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Ro Khanna: 'This is not some large bailout for the startups'

Ro Khanna, in conversation with Protocol, says startups have to be included in the economic stimulus package to save jobs.

On Thursday, California Rep. Ro Khanna sat down for a Virtual Meetup with Protocol senior reporter Issie Lapowsky to explain why he thinks it is important for startups to be included in Congress' economic stimulus plan, his view on a universal basic income, and what more the FCC can be doing to address the digital divide.

Khanna said that including startups in the small-business loans will save thousands of jobs. "The affiliation rules make no sense" as they have been written, Khanna said. Currently, venture capital-backed startups may be excluded from the economic stimulus plan. Khanna said he, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have all been working to convince Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to draft guidance extending the stimulus to startups.

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Earlier Thursday, McCarthy told Axios that Mnuchin had agreed to "solve" the problem. "That is a big deal, if true," Khanna told Protocol. He was still awaiting new guidance from Mnuchin. "It will make a difference for thousands of jobs if this rule is changed."

"The rule waiver will allow [startups] to actually keep the employees," Khanna added. "That's my focus. It's not just saving startups, it's saving the many people employed in startups." He noted that these include both blue collar and science and technology jobs.

Khanna added that the rule waiver should include both venture capital and private-equity-backed firms. "This is not some large bailout for the startups," he said. "We're just talking about giving people a two-month loan that could become a grant to keep people employed."

When asked about his position on a universal basic income, Khanna said that while he supports government-funded mechanisms such as unemployment benefits and cash infusions, he still believes in the "dignity of work."

"People are not going to be fine with a bunch of tech leaders making money and mailing everyone a check," Khanna said. "We need something that gives them work and job opportunities." Khanna suggested expanding the earned income tax credit, supplementing workers who are not making enough, and expanding Social Security disability for people who cannot work for qualifying reasons.

He also noted that the FCC could be doing more to address the digital divide, which has become more dire as schools have switched to remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak. He said the FCC should require or incentivize tech companies to provide more internet access.

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