Sharice Davids’ bill creates federal grants for companies to make COVID-19 supplies
Rep. Sharice Davids is proposing creation of a $100 million grant program to help small manufacturers ease shortages of protective medical gear and coronavirus testing supplies.
Davids, D-Kansas, introduced legislation Wednesday that would direct the Small Business Administration to establish a new grant program for shoring up the medical supply chain as the COVID-19 pandemic is predicted last into next year.
Davids came up with the idea after talking to Dentec Safety Specialists, an Ontario-based company that has a factory in Lenexa. The company approached federal agencies in January about securing a grant for its Kansas factory to produce N95 respirator masks desperately needed by hospitals and first responders.
The company discovered that no such grant program currently exists.
Mike Bolden, Dentec’s vice president, said Davids’ legislation could potentially enable the company to shift its factory to production to N95 masks by providing necessary capital.
Dentec already manufactures a reusable protective mask for shipbuilding and other industries. The firm’s Kansas factory produced N95 masks under a previous owner, but it discontinued in 2008 because of competition from China.
“The disposable masks are something that we did previously, but the Chinese pretty much shut us down from a pricing perspective,” Bolden said. “[The bill] would give us the ability to purchase the equipment that would enable us compete with them in a more competitive way than what we’re able to do currently.”
Davids’ bill would cover N95 respirators and other types of surgical and protective masks. It would also extend to ventilators, surgical gowns, sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, face shields, nitrile exam gloves, nasopharyngeal swabs for COVID-19 tests and containers to transport viral samples.
The ‘‘Shoring Up Personal Protective and Lifesaving Indispensable Equipment Stockpile Act’’ or ‘‘SUPPLIES Act’’ would require companies receiving a grant to prioritize domestic sales and abstain from price gouging.
“We’ve seen firsthand that relying on China to produce the vast majority of medical equipment we use in the U.S. is a big problem. It’s led to shortages, price gouging, and a surge in counterfeit products. Companies across Kansas want to help fill the gaps in production, but too often they’ve faced barriers that have stopped them in their tracks,” Davids said in a statement.
The grant would only be available to small businesses, a federal categorization based on size and profit margins. Firms with under 500 employees are usually considered small businesses. Companies would also have to provide a 25 percent match to the federal funds they receive to qualify.
Bolden said the shortage of protective masks is expected to last into next year because of international demand. He also warned that a flood of low quality masks that don’t meet the N95 certification standards are filling the U.S. market as a result of the shortage.
He said increasing domestic production was the best way to ensure greater quantity and quality.
“If you look at the industry right now there’s going to be a significant amount N95 certified masks. There’s a lot of junk on the market,” he said. “Even if they did send masks over right now that are certified, there’s such a shortage that it could take months and months for the pipeline to be refilled.”