — to help offset their anticipated revenue losses.

And the legislation includes money for the health care system, including funds that could allow the Oregon Health & Science University to redesign its hospital entrance to better handle contagious patients.

Both Merkley and Wyden predicted Congress would pass additional stimulus measures in the near future.

You can watch the full town hall here.