U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler's opponent, Lindsey Simmons, said she isn't opposed to Hartzler's family businesses obtaining federal disaster help but said Hartzler should disclose how much.
Hartzler's husband, Lowell Hartzler, asked for and received loans from the $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program.
Simmons, a Democrat from Hallsville, said that it was probably a smart business move for Lowell Hartzler to apply for help from the program that gives money to businesses to maintain payrolls and pay necessary expenses. Under the terms of the loans to small businesses, the recipient does not have to repay the money if it is all spent within eight weeks of receipt and payrolls are not cut.
The maximum loan under the program is $10 million. The average loan from the first $349 billion approved in March was $206,000. Only businesses with fewer than 500 employees are eligible.
Simmons is an attorney. She has not been practicing law while campaigning for Congress.
"I am trained to do that which is the best interest of my client, and if Vicky's business interest was in my portfolio of clients to protect, I would have recommended the business apply if it was eligible," Simmons said. "It seems to me that would make good business sense."
Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, voted for the bill that created the program and a second bill adding $310 billion to the program. She has been a vocal advocate for the program and criticized Democrats who asked for and received a bill that also aided hospitals for delaying the additional help.
According to Congressional disclosure reports, Hartzler, jointly with her husband, owns a farm and farmland leased to others in Cass County. She and her husband own Heartland Tractor, a dealership that has locations in Harrisonville, Lamar, Nevada and Iola, Kansas. The combined value of the holdings is in the range of $4.45 million to $15.3 million and produced income between $217,000 and $1.3 million in 2018, the last year for which figures are available. Members of Congress give ranges for the value of and income produced by their assets.
No information for 2019 is available because on April 9 the House Ethics Committee granted a 90-day extension of the May 15 deadline to all members who had not filed their reports.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Hartzler defended the decision to seek the loans but did not provide any information about the amount received or which business was aided by the money.
“In the face of the coronavirus, small businesses across the country have faced extraordinary uncertainty,” Hartzler said. “Many have had to make heart-wrenching decisions such as laying off staff or even closing altogether. As small business owners, my husband Lowell and I know the realities of this uncertainty, as well, and took action to ensure the continued ability to maintain the employment of all team members during this time.”
The only provision in the bill prohibiting members of Congress from receiving the assistance granted other Americans is one that covers a large bailout fund set up to assist airlines and other businesses especially hard-hit by the pandemic. It was written to prevent President Donald Trump from obtaining federal support for his family's resorts and hotels.
“These loans are allowable for Members of Congress and were acquired in accordance to the provisions written into the CARES Act following guidance from the House Ethics Committee and through the same process, rules, and restrictions as any other American applying for these loans,” the statement issued Wednesday said.
Data from the Small Business Administration shows almost 47,000 Missouri businesses received $7.5 billion from the program.
Hartzler, in her statement, also responded to criticism from Simmons over her vote against a special Congressional subcommittee to watch over federal spending on the pandemic.
The subcommittee is “a new, overwhelmingly Democrat-controlled commission, which shamelessly politicizes this COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement read.
Public officials who use the loan program, especially members of Congress who voted on it, should fully disclose the financing that is provided, Simmons said.
"We don't want to disincentivize small business owners from running for office, but as an elected official you have a fiduciary obligation to your constituents," she said.
Simmons' spouse, Christopher Rosado, is a U.S. Army Apache helicopter pilot and currently on deployment.