Ohio’s US senators discuss what they’re doing in response to COVID-19


Sen. Rob Portman's message to small businesses is "hang on as long as you can because there is help coming"​

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – In the aftermath of the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, United States Senator for Ohio Rob Portman said he isn’t taking his eye off the legislation and moving on just yet.​

“The next thing on the docket for me is implementation. We pass laws in Washington and sometimes don’t pay enough attention to how they actually work for people.”

His focus is going to be on how to take the measure and make it work for the people of Ohio.

While the CARES Act will inject trillions of dollars into the system, a good portion of which will end up in Americans’ bank accounts, some aid does need to go to business. Making sure it gets to the right places quickly is Portman’s goal.​

Making the money work for Ohioans means getting it to hospitals.​

“We don’t want some of our hospitals, including some of our rural hospitals, to be facing a shutdown at a time that the pandemic is coming,” Portman said​.

Because Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Health Department have put a hold on all elective surgeries, some hospitals’ bottom lines are starting to hurt. Elective surgeries are where most hospitals find revenue.​

With those surgeries now off the operating table, things are starting to get tight and Portman wants to avoid seeing those hospitals close due to a lack of revenue.​

The same can be said about small businesses. Regardless of whether they are retail or hospitality, small businesses are really hurting in many places.​

It is currently commonplace to see retail stores that are considered nonessential businesses shuttered. But even some essential businesses like restaurants are starting to close as well.​

Tula Taqueria is a restaurant near Polaris. Neon signs flashing in the windows advertise tacos and burritos, but the establishment serves a variety of Mexican dishes.​

A sign on its door thanks customers for supporting them for two weeks with delivery and to-go orders. It then informs customers they have decided to close temporarily through April 7, when they will reevaluate the situation with the current health crisis.​

The fast-casual restaurant downtown on Capitol Square, Cinco, has a similar sign indicating it, too, has shut down until given the all-clear by DeWine.​

Many restaurants operate on tight margins to begin with. Some industry experts claim many will not survive without sufficient assistance.

“There are a number of businesses that are right on the brink,” Portman said. “You know, they’re trying to decide can they keep their doors open. They have virtually no cashflow. You mentioned the restaurants that are doing take-out, and it’s not enough revenue coming in to keep the lights on or the kitchen operating so what I’m telling them, in part, is hang on as long as you can because there is help coming.”​

Some of that help is in the form of SBA loans that transform into grants if the money is used on payroll, utilities and other needs during this economic crisis.​

In the meantime, Portman is donating his salary for April and May to help where he can.​

“In a very small, very token measure, what I’m doing is just, you know, during the crisis here for this next month and the month after, contributing my salary to some great nonprofits around the state of Ohio,” he said.​

The nonprofits he is donating to are the Columbus Foundation Emergency Response Fund, the Cleveland Foundation COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, the United Way and Greater Cincinnati Foundation local nonprofit fund, the Greater Toledo Community Foundation COVID-19 Response and the Southeast Ohio Food Bank.​

Portman and fellow Ohio U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown are working with DeWine to address other impacts the health crisis has created.​

“A lot of Ohio companies and, again, health care providers want to step up and do more for Ohio and, in some cases, even do more for the country but sometimes there are federal regulatory issues that stand in the way,” Portman said.​

The governor and senators are trying to remove those barriers as quickly as possible and everyone has their own way of approaching that.​

Brown was clear with how he felt about the situation Ohio hospitals find themselves in.​

“The president was late coming to this and we wasted some seven, or eight or nine weeks in scaling up what we need to do for personal protective equipment,” Brown said.

Portman uses the positive relationship he has with the Trump administration to help get things done for Ohioans and he put that into use this past weekend.​

“I talk to the White House every day and I talk to them every day over the weekend, including five calls on Sunday and right now, they are being responsive,” Portman said.​

Portman, Brown, DeWine and all of Ohio’s elected officials are trying to do everything they can to ensure Ohio is going to get what it needs when things really get bad.​

“It’s tempting, perhaps, to say, ‘Well, Ohio doesn’t need the tests as much as other states now because Ohio isn’t doing as badly,'” Portman said. “But the point is if you don’t provide us the tests, we will be doing more badly and same with the masks, same with the other protective equipment, same with the swabs to go with the testing, same with the ventilators. We need to be sure that our hospitals are ready.”​

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