Americans across the heartland are weathering an unprecedented economic moment. This Spring, our economy flatlined as COVID-19 took its toll. Unemployment rose sharply to levels unseen since the Great Depression and our nation entered an economic recession. The path forward may be difficult, but it is pivotal that we get Americans back to work.
But, even before the pandemic, the economy didn’t work for everyone. Many working families have continued to struggle in an economy that wasn’t built for them. That’s why job creation and economic development remain my top priority. But as we work to achieve these goals, we also need to make sure we’re working to strengthen working families, grow our middle class and create good-paying jobs across Illinois.
In March of 2020, I helped pass the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which gave relief to families across Illinois and the country by providing $375 billion in small business relief, including $349 billion for forgivable loans to small businesses to keep their doors open and keep employees on payroll. Under this bill, family farms are eligible for small business relief.
In May, I helped pass the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Flexibility Act to help thousands of additional small businesses access the program and provide applicants with more flexibility to acquire the relief they need to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
A cornerstone of my work in Congress is to ensure opportunity for our small businesses to succeed. Two out of every three jobs are created by a small business–and the impacts of COVID-19 have made clear just how essential Illinois’ small businesses are to our economy and communities.
Northwestern Illinois also has a long and proud manufacturing tradition and a skilled workforce that’s second to none. With the Quad Cities, Peoria and Rockford as each serving as regional manufacturing hubs paired with our the infrastructure and the innovative capacity, our district is a center of national manufacturing growth.
To help leverage our strengths and create new jobs, I fought to bring the nation’s first two Digital Manufacturing and Design Institutes to Rockford and the Quad-Cities. I also worked with the Army to help bring the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence to the Rock Island Arsenal. These new resources generate the research and manufacturing jobs of the future while also positioning the region as a leader in advanced engineering.
I have also focused on expanding access to training and education to help our workers close the “skills gap” and compete for the jobs that are available today. Northwest and Central Illinois has some of the best workers in the world, but our community has often grappled with jobs being shipped overseas because of unfair trade deals that stack the deck against them. My standard for trade deals is pretty straight forward: if it doesn’t grow our economy and strengthen working families in Illinois, I won’t support it. Through my role in House leadership, I took an active role in lifting up the voices of workers and farmers in my district to fight for trade deals that will work for everyone. I was proud to be able to I support the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), which – for the first time in recent history was supported by both farmers and labor organizers from across Illinois. The USMCA has the toughest enforcement mechanisms our country has ever seen, expands access to markets for our producers, and has broad support among stakeholders. Finally, we have a trade deal that helps our farmers, workers, and manufacturers alike.
Whether it is farmers planting field crops, producers raising livestock, growers raising vegetables or our dairy farms producing milk – agriculture is a major driver of the economy in our district. I have fought to expand, create and protect markets for our family farmers by pushing for stronger trade deals, fighting to protect biofuels, ensuring access to crop insurance and the investments in the research that have made our district a leader in the country. In Peoria, I joined with my Republican colleagues to fight to successfully keep open the Peoria Ag Lab. And in the Farm Bill, I fought to include legislation, the Farmers of Tomorrow Act, to make it easier for the next generation of farmers to secure financing to purchase or keep operating the family farm.
Finally, I’m a proud supporter of the right of workers to organize and join unions. The middle class, and organized labor, built this country. That is why I am a proud cosponsor of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act which, if enacted, will strengthen protections for workers who are organizing, expand labor protections to more workers, facilitate first collectively bargained contracts and increase penalties for bad actors violating or suppressing workers’ right to organize. Unions are critical to helping families succeed in Illinois and across the country. I will make sure their voices are heard and that workers have a seat at the table.
I will continue to focus day and night on increasing opportunity for all. Getting our economy back on track is a priority so that Illinois’ working families and middle class remain strong and so our communities remain the best places possible to live, work and raise a family.