COVID-19 - Coronoavirus disease
As you may know, the coronavirus is a respiratory disease that was first detected in China and has spread to more than 100 countries including the United States. On January 31, 2020, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar declared a public health emergency and on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic. The President declared a national emergency on March 13, 2020 and issued travel restrictions to key countries that have had significant outbreaks of coronavirus.
In Idaho, we were one of the last five states to have confirmed cases of coronavirus. I have been in close contact with Governor Little and even prior to the first case of coronavirus, he and his staff were working around the clock to prepare for the outbreak. As you may know, the Governor issued a statewide stay-home order on March 25, 2020 and I encourage you to visit, https://coronavirus.idaho.gov/ for the latest information.
In addition to the President and Governor working diligently to respond to this ever changing pandemic, Congress has also responded by passing a series of legislation to provide resources to health providers, states, small businesses, individuals and many more facets of our society that are impacted by coronavirus.
You may be interested to know that I voted in favor of H.R. 6074 on March 4, 2020, which is an emergency supplemental appropriation of $8.3 billion to support state and local health agencies, vaccine and treatment development, and loans for affected small businesses to lessen the impacts of this public health emergency. The bill also allows certain Medicare telehealth restrictions to be waived during the coronavirus outbreak. It was signed into law by the President shortly after its passage.
Congress also passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which I supported. The bill is another important step to combatting coronavirus and its impacts by guaranteeing free testing, establishing paid family leave, enhancing unemployment insurance, and expanding food security initiatives to ensure Americans have access to food. President Trump urged support for the package and signed the bill into law.
The most significant piece of legislation Congress passed is H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. I supported the CARES Act because it is desperately needed to stabilize the economy and ensure the health of our citizens as we the fight coronavirus. The legislation includes direct payments to Americans who need it most, financial assistance for small businesses, funding for hospitals and providers who are on the front lines of battling the virus, and expanded unemployment benefits as jobless claims continue to rise.
These are truly unprecedented times, and that calls for extraordinary measures for our country to rise to the occasion. The CARES Act is a necessary step towards stabilizing our economy, providing resources for health providers on the front lines, and furthers access to patients who have been stricken by the virus. This will not be the last package Congress considers, but it is a meaningful step for workers and businesses who have already been severely impacted. I thank President Trump and his Administration for their work on crafting this legislation, and I also applaud Idaho Senator Mike Crapo who played a key role in negotiating the package. We are truly all in this together and I am thankful to Idaho Senator Jim Risch who is looking out for agriculture in our state, and Governor Little as he continues to show leadership in combatting coronavirus across Idaho. I also thank Congressman Fulcher for his daily collaboration to ensure Idahoans voices and needs are heard at this crucial time.
Specifically, the legislation includes:
· A one-time direct payment of $1,200 for individuals making up to $74,900 ($2,400 per couple), and $500 per child.
· A new Small Business Administration program to help small businesses pay for expenses, which includes 501(c)(3)s.
· Increased unemployment benefits.
· Increased Medicare reimbursement to help our most vulnerable populations.
· Increased access to test kits.
· Expedited approval for FDA to approve new medications and treatments.
· $100 billion to help hospitals and providers who are on the front lines of treating the disease.
· $150 billion for states, local, and tribal governments to respond to the individual needs of communities battling the pandemic.
· Support for Veterans health care needs.
· Support for agriculture producers.
It is important to note that the funding in this legislation has a clause that stipulates funding must be to prepare, prevent, and respond to coronavirus, and this phrase is repeated 36 times in the CARES Act. Make no mistake, the amount of funding in this bill is concerning, but what is more concerning would be to have the government mandate a shutdown of our economy, and not be there to provide support to ensure business and individuals in this country can survive. This bill is what is necessary at this time so our economy will have a chance to recover and return to normalcy when the pandemic passes.
Due to the urgent need for many of these programs to receive additional funding to meet the needs of health care facilities, individuals, and businesses, Congress recently passed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enforcement Act with my support. This legislation had the support of the entire Idaho Delegation and President Trump as he signed it into law. Specifically, this bill adds funding to the popular Paycheck Protection Program which helps small businesses pay for expenses such as retaining employees. The bill also provides an additional $75 billion for hospitals and providers on the frontlines battling COVID-19 and $25 billion to increase testing capacity. As we attempt to put the darkest days of COVID-19 behind us and reopen our economy, building more testing capacity and creating an effective vaccine will be critical to our successful recovery.
I applaud President Trump and Governor Little on their plan to restart the economy in a safe and responsible manner. President Trump released his phased approach, Opening Up America Again. In Idaho, Governor Little launched Idaho Rebounds, which is also a phased, data driven approach that relies on the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and CDC guidelines to opening Idaho’s economy. As your representative I have been in close contact with Governor Little the President’s Administration, and individuals in Idaho to ensure our state has the resources to safely and efficiently get back to work as quickly as possible while adhering to public safety standards.
The CDC has issued guidelines and recommendations to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Among their recommendations are that you cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw the tissue in the trash after you use it, wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as germs spread this way, and try to avoid close contact with other people.
The impacts of the coronavirus are stretching into all parts of our lives and our economy. For example, our farmers need the labor to plant crops to ensure our nation has a stable food supply. That is why I sent two letters to the State Department and coordinated with Idaho Senator Risch, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to ensure the U.S. consulates treat applications for H2A workers as essential. Thankfully, the State Department listened to these concerns and will process H2A applications accordingly.
You may be interested to know that I joined my colleagues in sending a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, urging that he prioritize the Pacific Northwest, as the federal government distributes ventilators to help combat coronavirus. This is an urgent need for providers, and I anticipate the Vice President to honor this request as the Pacific Northwest, Washington in particular, has been hit hard, and resources have been scarce.
I also encourage health providers to call FDA’s hotline (1-888-INFO-FDA) which is available 24 hours a day to call regarding difficulties obtaining supplies for collecting patient samples for COVID-19 testing, including swabs, media needed for transport, and conservation of the samples. Finally, please follow any local public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures. Rest assured, I will continue to monitor this issue and am working closely with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that we are taking all actions necessary to limit the spread of this virus and mitigate any impacts to our national economy as a result of the pandemic.