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Senator John Cornyn Discusses Financial Aid Outlined by CARES Act

Published Apr 02, 2020 by Julia McGowen

As many Houston-based employees and employers are suddenly faced with financial hardship due to unemployment and changes in business operations, these individuals and businesses are seeking immediate relief and stability.  

In response to the COVID-19 health crisis, Congress has passed three bills to bolster resources for health care providers and support for workers and businesses who have been significantly impacted by the economic fallout. These bills are critical in fighting the virus and ensuring the economy is stabilized so that employers can continue operations in order to provide jobs and opportunity. On Friday, March 27, Congress passed and President Trump signed the third phase of the stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  

U.S. Senator John Cornyn joined the Partnership’s COVID-19 Houston Business Forum webinar series to discuss the main provisions outlined within the CARES Act. Here are three key provisions the monumental piece of legislation provides.   

Funds to Support the Fight Against the Virus 
One of the cornerstone pieces of the CARES Act is the $100 billion it provides to hospitals, providing additional support for public health agencies and greater access to telemedicine. An additional $16 billion was included to increase the availability of scarce and critical resources including masks, gloves and other equipment to keep health care providers and first responders safe. The Act also allows for an expedited process for making vaccines and treatments widely available and affordable.

Immediate Financial Aid for Individuals 
As we face the start of the month, millions of individuals are faced with bills they will be unable to pay due to furloughs or layoffs. “The CARES Act sends direct financial help to Texans who need it most,” Senator Cornyn said. A family of four in Houston with a household income of $150,000 or less will receive $3,400 because of this legislation. The Act also expands unemployment insurance eligibility and provides an extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits on top of the state’s portion and extends the duration of unemployment eligibility through the end of 2020. “This provision gives people the resources they need to cover rent, bills, groceries, and other expenses until the smoke clears,” said Cornyn.  

Ensuring Houston Area Businesses Stand Strong 
Senator Cornyn noted that at no fault to many business owners, they are having to close their doors or dramatically shift operations to cope with the current circumstances, adding, “for most small businesses, it’s not feasible to go weeks – let alone months – without reliable income.” For small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, the bill establishes the Paycheck Protection Program through the SBA, which provides eight weeks of cash-flow assistance at a low-interest of 0.5%, which can cover payroll, rent, supply chain disruption costs. He added that if employers maintain their payroll through June, payroll, rent, and utility payments covered by the loan can be completely forgiven. The application process for the Paycheck Protection Program was announced on March 31, and applications can be submitted as early as Friday, April 3. These loans will be available through all SBA-certified lenders, including local banks and credit unions. Those seeking these loans should contact their banks or credit unions and are encouraged to submit applications as quickly as possible. Cornyn added that loans for businesses with more than 500 employees will be made available through the federal reserve.  

Before concluding the session, Senator Cornyn reminded participants that for the Houston area, this is not our first crisis, and “while this crisis presents tough and uncharted challenges, Texans will get through this and be stronger on the other side.” 

In an effort to build a business-led recovery initiative for the greater Houston region, the Partnership has established the Greater Houston Business Recovery Center (GHBRC), which will provide guidance on policy and financing related to recovery program, learn more about the center here. We also encourage you to visit the Partnership's COVID-19 Resource page for updates, guidance for employers and more information. And sign up for daily email alerts from the Partnership as the situation develops.  

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Houston’s position as an epicenter of international business and global trade is strengthened by our robust regional port system. Port Houston, the largest port by foreign tonnage in the nation, continues to show strong performance and contributions to the local and national economy. In recent months, however, shipping logistics and traffic have had to deal with their share of challenges brought on by the economic downturn. Ric Campo, chairman of Port Houston, spoke about how the port has had to adapt at the Partnership’s State of the Port event on October 13. Impacts Brought on by Pandemic, Energy Downturn  Port Houston continues to see solid traffic, but Campo said the port is not immune to COVID-19 and its economic impacts and has seen declines in volume in 2020. The chairman reported that as of the end of September, Port Houston is down 3% year-to-date in container traffic, adding that total tonnage along the Houston Ship Channel is down 5.5% year-to-date through July. Houston is familiar to the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry. Though that is now coupled with a pandemic, Campo said Houston is sure to rebound, returning liquid bulk facilities and crude oil exports to pre-COVID volumes. “Port of Houston international tonnage is still 70% ahead of the next closest U.S. port," he said. “Even with a weak year in 2020, the greater Port of Houston will remain the number on U.S. port for international trade.”  An Emphasis on Community, Environmental Stewardship  “One thing we cannot ignore in 2020 is the topic of racial equity, diversity and inclusion. This is also part of Port Houston’s strategic plan and we believe strongly that we need to be part of the solution,” said Campo.  He pointed to one example of how Port Houston is addressing this through a recently commissioned study on the port’s small businesses and accessibility for minority-owned businesses. The report will help guide the system on how it can ensure suppliers and partners doing business at the port reflect the diversity of the region it serves.  Campo said Port Houston became the first port authority in the world to make the switch to 100% renewable electricity this year. The move is estimated to eliminate 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the system’s footprint each year, equating to $250,000 savings annually. Campo noted that this switch is truly a win-win for Port Houston and serves as a model for how other major port authorities can maintain operations while lessening impacts on the environment.  The chairman also discussed the port's efforts to engage in communities surrounding the ship channel through two-way communication opportunities, which open a dialogue to foster strong relationships with stakeholders and neighbors. Campo cited a partnership with Buffalo Bayou Partnership where the port has been working with the non-profit for decades to help keep the bayous clean and are embarking on the development of new green space on port property.   Work on Port Expansion Continues  Campo concluded by providing an update on perhaps the biggest initiatives in the systems recent history – the Houston Ship Channel Expansion known as Project 11, which is vital to maintaining the Houston Ship Channel as the economic powerhouse that it is today. “We know the urgency of this expansion. It’s crucial and the time to act is now,” Campo said. Port Houston is leading efforts to get the necessary federal appropriations to start the construction project sooner and to begin work in 2021. During the 116th Congress in 2019, both the House and Senate authorized Project 11 in their respective versions of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) legislation. While congressional approval is pending, Port Houston continues to lead discussions with industry to find ways for industry to participate in half the cost of the channel expansion.  Campo ended his address on an optimistic note. “We are ready now and we will be ready then. Port Houston, and the Houston Ship Channel, have always been something you can count on during times of prosperity, times of recession, and now, times of pandemic. It will continue to bring economic value and jobs to our region today, tomorrow, and in the future.”   Click here for more information on Houston’s transportation and logistics industry. For more on Houston’s international business landscape, click here. 
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