By Rebecca Landry, marketing and communications intern, Fitchburg State University

WORCESTER – Hosted by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, nearly 70 people attended a noon conference call on Wednesday, April 15 with Congressman Jim McGovern to ask questions about the federal response to COVID-19.

With assistance from Jon Niedzielski, the District Director at McGovern’s Office, and Harsh Deshmukh, the Legislative Assistant at the United States House of Representatives, McGovern shared updated information regarding the financial support available for small businesses during the shutdown.

Various businesses, including chambers of commerce and other 501 C (6) organizations, are exempt from the financial support bills previously passed. There is likely to be a new package that is adjusted to fit the needs of these businesses, McGovern confirmed.

If a new package is announced, there may be an extension of the Payment Protection Program and altering the 75/25 percentage guidelines to better help businesses with the process of rehiring employees, said Deshmukh.

This is a “crisis that none of us have experienced before” said McGovern. The CARES Act was passed to help small businesses, but “with a new program, there are hiccups.”

McGovern said he wishes to ensure that all bills are implemented properly and provide the necessary support to people in need, but as the congressman is also Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules, he recognizes that current congress rules prevent them from effectively working remotely.

Many businesses are using video call platforms, such as Zoom, to work remotely, but congress cannot pass bills in this manner due to policies against remote voting, said McGovern, who is proposing to modify these rules for the future.

As for reopening the economy, McGovern said that he is focused on the “health and safety of the American people” and wants to follow the advice of medical professionals, but on the conference call, John Murphy, National Account Executive at Abintra Consulting, shared concerns about reopening businesses safely and efficiently.

In response, McGovern said that he plans to speak to Governor Charlie Baker about organzing a council consisting of health professionals and business owners who will discuss methods to reopen businesses and ensure that both perspectives are represented.

McGovern and his staff have offered to continue organizing conference calls with Chamber members to answer questions, expressing an interest in hosting calls centered around specific challenges for businesses during the COVID-19 response.