Exclusive: Democrats seek to increase racial diversity of pandemic relief oversight board

Exclusive: Democrats seek to increase racial diversity of pandemic relief oversight board
© Greg Nash

A group of Senate Democrats including Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTwo 'View' hosts test positive for coronavirus ahead of Harris interview Rep. Karen Bass to run for mayor of Los Angeles: report Biden taps big bank skeptic to for top regulatory post MORE (D-Calif.), a leading contender to serve as Joe BidenJoe BidenHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue Pelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Erdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system MORE’s running mate, want to increase the racial diversity of a congressional commission tasked with ensuring that trillions of dollars in coronavirus relief funding is distributed appropriately.

Harris, who is African American, has teamed up with Sens. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' Bottom line Spendthrift Democrats ignore looming bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare MORE (D-Md.), Cory BookerCory BookerTim Scott says police reform talks collapsed with Dems over funding Sunday shows preview: Pelosi announces date for infrastructure vote; administration defends immigration policies Democrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol MORE (D-N.J.), who is also African American, and Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian  Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (D-N.J.), who is Latino, to sponsor legislation that would ensure that minority communities that have been hit especially hard by the pandemic are represented by the CARES oversight commission.

The lawmakers argue the pandemic has disproportionately hurt Black, Latino, Pacific Islander and Native American businesses and families but the current makeup of the CARES oversight board does not represent those communities.

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“The CARES oversight commission needs to reflect the communities that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus and make sure those communities have a seat at the table, and that’s why we’re introducing this legislation,” said Van Hollen in an interview.

“The current composition of the commission does not fairly represent the communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” he added.

Van Hollen pointed to a report in the Baltimore Business Journal revealing that Black-owned businesses in Baltimore were largely shut out from receiving Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Congress appropriated more than $600 billion for the popular small-business lending program in the CARES Act and in a $484 billion interim package passed in April.

“We’ve not had adequate disclosure about where all the dollars are going but we do know that there have been real problems in getting the Paycheck Protection dollars to small businesses that are most in need, including [in] a lot of minority communities,” he said.

“Black businesses were really at the short end of the stick when it came to PPP help,” he added, citing the Baltimore Business Journal report.

The Congressional Oversight Commission was established to report on the activities of the Treasury secretary and the Federal Reserve, according to a description of the panel released by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Sunday shows preview: Pelosi announces date for infrastructure vote; administration defends immigration policies GOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation MORE’s (D-Calif.) office earlier this year.

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A congressional source familiar with the commission said the panel does not have PPP oversight.

A Senate Democratic aide said Van Hollen cited PPP because he believes the administration has implemented the CARES Act with little transparency. The senator pointed to the small-business lending program as an example of the need to increase participation of “communities of color” in federal aid programs.

The Democratic bill would amend the CARES Act to change the membership requirements of the five-member Congressional Oversight Commission set up to review the implementation of the $2.2 trillion law.

It would double the number of non-chair commission members by adding four new members and require half of them to be from communities hardest hit by the pandemic and the severe drop in gross domestic product reported in the second quarter.

The Congressional Oversight Commission on Wednesday announced its first hearing will be held Aug. 7.

Four members currently sit on the board, including three members of Congress. They are Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.), Rep. French HillJames (French) French HillBiden to speak at UN general assembly in person Lobbying world Top Democrat leads bipartisan trip to Middle East MORE (R-Ark.), Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaDemocrats face bleak outlook in Florida 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Pelosi, Schumer must appoint new commissioners to the CARES Act oversight panel MORE (D-Fla.), and attorney Bharat Ramamurti.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation We don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble MORE (R-Ky.) have yet to agree on picking a chairman for the commission. The leaders were considering former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, but he withdrew his name from consideration.

The senators seeking more diversity on the panel say the current members are well-qualified but point out none of them are from the African American, Latinx, Pacific Islander or Native American communities.

Van Hollen said the Congressional Oversight Commission has yet to start producing any meaningful oversight while it lacks a chairman.

“When it comes to the CARES Congressional Oversight Commission, we still don’t have a chairman and they haven’t really started their work," he said.

It is one of three oversight mechanisms set up by Congress in March through the CARES Act.

The other two, the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR) and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) have also been slow in getting started.

President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE issued a statement when he signed the CARES Act into law declaring that he did not recognize the special inspector general’s authority to issue reports to Congress “without presidential supervision.”

The president in April blocked acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, who has a reputation for independence, from becoming chairman of the PRAC. Trump replaced Fine as the Pentagon’s inspector general and he then resigned from the office in May.

“It’s in disarray,” Van Hollen said of the total oversight effort.

Van Hollen said his staff has been in communication with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol Democrats' do-or-die moment Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan MORE’s (D-N.Y.) staff and he expects the Democratic leader to back the legislation.

--Updated at 3:18 p.m.