ROGERS — Sen. Tom Cotton and 3rd District Rep. Steve Womack “got an earful,” in Womack’s phrase, about the damage done to businesses by the covid-19 pandemic and the need for another stimulus package in a meeting with at least 20 businessmen in Rogers.
Cotton, R-Little Rock, and Womack, R-Rogers, came to a meeting Friday organized by the Northwest Arkansas Council and held at the World Trade Center in Rogers. The council is a nonprofit group of business and community leaders in the region.
“Northwest Arkansas had a growing restaurant, entertainment and hospitality sector that is the hardest hit by this,” Cotton said after the meeting. Organizers asked the attending media to allow the business participants to speak without being quoted. Cotton and Womack gave interviews after the meeting.
The attendees told the congressmen another stimulus package was needed even it if meant giving ground to opposing viewpoints in Congress between Republicans and Democrats. Both object to the House package, passed by the Democratic majority there. Their main objection, both said, was billions of dollars in non-covid related assistance such as money to help pension funds for city employees of Chicago.
Businesses need both stimulus money and an end to the uncertainty over when and how much stimulus is coming if it comes at all, said one of the attendees who agreed to take questions.
“My message to the senator and congressman was: Small businesses need clear direction,” Stan Zylowski, chief executive officer of Movista, a Bentonville-based software firm. Businesses cannot plan appropriately without knowing what is coming next from the government, he said.
“Every day that passes without direction causes permanent harm to our community and small businesses across the U.S.,” Zylowski said. Cotton and Womack clearly took the group’s feedback seriously, he said. “The question is whether enough of their colleagues share that passion.”
The exchange was a good opportunity to tell the group why their congressmen weren’t agreeing to sign off on the House bill, according to Womack. For instance, he said provisions in the House bill would increase unemployment insurance compensation and costs so much it would close many of the businesses the bill is supposed to help.
Cotton wants a bill much more precisely aimed at helping businesses that clearly need the help. The first stimulus package, passed in March, distributed more than $2 trillion so broadly many companies with no need for the assistance received it anyway, he said.
One idea raised at the meeting Cotton found particularly interesting would be a tax credit for landlords who gave their commercial tenants a break in their rent, the senator said.
“The region’s health care providers and small businesses, in particular, have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, and the discussion touched on potential policy solutions that could help ease the impact on regional workers,” said Nelson Peacock, president and chief executive of the Northwest Arkansas Council.