House Acts to Provide Immediate Relief to Workers & Families, Bolster Medical Response
Across our region and our entire country, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is putting an extraordinary strain on our health care system, our economy, and on families. I hope you are all keeping safe, staying well, and managing these challenging times.
Over the past week, I’ve had a phone attached to my ear from dawn until dusk – hearing from hospital leaders, local housing authorities, folks at the Naval Shipyard, disability advocates, veterans organizations, higher education institutions, immigrant and refugee support groups, labor leaders, small business owners, transit organizations, and thousands of constituents. I’ve had those conversations to hear directly from folks in every corner of our region about how COVID-19 and efforts to contain its spread are impacting Washingtonians – and to learn more about what resources are needed from the federal government.
These conversations have highlighted just how much there is to be done and how dire this situation is for so many. The good news is that there is now more help on the way. On Friday, a third emergency response bill – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act– was signed into law. This new law provides bold and urgent action to protect the health, safety, and economic well-being of the American people.
Providing Immediate Relief
The CARES Act passed by the House and signed into law by the President on Friday aims to provide immediate relief to workers and families, while bolstering America’s medical response to COVID-19.
I believe that doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals shouldn’t have to be on the front-lines of combating this virus without the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to stay safe. This bill takes steps to address that.
College students shouldn’t have to face additional debt because of circumstances they couldn’t control. This bill takes steps to address that.
People shouldn’t have to worry about facing foreclosure or eviction through no fault of their own. This bill takes steps to address that.
Small businesses and workers who have been rocked by the massive disruption caused by this virus shouldn’t have to worry about paying the bills. This bill takes steps to address that, too.
I fought for a number of provisions in this bill that will help ensure Washington’s families, students, employers, health care providers, and communities have the resources and assistance they need during these difficult times. Many of these provisions were key components of a bipartisan letter I led from the Washington state congressional delegation, in which we urged congressional leadership to expand access to economic assistance, provide direct assistance to individuals, and provide substantial funding for programs to mitigate the economic challenges created by this crisis and rebuild impacted industries.
The CARES Act is not perfect legislation. I haven’t found much in D.C. that has qualified as “perfect.” But this bill undeniably takes important steps to address real problems folks are facing. That’s why I support it.
Read on for details…
Providing Economic Relief for Small Businesses
Importantly, this bill included the Keeping American Workers Paid and Employed Act, a small business emergency economic relief plan I advocated for. The proposal provides more than $375 billion in small business relief, including $349 billion for forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees and keep them on the payroll, $17 billion for debt relief for current and new Small Business Administration borrowers, and $10 billion in immediate disaster grants. Small businesses, sole proprietors, contractors, and nonprofits can learn more about the resources being made available to them by clicking here.
To help those who have lost their jobs or have been furloughed as a result of the pandemic, the bill expands the Unemployment Insurance program by including an additional $600 per week for the next four months, adding an additional 13 weeks of federally funded benefits, and allowing part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers to access these benefits. Check out the state Employment Security Department website for further updates on expanded unemployment benefits and how to apply for those resources.
Delivering Support for America’s Front-line Workers and Hospital Systems
To support America’s health care system in the fight against the pandemic, this bill also makes a $150 billion investment in hospitals, health systems, and health research. This includes new funding for PPE for health care workers, testing supplies, increased workforce and training, and dedicated funding to deliver Medicare payment increases to all hospitals and providers to ensure that they receive the funding they need during this crisis. Importantly, the bill also provides funding for the Defense Production Act to focus on ensuring an adequate, domestic supply of the resources our health care providers need.
Providing Direct Payments to Individuals
With much of the economy currently shut down, it’s important that lower and middle-income Americans can get the financial support they need to get by and continue to pay the bills. To that end, this bill provides immediate direct cash payments—up to $1,200 for each adult and $500 for each child, beginning to phase out at an annual income of $75,000 for an individual and $150,000 for a household. Learn more about this assistance here.
Bolstering Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments
To help our region pay for new expenses related to the COVID-19 response, the bill includes a $150 billion investment to help States, Tribes, and local governments.
