Q&A: U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady discusses the passage of the CARES Act

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, spoke about the CARES Act and his involvement in the package's development March 27. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, spoke about the CARES Act and his involvement in the package's development March 27. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, spoke about the CARES Act and his involvement in the package's development March 27. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the federal government's largest-ever stimulus package, passed both houses of Congress this week and was signed by President Donald Trump on March 27. U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, spoke with Community Impact Newspaper following the bill's passage in the House on March 27; the conversation centered on the package's development and highlights for local residents and businesses. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How were you involved in this bill’s development, and how did Congress’s planning process unfold?

“This was an instance where we realized in just a matter of days that America is experiencing one of the greatest health and economic threats at the same time, and both [are] related. The Congress had to work together with the president quickly. Today’s bill was really momentum from the first two bills we passed. The first was the $8 billion bill to drive more money into vaccine development, treatment and accelerating the mask and the medical equipment. The second bill was about $100 billion, and that was about making sure free testing was available to every American: that if workers got sick or they had to go home [or] take care of a loved one—that they wouldn’t lose their paycheck while they did it. And we pushed more money back to the states for health care and unemployment. But this third was really a reaction to the economic crisis we face where, a week ago, 3 million more Americans had a job than they do today. This was a cash flow crisis for local businesses that was cascading into closures and layoffs because the virus scared away customers. And we knew we had to focus on saving lives and livelihoods at the same time."

"This was really targeted to, first, keeping workers ... on the job; two, helping those who have lost their job; and three, preserving Main Street businesses so they can ride out this crisis and rebound strongly. So that’s what the goal of this bill is, and we achieved it, but it was very intense. These last two bills—No. 2 and now, No. 3, the economic stimulus—all happened within a week. And my role as top Republican on [the House] Ways and Means [Committee] was really to help craft the tax relief portions on this, including the tax rebates; the unemployment part of this; and then, about a half of the health care provisions. ... So it’s been pretty intense: late hours every night, early every morning, a lot of work with the White House, our Senate counterparts and, of course, our Ways and Means Democrats here in the House.”

How do you believe this package is designed to aid local business and restaurant owners?

“With the customers gone and businesses wanting to keep their workers if they can, they’ll have the option of [a U.S. Small Business Association]-guaranteed loan through their local banker that can pay for personnel, health care, rent, utilities and even the debt they owe to get them through the next two months or so. And if they are able to keep the portion of the loan that they use to keep their workers, that portion will be forgiven. So for small businesses, that may be a top option for them. ... We also provide, for the rest of the year—the payroll taxes that you collect for your workers and that you pay, you keep in your pocket through the end of the year, and you have two years to forward that to Washington. ... We got, in this bill, a worker retention tax credit. This is for our local businesses who have really been forced to close or partially close down because of a government order, or they’ve lost half of their business in this. They’ll have an option where for each worker they keep on the payroll—of the first $10,000 in salary, if they pay half, we, the federal government, will pay the other half. So that’s an option for businesses to get some help to keep their employees around while they ride this out. So for small businesses, it’s really about loans that can be forgiven, keeping the payroll taxes in your pocket rather than sending it here and then, some options to help you pay for your workers.”

What have you heard this month from those small business owners in your constituency?

“The key thing is, ‘How do we survive? Our customers are gone,' or, 'I’m required to close down. How can I afford my workers? How do I survive this?’ They need cash right now. They need help keeping their workers. and some feel comfortable borrowing money in the short term if they have plenty of time to pay it out. So that’s what most of them talked with us about. They also know that SBA loans can be lengthy to get, and so that’s why most small businesses were encouraged that [these] SBA loans will come through the local banker, who will take their applications and make the approval without having to check in with the SBA. So we can get those loans approved faster through the banker or the lending person you have a relationship with.”

How do you believe this package is designed to help larger companies?

“The larger businesses, like our Main Street business, employ tens of thousands of employees in The Woodlands. And there is a specific area of lending to distressed industries. That includes energy; that includes our airlines, like United and Southwest, that employ so many of our constituents here. That also includes these major restaurant chains and hotel chains, all of whom have been shut down almost immediately because of the virus. And so that help is primarily lending. In fact, it’s all lending. So the federal government’s going to give businesses loans of varying length that have to be repaid to help carry them through this year with time to repay it. For our larger and distressed industries, [the] ones that have been hit the hardest, there is financing, which is what they were seeking.”

