Mitt Romney seeks COVID-19 aid for rural areas

(Susan Walsh | AP file photo) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 9, 2020.

So, a Republican, a Democrat and an independent walk into the U.S. Senate — and they proposed Thursday giving some new COVID-19 relief to rural areas.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was joined by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Angus King, I-Maine, to introduce the Rural Equal Aid Act, another in a series of compromises and proposals that Romney has rolled out in recent weeks as negotiations on pandemic relief have stalled.

In the newest proposal, Romney calls for the same breaks on Rural Development loans from the Agriculture Department as have been offered in previous aid packages for some Small Business Administration loans.

The previous Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) required the Small Business Administration to pay the principal, interest and any associated fees on some types of loans for six months to help small businesses to survive the pandemic.

The new bill would require the Agriculture Department to do the same for some Rural Development program loans.

Eligible are loans to public and nonprofit groups for “essential community facilities” such as hospitals, libraries, child care centers and community centers, and public facilities like fire stations or town halls. Also eligible are some loan programs for businesses, cooperatives and nonprofits that seek to develop and expand businesses in rural areas.

“Small businesses and community organizations are vital to the health and livelihoods of Utah’s rural communities, and they have faced great hardship over the last several months,” Romney said. “Our legislation will help them receive the support they need to keep their doors open and get through this pandemic.”

Tester added, “This bipartisan legislation will help small businesses and family farms keep the lights on by providing critical resources to communities hit hardest by the pandemic.”

And King said, “As Congress considers the next coronavirus relief package, we should extend these protections to ensure that our rural communities can access the same type of support as the rest of the country.”

Earlier this week, Romney proposed another compromise on how to extend now-expired enhanced unemployment benefits. Last week, he joined another compromise on how big any additional future stimulus checks should be. And he included in the Republican’s main relief proposal legislation to force action he says would help save Social Security and Medicare.

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