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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Rep. Davis: PPP, Airline Help Are Top Priorities In Next COVID Relief Package

Rodney Davis
Emily Bollinger
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis during a recent debate in Normal before the election.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis said Monday he is “pretty pessimistic” that a deal on more coronavirus relief is imminent, though if it happens he wants assistance for small businesses and airlines to be front and center.

There was renewed optimism for a deal at the end of last week, as a $908 billion framework proposed by a group of House and Senate centrist lawmakers emerged. Davis, a Taylorville Republican, said the details of that plan have not been released.

“Hopefully we’ll see something," Davis said Monday en route back to Washington, D.C. "I at least hope we can do the minimal in opening up the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) again for these businesses, these small mom-and-pops that are hurting because of the lockdowns and increased coronavirus infections. We have $130 billion still sitting in a pot in Washington, D.C., that small businesses ought to have access to.”

The program stopped taking new applicants in August, with $130 billion in remaining funds. While it was available, Bloomington-Normal businesses were approved for around $203 million in PPP loans, pledging to use that money to retain more than 21,500 jobs, according to data from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

The “hemorrhaging” airline industry also needs additional relief, Davis said.

“If we don’t have the airline industry intact, we’ll never get back to that economic normalcy we had pre-pandemic,” Davis said.

The $908 billion package would include $180 billion in additional unemployment insurance that would provide an extra $300 weekly benefit for 18 weeks. Davis said there is no magic number for jobless benefits that would earn or kill his support for a relief package.

“There’s going to be some unemployment issues that need to be addressed,” he said.

Davis has co-sponsored the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act that would establish a $10 billion grant program for live venue operators, promoters, producers and talent representatives. It would help an industry that was essentially left out of the earlier CARES Act relief package.

“It ought to be considered because it’s long overdue, that these areas of our economy and the employees and the ability to sustain their capabilities after the pandemic, are at risk,” he said. 

Vote against cannabis bill

Meanwhile, Davis was one of several Republicans to vote against a bill Friday to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. It was the first time Congress has acted on the issue.

The bill passed largely along party lines. It’s not expected to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Davis has been more liberal than many other House Republicans on cannabis-related issues. But he said the “social justice portion” of the bill that passed Friday “went too far.” In addition to canceling low-level federal convictions and arrests related to marijuana, it creates an excise tax on cannabis sales and directs the money to be targeted to communities adversely affected by the war on drugs. It adds incentives for minority-owned businesses to help them enter the cannabis market.

Davis said he’d rather “keep it simple” and pass a bill focused on areas where there is widespread agreement, such as opening up the banking industry to cannabis businesses. He said he believes in states’ rights — a nod to states like Illinois that already have decriminalized cannabis, but still face roadblocks because it’s still illegal at the federal level.

“It’s my job as a federal official to begin the process of allowing those duly and rightfully operating Illinois businesses to be able to use our financial institutions to bank those dollars in our economy, just like every other small business does, and not worry about the federal government coming in and confiscating those because federal law doesn’t match state law,” Davis said. “I’m more than willing to match that state law, but not with ensuring that certain provisions would go way too far when it comes to the public safety of our country.”

Davis’ 13th Congressional District includes parts of Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, Springfield, and Decatur.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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