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Why are we still paying people not to work? | Column

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Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Times
 16 days ago
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President Joe Biden smiles as he leaves after speaking about the COVID-19 vaccination program, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) [ EVAN VUCCI | AP ]

After a year of devastating human losses and debilitating lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus, small businesses in Tampa are staring down another challenge today: an inability to find new workers.

Why? Much of the reason has to do with the Biden administration’s unemployment benefits, which are so massive that they’re incentivizing would-be workers to stay home instead of looking for jobs. Even with vaccination rates soaring and COVID-19 case counts plummeting, the administration’s policies are now, for millions, precluding getting back to normal.

After all, if you’re going to make almost as much — or even more, in some cases — without a job than you would with one, you’re going stay home until you know the benefits run out. These people are just following President Joe Biden’s logic. And in nearly all states controlled by Democrats, the benefits will continue on and on until Labor Day.

Thankfully, Florida is cutting them off this month. But look at the damage already done. For the last month, I’ve seen signs in coffee shops and convenience stores across the state noting they’re understaffed because of the “labor crisis,” many begging for applicants. This isn’t just some minor inconvenience; for small businesses, many of which have served their communities for generations, it’s a life-or-death scenario.

Contrast the central logic of the Biden administration’s strategy — paying people to stay home — with how we navigated the public health lockdowns after the pandemic’s initial outbreak.

As millions of small businesses across Florida were forced to close their doors, we could have just thrown caution to the wind and let the market sort it out. But we knew that keeping as many Americans as possible attached to their workplace had to be the highest priority of our response. That’s why I designed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): to protect American workers by providing fully refundable loans to small- and mid-sized businesses so long as they keep their employees working.

Since its implementation began last year, the PPP has helped save up to 55 million American jobs, including 3 million in our state. In fact, more than 430,000 businesses in Florida have now received forgivable PPP loans. And despite serving an average business size of only 20 employees, it’s the largest, most successful fiscal policy program enacted by Congress in recent memory. Doug Holtz-Eakin, former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, called the PPP “the single most effective fiscal policy ever undertaken by the United States government.”

In Tampa and the rest of Florida, the PPP continues to go above and beyond in achieving its goals. Notably, the program has provided a lifeline to minority-owned and underserved businesses, who are often left vulnerable or lack access to lines of credit in economic emergencies.

In communities across the state, I’ve met with constituents who’d received loans. While I was in Tampa, business leaders in Ybor City, and elsewhere across the community, shared their experiences firsthand.

One particularly impressive business in Tampa that stuck out to me was Fresco Foods. In September, I named it Senate Small Business of the Week in part for its efforts donating hundreds of healthy, prepackaged meals to homeless and domestic violence shelters in the area. While in town, I met with Fresco’s owners, Rob and Tracy Povolny. They told me how, thanks to their PPP loan, they have been able to keep all 120 of their employees on payroll paid, so the business can continue providing nutritional meals to the people of Tampa Bay and beyond.

Of course, even if PPP kept unemployment rates far lower than economists initially forecasted during the pandemic, too many Americans still faced devastating job losses because of the coronavirus. But with widespread vaccine availability, now is the time when small businesses in Tampa, across Florida and throughout the rest of the United States should be reopening their doors and leading the economic recovery. Now, it’s time for President Biden to stop paying people to remain out of the labor force and for Americans to get back to work.

Marco Rubio, a Republican, represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.

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