The bill provides more than $30 billion in emergency education funding for K-12 districts and higher education institutions. Ninety percent of the K-12 funds will be distributed to local educational agencies to use for coronavirus-response activities, such as planning and coordination during long-term school closures and funds to purchase educational technology, assistive technology, or adaptive equipment for all students served by the local educational agency. I worked hard to ensure that there were resources put in the bill specifically to support students with disabilities.
College students have also seen things turned upside-down by this virus. To alleviate the pressure of student loan costs during this crisis, the bill defers student loan payments, principal, and interest for 6 months for all federally owned loans. (Given the drop in interest rates, I’ve also sponsored a bill to allow all undergraduate borrowers to be able to refinance their student loans at more competitive rates). The CARES Act also includes an elimination of income tax on student loan repayment assistance by an employer.
Helping Renters and Homeowners and Preventing Homelessness
Even before this pandemic, far too many people were struggling with housing insecurity. Obviously, this crisis has the potential to make things worse. With that in mind, it’s important to note that the CARES Act includes a 120-day ban on evictions for most renters as well as a moratorium on foreclosures of up to six months for homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages.
To help low-income and working-class Americans cover basic living expenses without worrying about facing an eviction during this crisis, the bill invests $12 billion in programs to support affordable housing. Last week, I spoke with the leaders of several of our region’s housing authorities, and they made clear that this funding will be critical to providing housing options and supporting critical homelessness assistance programs to aid those who do not currently have safe living conditions to shelter in place.
In a nutshell, here’s why I support the CARES Act:
Bottom line: this robust legislation will immediately bolster our health care system and our economy. As more information is made available about how to get access to the resources included in this bill, please know that I’ll continue to push information out through my website, Facebook page, and Twitter.
Beyond that, we all know there’s more work to do. Congress is already beginning work on a fourth emergency response bill. Among other things, it’s expected that this fourth bill will be focused on infrastructure investments to restart the economy as well as other resources to help those in need. If you have an idea for how the federal government can help – or a concern you think isn’t being addressed – please reach out to me and my team.
Answering Your Questions
In the midst of all of this, I know that a lot of folks have a lot of questions. On Thursday, I hosted a telephone town hall, and we had over 5,000 folks from our region participate. I was joined by medical experts from CHI Franciscan and UW Medicine, along with Washington State Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown, to talk about the federal government’s response to the coronavirus and to answer your questions about the virus, the economy, and what resources are available.
Ensuring Small Businesses Get the Resources They Need
As many of you know, I worked in economic development before serving in Congress, and I saw firsthand that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. In this third bill, I pushed hard to ensure that the federal government steps up and helps our Main Street employers.
The programs and initiatives in the CARES Act are intended to assist small business owners with whatever needs they have right now. When implemented, there will be many new resources available for small businesses, as well as certain non-profits and other employers. The Small Business Owner’s Guide to the CARES Act provides information about the major programs and initiatives that will soon be available from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to address these needs, as well as some additional tax provisions to help small businesses. I encourage all small business owners and employees to give it a read.
Last Friday, just moments after the passage of the CARES Act, I participated in a Zoom event with the Downtown Bremerton Association and the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce to talk more about the resources being made available to help small businesses. If you missed it, you can tune in to the full video conference here.
In addition, businesses in every county in Washington state that have suffered substantial economic injury are now eligible to apply for SBA assistance to meet financial obligations and cover operating expenses. You can apply for a loan or read more about eligibility here.
Stepping Up For Each Other
Amid the many challenges our region is facing, this week again highlighted the resiliency of our communities – and the many folks going the extra mile to help one another. From the local businesses and volunteers stepping up to provide protective gear for front-line health workers and first responders in Grays Harbor, to local distillers on Bainbridge Island and Gig Harbor making hand sanitizer, and acts of kindness seemingly everywhere in Pierce County. It’s amazing to see just how far we’ll go for one another in times of need. Thank you for that. And please keep at it!
Remember folks, please stay home if you can. If you have questions about the coronavirus, please visit the Washington Department of Health’s website here or call 1-800-525-0127 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. For more resources on assistance available to veterans, small businesses, travelers, and more, please visit Kilmer.House.Gov/Coronavirus.
As always, I’m honored to represent you.
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