Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer is working from home, and he's not happy about it.
The Republican congressman, who represents Missouri's 3rd Congressional District (which includes Callaway County), spoke to county leaders and business owners through Zoom on Wednesday.
"We've been banished to our homes by Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi," he said.
Luetkemeyer is currently serving on the Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. His focus is on getting "America back open for business," as he put it in a recent Blaine's Bulletin newsletter. He especially wants to hasten the reopening process in rural areas, he said.
"We've learned over the last month or six weeks how to live with this," he said, adding progress is being made toward a vaccine.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it will likely take at least a year to develop a vaccine and longer still to manufacture, distribute and administer it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has infected nearly 5 million people worldwide; nearly 325,000 had died as of Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins. That includes more than 92,000 deaths in the United States alone. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reports 616 deaths in Missouri.
Though Callaway County hasn't reported a new case since May 1 — and had only one currently active case as of Wednesday — Missouri as a whole has averaged 153 new cases per day for the last seven days.
Luetkemeyer dismissed the possibility of a second wave of cases resulting from relaxed stay-at-home orders.
"There's not another wave that's coming," he said.
However, some states are already seeing signs of a second wave. Texas — one of the first states to relax stay-at-home requirements and allow non-essential businesses to reopen — reported 1,801 new COVID-19 cases Saturday. That's the state's highest single-day increase in cases since the beginning of the outbreak.
Callaway County's neighbors have also seen new cases, including Audrain County. The Audrain County Health Department announced 11 new cases Tuesday, nine of which were linked to an area hog farm; their active cases leaped from two to 16 in a 48-hour period. It is not clear whether those cases are linked to the end of Missouri's stay-at-home order.
Luetkemeyer also claimed the sun's rays will kill the virus that causes COVID-19, resulting in reduced cases over the summer. That's not true, according to the World Health Organization, which points out countries with sunny and hot weather are still reporting plenty of COVID-19 cases. Sunny Brazil, where temperatures rarely dip below the mid-60s, is now reporting the third-highest COVID-19 infection rate in the world.
Luetkemeyer is proud of the relief work the House and Senate have accomplished so far.
"The relief packages that were passed, we've got a total of almost $3 trillion, and the Fed can leverage part of that for another 4 trillion," he said. "It's an incredible amount of dollars that are sitting there, the money that's being put in. I think the programs are being utilized fairly well."
Of the $310 billion second round of Paycheck Protection Program funding, $195 billion had been disbursed as of Saturday, he said, noting this second round has been more successful at reaching truly small businesses.
"About 40 percent of the loans were made by community banks and credit unions, with an average amount $70,600," Luetkemeyer said. "That means the loans getting right where they were intended by CARES Act. People can pooh-pooh and point to hiccups we've had, but we're looking at the Small Business Administration getting out as much money in 14 days as they do in 14 years."
Luetkemeyer is also supporting H.R. 6697, also known as the "Local Chamber, Tourism, and 501(c)(6) Protection Act," which would make local chambers of commerce and tourism boards eligible to apply for PPP loans. The bill is under review by the House Committee on Small Business.
While Luetkemeyer supports relief for businesses, he has more reservations about relief aimed at furloughed and laid-off workers. He said the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which gives a temporary increase of $600 in unemployment benefits to workers, will discourage people from returning to work.
"At the end of four months, it's going to run out anyway," he said. "Hopefully we don't re-up this thing; it's a bad provision, and it's counter-productive."
He noted businesses whose employees have refused to take their jobs back may contact the unemployment office so the employees' unemployment benefits will be cut off.
Instead, he favors a payroll tax cut for businesses. He believes if businesses don't have to pay those taxes, they'll pass their savings on to employees; the extra money would incentivize workers to keep working, Luetkemeyer said.
"Also, saving rates are going up," he said. He said that's not inherently a bad thing, but "in this situation, we'd like to see people spend enough to keep businesses afloat."