Tester to Federal Reserve Chair: ‘Are we getting funding to rural America?’

Senator working to ensure critical coronavirus relief funding is making it to Montana small businesses

As part of his ongoing fight to ensure Montana small businesses aren’t left behind due to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senator Jon Tester questioned Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on the effectiveness of programs available to businesses in rural areas during a recent Senate Banking Committee hearing.

“The unemployment rate is 13.3 percent…and since we’ve got a lot of poverty in rural America, would you give me a quick assessment of the programs that the Fed is working on in these areas where [support] is really needed?” said Tester. “…Are we getting [funding] to rural America?”

Tester continued: “In particular, the [businesses] that got really trashed in my state are restaurants, bars, workout facilities, motels—are we able to focus this money in any way to the hospitality industry to really make sure the money is going there? Because those folks are really really really in tough shape.”

The large increase in unemployment has most substantially hurt low-income Americans, who are more likely to have lost their jobs due to coronavirus and many of whom reside in rural areas. Powell responded to Tester indicating that the best program to help rural communities bring back workers is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which Tester supported as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Tester also recently fought for expanded flexibility for PPP so Montana small businesses can better utilize the program.

Tester is pushing the Federal Reserve to ensure that help for small businesses and low-income individuals is actually making it into Montana communities, especially amid a growing economic crisis where rural small businesses are often cast aside. He questioned Powell on the ballooning national debt and its eventual impact on unemployment and inflation, especially on those who are most impacted by the crisis.

“When Obama left office the debt was $19.9 trillion. Three and a half years later into the Trump Administration, we’re over $26 trillion,” said Tester to Powell. “Can you tell me what that debt’s impact is going to be on inflation and unemployment moving forward?”

Tester continued: “We should have been prioritizing [paying off our debt] before the economy collapsed like in 2017, 2018, and 2019 instead of borrowing trillions of dollars.”

Tester has been working tirelessly to ensure that Montana is prepared to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, he urged the Trump Administration to cut red tape for small businesses participating in PPP, and he recently secured expansions to the program allowing electric co-ops and rural hospitals to qualify for relief, and to expand flexibility for Montana’s seasonal businesses and workers.

Visit tester.senate.gov/coronavirusresources for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak