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THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Washington needs to regroup, ensure payments get where they are needed

Now that the Senate and President Trump struck a deal on another relief package, they must work on getting the first one right.

Small businesses and individuals continue to wait on promised money to pay the bills, make the rent and pay the mortgage. The reasons for delays vary depending upon individual situations. When it comes to mom-and-pop small businesses, they just seem to be getting squeezed out by the big boys. It’s not only unfair, but a threat to local economies.

Before setting out on $320 billion to replenish the dried-up loan program for distressed small business passed last month, Washington must figure out what went wrong in the first iteration, starting with why national chains got relief before the struggling village shops.

Small and local business remains the backbone of an economy. These businesses should have been first in line for the money, but for them, last month’s Paycheck Protection Program failed. The new one must deliver.

The $349 billion in forgivable loans, or bridge loans, seemed manna from heaven. Neighborhood restaurants owned by eager entrepreneurs just looking to put food on their own tables by providing local service found themselves at the back of the line. Meanwhile, the Ruth’s Chris Steak House chain received $20 million in loans. It has more than 5,000 employees. The Potbelly chain of 400 restaurants received $10 million.

Purposely or not, the initial program allowed banks to favor major market entities with whom they had established relationships. But small businesses desperately need this money. If they can’t readily get it, Washington should pursue a different policy to make no-interest loans available to any small business that needs it, based on a promise to retain jobs.

Washington also needs to move quickly to streamline the stimulus program for citizens. The bureaucracy doling out stimulus checks of up to $1,200 per individuals and $2,400 for couples has tripped over itself.

These monies are being issued on a timely basis for some, not so much for others. There are various reasons for the staggered roll out, but government officials must let the public know what is happening – or why it isn’t. Without these stimulus checks, renters may lose their homes and landlords may not be paid. Cars may be forfeited. Takeout meals may not be ordered. Circumstances that are already disastrous can easily become worse.

This is an enormous program and problems were inevitable. Anyone can understand that. But at some point, it will be safe to reopen regional economies. We need to be sure one is still there to reopen.

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