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Chamber hosts online meeting with Rep. Keller

Congressman discusses latest round of PPP funds

LEWISTOWN — Rep. Fred Keller, R-Selinsgrove, whose 12th Congressional District includes Mifflin, Juniata, Snyder and Perry counties, took part in a ‘Legislative Update’ online meeting hosted by the Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce. Keller started off by discussing the work that his team has done in Congress for relief for small businesses and their employees.

“Provisions to the bill that are relevant to the business community I think some of the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and some things we’ve been able to get accomplished for that,” Keller said. “As far as our path forward, the outlook in the upcoming Congress and things that would be important to business in our communities which is, of course, agriculture and energy.”

Keller said one of the main focuses is supporting job creators. He spoke with businesses and chambers throughout the 12th District to see what they need to be advocating for. Keller said a lot of those concerns were covered in the recent package, but overall the best stimulus is a job and keeping people attached to their employers.

“We were working on the bill all summer but unfortunately the package didn’t move until the end of December and it included some important things,” Keller said. “What this did and the things we’ve been working for and really advocated to get included in this was the extension of the PPP for our small businesses.”

That provision will be in effect through March 31. Businesses like chambers of commerce, radio stations and newspapers are included in the next round of PPP. Keller said the tax provisions for the PPP money was also an important provision in the bill. Keller like other believed the small businesses should be able to deduct the PPP money as expenses. Keller said there were other tax provisions included in the bill.

“The businesses going for the second round in fewer employees is 300 or fewer and the other one was 500 (or fewer) and they also had to demonstrate a loss of revenue if they are going for a second round.” Keller said. “It was tiered in how it was rolled out so that smaller lenders were able to access and do the loans. And now it’s opened up for all lenders to participate.”

Keller said money was included in the bill for theaters, museums and zoos as well as motor coach and private school bus industry. There is also relief in the bill for the airports in the district. Keller said more money was placed in the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program to extend the advance grants and created a process for grantees who received less than $10,000 to reapply for the difference.

“Important to our district is the rural broadband deployment — $300 million for that and also FFC has money to carry out the Telehealth pilot program which was originally authorized under the first CARES Act,” Keller said. He said there is money in the bill for purchase of vaccines for people who would want those at no charge. There was also money included in the bill for vaccine distribution and assist states in COVID-19 testing. Keller said the bill also includes a Provider Relief Fund created to support local hospitals.

“The package includes a lot of things that are help to get us through the pandemic,” Keller said. “Defeating this virus and getting our economy back to where it was should be our main focus.”

Keller went on to comment on Congress moving forward.

“As (Wednesday) we mark the transfer of power to a new administration we wish much success as America moves forward under a new administration,” he said. “It’s about accomplishing goals. It’s about getting things done for the people we represent regardless of who is running the executive branch of government.”

Keller said the commitment of his team to to work on those items such as rural broadband and fixing infrastructure.

As far as education, Keller said student loan debt is an issue that is talked about often. Keller said that part is understood, but wants to see transparency of the cost of education and the cost of borrowing money so students aren’t getting into a problem with large student debt that is unaffordable.

“They get the training and job skills for jobs whether it’s for people coming out of high school or somebody already in a career or looks to change careers. Making sure those things are available whether it’s college courses, whether it’s apprenticeships or CTE (career and technical education) that people have those opportunities and they are available,” Keller said.

Keller also said we need to incentivise a growing economy by providing tax cuts. Keller also commented on the regulatory environment and making sure that regulations make sense and don’t overburden a business.

“One of the things that is important is the premitting process,” he said. “Making sure that from the time someone starts and whatever permits they need to permitting process is not overly burdensome and moves smoothly to simplify that. Business people know that when you make an investment you need to get an answer because that is money that you have tied up all the way through your project. Being able to get an answer I think it is something you deserve and should happen. Might not always be the answer you want but at least not having it tied up for a long period of time I think would be helpful.”

The first question posed to Keller dealt with matters of election integrity and preventing election fraud. Keller said he knows there was a lot of discussion about the objection to some of the electoral votes during the certification process and wanted to clarify that the objection he had dealt with the things that were Constitutional issues, specifically what was done and who had the authority to do it in Pennsylvania.

“That was the purpose of the objection I had,” Keller said. “Only to 20 electoral votes which would not have changed the outcome of the election. But I had to do that because we didn’t have our attorney general or anyone else looking to make sure the accountability was there. Again, not looking for an outcome but looking to make sure the Constitution is followed and I uphold my oath.”

Another question was if Keller had received any threats directed toward him or his family which influenced his vote on the certification of the electoral votes. Keller responded by condemning the violent events that took place on Jan. 6. at the U.S. Capitol building and remarked those involved should be held to the fullest account of the law.

“I received some mail from people that aren’t happy because they were looking for one outcome or another with my vote. It’s not most people but there are some people that think I should have objected,” Keller said. “What affects my vote is upholding the oath of office that I took which is to protect and defend our Constitution.”

Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director Rhonda Moore commented on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita in Mifflin and Juniata counties have been near the top of the list in Pennsylvania and asked if Keller had any advice for the community to help raise awareness and lower the numbers in the area.

Keller responded by saying we need to take the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Health seriously.

“The virus is real and it’s serious and we need to take those precautions to protect ourselves but then also protect our community and our loved ones,” Keller said. ” I would just encourage the people of (the 12th District) to take a look at that guidance.”

Moore added that the medical staff and health care system in the area has been amazing.

“They’re tattered,” she said. “They’re exhausted, but they have been wonderful.”

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