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Oklahomans Will Weather This Storm

By: Senator James Lankford

As Oklahomans, we know all too well how to weather a storm. This spring we are experiencing more than hailstones; we are facing a health and economic storm as we have never faced.

We have done what it takes to “flatten the curve” to protect our friends and neighbors by staying home, practicing social distancing and washing our hands. In the past two months, Congress took unprecedented action for an unprecedented crisis to provide aid to millions of Americans who have been directly impacted when they no longer had an income. The CARES Act provided billions of dollars for health care and nursing facilities, testing supplies and vaccine development, education and student support, and help for victims of domestic violence and the homeless. The CARES Act especially focused on the backbone of our economy—small businesses and their employees—through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the expanded Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).

The PPP has aided many Oklahoma small businesses, rural hospitals, nonprofits and houses of worship So far, more than 35,557 loans/grants have been approved in Oklahoma with over $4.6 billion in total aid. This funding wasn’t intended to make small businesses whole. It was intended to ensure employees of small businesses still got their paychecks and to ensure those businesses had a fighting chance to get through this very tough season. We have seen the tenacity and resilience of small-business owners and the commitment they have to their employees. For those businesses that haven’t applied, Congress added an additional $310 billion to the program so more have access to the relief. I encourage you to contact your local lender quickly.

Unemployment applications in our state have overwhelmed the Oklahoma Economic Security Commission, since unemployment filling has more than quadrupled the previous record. Our state agencies are working hard to get the necessary benefits to applicants as quickly as possible including the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Extra unemployment benefits will continue through the end of July or until workplaces reopen, whichever comes first. Unemployment benefits are only available when there is no option for work. Once a previous position is open and ready for an employee, all unemployment benefits end.

The CARES Act was designed to help everyone in this crisis including employees and employers, public and private schools, small businesses and large businesses, health care providers and health care users. We all need help this time, but we cannot lose track that our government is us. We cannot wait for someone from Washington to fix the issues we face; we the people should serve each other in every way we can. Washington has a part, but the greatest help is what we do for each other. Our Oklahoma Standard and our grit to help each other survive a storm will outlast any federal aid.

When the storm finally passes, we will need to have a real national discussion about how we pay for all the assistance that was necessary to weather the storm. As a nation, we have borrowed almost $3 trillion over the last 45 days. All that debt will have to be paid back. Before we pass another bill for national assistance, we should determine what will be needed to pay off the debt spending.

Oklahomans are seeing relief, but there are still many who have lost their jobs, are isolated or are sick. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are resilient. We will get through this. If you are seeking answers to what resources might be available to you during this time, I welcome you to reach out to my office. We are here at a good social distance, waiting to help you through this uncertain time.