February 5, 2022
Dear Fellow Marylander:
Of all the ways that COVID-19 has tried our resolve, the ongoing lack of certainty – about our economy, schools, health and daily lives – may be the most difficult to navigate.
For many of us, my own staff included, we returned to our workplaces after months of work-from-home status, only to have the Omicron variant force a short-term return to telework. As we emerged from the holidays, many Maryland families saw a temporary return to remote learning for students, bringing with it a host of challenges. Others who rely on nursery- and pre-schools have been forced to deal with the total disruption to their routines that comes with sudden and repeated closures of those facilities.
That same uncertainty has touched seemingly every part of our lives, from masking rules to the unavailability of certain medical treatments. If you’re tired and frustrated and worried that you cannot take much more of this, you are not alone. I repeat, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I’m an optimist, and when things get bleak, I sometimes think to myself, “At least I’m not an economist.” Over the last two years, economists have struggled to analyze and anticipate the effects of the ever-changing pandemic on our national markets. Aside from the medical uncertainties of this new virus and its variants, we have seen unprecedented shortages and constrictions to the global supply chain. And not only have we seen inconsistent state-level policies for confronting the pandemic, we’ve seen vexingly uneven vaccine rollouts in different parts of our own country and around the globe, furthering economic uncertainty.
It is worth remembering that at the start of 2021, we were coming off our worst economic year since World War II. More than 11 million people were out of work. And an unthinkable 3,000 people were dying from COVID each day.
Fortunately, we are beginning to turn a corner. Almost immediately after the Biden administration came into office, we found ways to pass a series of big-thinking measures to help Americans navigate the pandemic. Comprehensive measures like the American Rescue Plan included seriously bold programs that helped us move toward the historic turn-around we are now experiencing. The bipartisan infrastructure bill also is also working to jump start the economy.
Make no mistake: Swift action has kept this country’s economy from hitting rock bottom. While supply chain issues and inflation continue to present real challenges, unemployment has plummeted far faster than expected, to near 4 percent. We have added the largest number of domestic manufacturing jobs in three decades. And our overall economic growth last year came in at levels not seen since 1984.
But we know that hard work remains. Just as the Omicron variant again disrupted our daily lives, we know that having millions of Americans being home sick or following COVID protocols will cause temporary fluctuations to unemployment figures. Critics will no doubt trumpet these expected fluctuations to support their doom-and-gloom narratives, just as certainly as they will ignore the improved figures that will follow as we emerge from the Omicron surge.
We also know that the global supply chain is far from fully returned to normal. And we have seen sectors of our economy still struggling to regain their footing – much less a path forward.
America’s small businesses have been impacted especially hard by the pandemic, a reality that troubles me greatly in my role as Chair of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee in the Senate. Because of this, I pushed to create and ensure passage of measures like the Paycheck Protection Program and expand the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program for grants and loans. While this support did not guarantee that every small business survived the pandemic, I have heard from countless small business owners that they would not still be in business today without these lifelines.
I am especially proud of my efforts to ensure that these programs were administered equitably. Studies have shown that the first round of PPP, which ended in April 2020, provided loans to a disproportionate amount of larger companies; however, later rounds of the program disbursed loans more equitably, with the share of loans made to minority-owned businesses in proportion with their overall share of the small business economy.
The same is true for many of our performance venues, museums and galleries, many of which continue to survive only because we established the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants to keep them solvent. The same is true of restaurants, which continue to be hard-hit by the pandemic. We created the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to provide help, only to see the demand for the program’s assistance quickly eclipse the support it could provide at original funding levels.
Knowing the need was so great, I have been seeking to find ways to provide additional aid, including by replenishing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) and ensuring that a far greater number are able to receive assistance. I’m presently working with Republican Senator Roger Wicker to identify additional bipartisan support for legislation to replenish the RRF and to find a path forward for the measure. Many restaurants are pillars of our towns and neighborhoods and losing them would be seriously, and needlessly, damaging to our communities – and our daily lives.
As we continue to navigate this pandemic and hopefully move toward its conclusion, uncertainty may continue to be the norm. But my sincere hope is that we can remain flexible, creative and determined enough to continue taking the steps necessary to move ahead and put the worst of the pandemic behind us. That sentiment applies to both our homes and on the Hill, where I will continue fighting for a better – and far more certain – future.
Thank you for your time. Get your booster shot!