AMESBURY — U.S. Sen. Edward Markey predicted that a furious battle is about to be waged in Washington over COVID-19 relief funding, during a a virtual meeting he held with local business owners Wednesday morning.

Markey joined the Amesbury Chamber of Commerce in a Zoom meeting but "technical difficulties" with his laptop forced the junior senator from Massachusetts to conduct his session via a FaceTime phone call placed in front of a camera.

Markey told those who attended the virtual meeting that the U.S. Senate is expected to go back into business next week.

"We are going to try to put together and reach a deal to deal with this economic crisis and this healthcare crisis that we are in," Markey said. "At the top of the list is going to be, how much money can we get for the cities and towns?"

Markey said his office argues for funding "somewhere between $850 billion and $1 trillion."

He said the U.S. House of Representatives finished its version of the bill two months ago and that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the epidemic was, according to Markey, "a blue state problem" at the time.

"A red state pandemic has broken out" since then, Markey said. "My expectation is that mayors and town administrators all across the red states, Texas, Florida, Arizona, are now going to step up and absolutely scream that they need help as well."

Markey said that Democrats will most likely propose spending $175 billion, just to reopen schools across the country.

"We want to make sure that we spend the money to try, as best as we can, to help the schools especially and the communities and families make it through," Markey said. "That is the battle. It is an epic battle and it will probably be the biggest battle that I have ever been a part of in my congressional career."

Accurety, LLC owner Adeline Matton and attorney Paul Gagliardi were the Wednesday meeting's moderators.

Gagliardi pointed to what he called the "federal government's lack of leadership" which could be leading to the rise in COVID-19 cases in certain states.

"If we get to a place where we have to shut down again, a lot of our businesses may never reopen," Gagliardi said.

Markey told Gagliardi that there has been an "ideological opposition to the federal government" from many red state legislators when it comes to providing assistance.

"They started out ideologically," Markey said. "They were saying that wearing a mask shows that you are free of oppression. But what it really says is that you are free of intelligence. I think you can see that beginning to breakdown in many of the red state leaders' minds. They are recognizing that they need to follow the science if they don't want to have a catastrophe."

Markey was also asked if the proposed bill will address many small business owners' concerns that they cannot find good help at the moment.

"I know that, for a lot of our businesses, the $600 additional (unemployment insurance) amount that employees are getting paid has been a problem for a lot of employers," Gagliardi said. "They have had a lot of employees who have not wanted to come back to work."

Markey said the $600 is designed to help people who work from assignment to assignment.

"There are about 250,000 gig workers in Massachusetts and they don't qualify otherwise for unemployment. So that is their only coverage," he said. "We have to get something on the books for the people who aren't going to be able to work. Perhaps there is some modification which is possible but we also have to deal with the people who aren't going to be called back into work as well."

Markey told the chamber members that his office can help small business owners and sole proprietors when navigating the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

"I know that the definition that we use for small businesses is for businesses with up to 500 people," Markey said. "But if you only have 10 or five people, it is more difficult to navigate through this. But we will do it for you. The same thing is true for any nonprofits."

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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