Our country has made great strides in our fight against the coronavirus, and we are finally starting to hear good news. America is reopening, people are returning to work, and we are learning more and more about how to defeat this virus every day.
Our economy is still recovering from the forced shutdown implemented to slow the spread of the virus, but we have reason for cautious optimism. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nationwide employment rose by 2.5 million in May, and the unemployment rate fell from 14.7 percent in April to 13.3 percent. This is certainly good news. There is no doubt that programs like the Paycheck Protections Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program have saved millions of workers and businesses from financial ruin during this crisis. In East Tennessee, I have spoken to countless small business owners who were helped by the PPP and EIDL programs. These small business owners want to do the right thing and keep paying their employees, and these programs have given them the support to do so and to ensure that these jobs will still exist after this public health crisis ends. These programs are not perfect, and I am continuing to work with my colleagues in Congress and the Trump administration to ensure that workers and businesses have access to the resources and support they need.
This week, small businesses received good news when the Small Business Administration announced that they are reopening the EIDL loan program to all eligible applicants. This program provides loans to businesses suffering economic injury as a result of the coronavirus. For the past several weeks, SBA had limited EIDL loans to only businesses in the agriculture industry. Now that the loans have reopened, businesses of all types will be able to benefit from this program again. EIDL loans are available for many businesses even if they do not qualify for PPP, so if you are a small business owner, I encourage you to learn more about this program by visiting the SBA website at http://www.sba.gov/Disaster.
Despite the encouraging news over the past few weeks, we are not of the woods yet. The unemployment rate is 9.8 percentage points higher today than in February, and many of our friends and neighbors are still hurting as their jobs, businesses, and families have been impacted by this virus.
Since our state began reopening at the beginning of May, we've seen cases slowly rise in East Tennessee. As of June 17, we have had 820 total confirmed cases in counties in the First Congressional District. The last thing any of us wants is another forced shutdown that will decimate our communities. We must all continue to practice good hygiene to slow the spread of the virus and protect the most vulnerable among us.
Over the past few months, we have learned that one of the most effective ways we can do this is to wear face masks, especially where physical distancing is not possible. While I understand those who say wearing one can be a nuisance, I believe U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said it best last week when he said, "[W]earing a face covering is a small inconvenience that provides big benefits, and gives us our best chance for an effective and lasting reopening of America. If everyone does their part to slow the spread, then everyone wins!" Wearing a face mask should not be political. These forced shutdowns limit our freedom and economic security far more than the inconvenience of wearing a mask, so I hope everyone will follow this commonsense advice. Mask usage makes it far less likely we'll need to have another shutdown in the future!
I also encourage everyone to get tested if you believe you may have been exposed to the virus. The state of Tennessee has a multitude of free drive-up and walk-in sites, including 20 testing sites in our region alone. If you think you may have the virus, keep your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers safe and go get tested. You can find a map and contact information for testing sites online at https://www.tn.gov/governor/covid-19.
By practicing good hygiene, we can defeat this virus. Reopening our economy is a good thing, but it may make us feel like we have beaten the coronavirus prematurely. We have already started to see some good news, and now is not the time to let our guard down. We must remain vigilant to defeat this invisible enemy.