How do you believe this package is designed to help individual workers?

"[With] every dollar we spend to help a Main Street business survive, we help a worker survive. So we’re focused a lot on helping people keep their jobs by working with their business. Secondly, individual tax rebates, which President Trump insisted upon, [are] designed to give families economic support during this crisis, and that’s $1,200 per person and $500 per child for Americans who have a valid Social Security number. There’s been a little delay in this bill ... in the Senate, but initially, I think it should arrive in early or mid-April.

We expanded and broadened unemployment. This bill increases by $600 a week unemployment benefits for laid-off workers so that families don't take as big a hit as they do when they are normally laid off. Also, another provision that I pushed [for] successfully expands unemployment for the self-employed, for the independent contractor, for the freelancer and those who are furloughed. ... And so, unemployment is going to be available to them. And so that, I think, is going to help families ride this out as well.”

What medical and financial relief will this bring to Texas?

“We poured ... $140 billion nationwide into our hospitals, our clinics, our rural communities and into our health care providers to help them deal with the coronavirus crisis. From the Ways and Means Committee, we are increasing the amount of reimbursement for health care providers who are treating coronavirus, and we [are accelerating] Medicare payments into our hospitals and to our doctors’ offices. ... We also know communities and schools are running up a lot of expenses due to the virus, and so there are tens of billions of dollars for cities, counties and schools—not to recover lost revenue, but to help offset some of the added expenses due to coronavirus.”

What additional legislation could be developed in the coming weeks to aid the country’s coronavirus response?

“The bulk of the work is done, but we’re going to be monitoring the economy and the health care to determine how else we can help this crisis. I’m optimistic that if we can apply maximum pressure right now on this virus—that we have a chance of getting out from under this in May and June. I love the fact the president set April, Easter Sunday as a goal for unlocking this economy. I think that helps all of us know that if we continue to focus on locking this virus down, on the social distancing and personal hygiene—if we can flatten that curve of the virus, we can begin helping this economy up as we do that.”

Overall, how do you think the Eighth Congressional District and Montgomery County have been handling this crisis so far?

“I think our local leaders, county leaders, our health care and hospital leaders and organization have been unbelievable. I’m so impressed and proud of the work they’re doing. None of this is easy. This is a brand-new virus that appears to be spreading faster than we know, that loves crowds and hates the elderly and uses one to attack the other. So I've been very impressed with the coordination and the work that I’ve seen with our county, community [and] health care leaders. It’s not been easy. There haven't been enough masks, [and there are] not enough tests yet. There is a worry about if the rate explodes—that it could overwhelm our hospitals and health care entities—which is why they are pulling out the stops to try to slow down the rate of new cases.”

Is there anything that is not included in the package that you were hoping to see, and if so, could that be addressed in the near future through other legislation?

“I think we ought to first monitor this legislation [and] make sure it gets into families’ and small businesses’ hands. ... I’m going to be listening to our small businesses and our industries [to hear] if they’re getting the help they need. I think that’s the top priority. I know some in Washington are already talking about a fourth package, but this is really focused long-term on infrastructure spending and pension reform—issues like that. I think we ought to keep our focus on the coronavirus, and if we take a further step, it ought to be to make America medically independent like we are energy independent. This crisis has shown too many of our medicines, our medical supplies, the ingredients for our pharmaceuticals and all, are manufactured offshore. ... So if we reveal the need for what I call a ‘medicines made in America initiative,’ it’s going to take several years. ... I’ve already begun work on changes in the tax code that would reward businesses that [bring] medical manufacturing and medical equipment manufacturing back to the United States.”

Is there any other advice or information you’d like to share?

“I would just encourage people, if they [want] information, [to] come to our website. We have a lot of frequently asked questions about this package there. Call our office here in Texas, Conroe, Huntsville, or our D.C. office. All of our staff is working—most, remotely—but we’re here to help.”

Brady's March 27 comments on the bill in the House may be viewed here. The full text of the bill passed in the Senate March 25 may be viewed here.
By Ben Thompson
Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 and is a reporter for The Woodlands edition.


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