Lawmakers ask Pelosi, McConnell to diversify coronavirus relief oversight panel

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A bipartisan group of 20 House lawmakers are calling on congressional leaders to improve the diversity of a coronavirus relief oversight panel to address the recession’s unique toll on minorities and women.

In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the group urged Congress to take up measures to expand and refocus the Congressional Oversight Commission created through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted women and racially diverse communities,” the lawmakers wrote, urging Pelosi and McConnell to foster “a greater focus on the disparate impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in diverse communities.”

The CARES Act created a five-person bipartisan commission to oversee how the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department used $500 billion allocated by the bill for emergency lending and grant programs for businesses and municipalities.

But the bipartisan group of 19 House Democrats and one Republican is urging Pelosi and McConnell to advance a bill to add more members to the panel and broaden its focus.

The coronavirus-driven recession forced thousands of businesses across the U.S to close and lay off millions of workers in the quickest, steepest economic downturn since the Great Recession. The pandemic has taken an even greater toll on people of color and businesses owned by women and minorities, which typically hold smaller financial cushions and lack reliable access to credit.

“These small businesses tend to be operated by those who live in the communities they serve, located in areas that are traditionally overlooked by larger outside corporations, and their closure is a severe blow,” the lawmakers wrote.

The House lawmakers asked Pelosi and McConnell to take steps to increase the racial and gender diversity of the oversight commission with new members, appoint a chairman, boost its funding, and “clarify the need” to focus on how to ensure aid reaches vulnerable communities and businesses.

Doing so would likely require expanding the purview of the commission to include the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Small Business Administration’s emergency loan effort for small businesses created through the CARES Act. The commission does not have oversight of the PPP, but rather a variety of Fed facilities that target businesses much larger than the 500-person cap placed on PPP loans.

The oversight panel has four members, each one appointed by one of the House and Senate’s Republican and Democratic leaders: Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) and attorney Bharat Ramamurti. All but one of the members are male and none are Black, Latin American, Native American or of Pacific Islander descent.

The House letter comes two weeks after a trio of Democratic senators proposed a bill to add four new members to the commission and require half of them to be from communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

Tags CARES Act coronavirus pandemic coronavirus recession Donna Shalala French Hill Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Pat Toomey
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