Supporting Frontline Workers & Families Impacted by Coronavirus
Hello Folks –
I hope this finds you well. Over the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has become the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, and it is now proving to be the largest economic challenge since the Great Depression. Responding to a challenge of this magnitude requires swift and bold action.
That’s why on Friday, I voted in favor of the Heroes Act - the fifth coronavirus relief package passed by the House - to deliver support to our frontline workers, provide additional direct assistance to families, invest in our nation’s testing capacity, and support critical operations for state, county, local, and tribal governments. Let’s get into the details!
Providing Relief to Those Who Need a Hand
Some have suggested that there should be a delay before Congress passes any further relief. In their case, “let’s wait,” has been the mantra for how to approach this challenge.
But I’ve spent nearly all day, every day, on the phone, on Zoom, on Facebook Q&A’s, talking to folks across our region – hearing firsthand about the challenges they are facing right now.
I talked to a teacher in Grays Harbor on Friday who had received a layoff notice. That layoff notice didn’t wait. More resources are needed so that teachers can continue to teach, and students can continue to learn. The Heroes Act provides those resources.
I talked to a small business owner earlier last week who said, “It took 32 years to build my business. I’ve got families depending on me. And I’m trying to decide whether to try to weather this storm or fold the tent." Main Street employers who are hurting can’t wait for the help they need to keep folks on the payroll. The Heroes Act provides that help.
I talked to a constituent the other day who is worried about losing her home. Her rent payment wasn’t waiting. And the Heroes Act provides help for families to pay the bills and put food on the table.
Sick people who need to get a test, health care workers who need personal protective equipment, and rural hospitals that are struggling financially shouldn’t have to wait for help. The Heroes Act would provide that help right now.
Economists across the political spectrum - including the Chairman of the Federal Reserve just last week - agree that, in the absence of further federal action, America faces the real risk of a full-scale depression.
I agree with many who are concerned that the federal investments we are making are likely to have an impact on our national debt. In fact, that’s why I’ve joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in calling for future pandemic response legislation to include provisions for future budget reforms to ensure we confront these issues when the economy is strong enough. But they should not stand in the way of our making the necessary decisions to deal with the crisis at hand. They should ensure that, in addition to addressing health and economic needs, we lay the foundation for a sustainable fiscal future by building on reforms with established bipartisan support.
I recognize that the Heroes Act is not a perfect bill. Frankly, I haven’t found much in D.C. that qualifies as perfect. There are things in this bill that I wish were not – and there are things that aren’t in it that I wish were. But the folks I represent need help – and they shouldn’t have to wait.
The Heroes Act will undoubtedly take steps to give our communities the support they desperately are seeking – and that why I voted in favor of it on Friday.
Here are more details about what was in the bill – and how it will impact folks in our region.
Supporting Frontline Communities
The Heroes Act provides an estimated $18.1 billion for Washington state and local communities on the front lines of this crisis. The funding will help communities across our region – from Shelton to Forks, Port Orchard to Aberdeen – ensure they can pay health care workers, police, fire, transportation, EMS, teachers and other vital workers who have been on the front lines to protect and support our communities during this time. The bill also establishes a $200 billion Heroes Fund to provide hazard pay for essential workers across the country.
I joined Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards in The Tacoma News Tribune this weekend to talk about what the bill will mean to communities in our region – including Tacoma – and why the Senate should quickly take action to get this bill to the President’s desk for his signature.
Three ways US Heroes Act can help rescue states and cities, including Tacoma
You can read our write-up here.
Supporting our Teachers and Students
We know that educators and students have had their lives turned upside down - and they need more resources to ensure kids can learn. The Heroes Act includes critical support for Washington communities to support public education. This funding will help maintain or restore state and local fiscal support for elementary, secondary, and public higher education and can be used to meet a wide range of urgent needs, including summer learning, after-school programs, distance learning, emergency financial aid for college students, and coordination with public health departments to mitigate the spread of disease.
Helping our Small Businesses
We know that small businesses on Main Street are hurting - and they need more help to keep folks on payroll and weather this storm. The Heroes Act strengthens the Payroll Protection Program to ensure that it reaches under-served communities, nonprofits of all sizes and types, and adds additional relief through an increase for COVID-19 emergency grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
Ensuring the Health and Safety of Workers
We know that as we prepare to get back to work, health and safety is on everyone’s minds. The Heroes Act includes important assistance to workforce training and worker protection activities related to COVID-19 and requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure that all workplaces develop science-based infection control plans and prevent employers from retaliating against workers who report problems.
It also includes additional investments in America’s workforce development system, which I pushed for last month, to ensure that all workers, particularly those with barriers to employment, have the skills they need for meaningful employment.
The Heroes Act also includes support for health care programs that help folks who have recently become unemployed or have changes to their health care, like COBRA, and establishes a special enrollment period in the Affordable Care Act exchange for those without health insurance. In addition, the Heroes Act includes a provision I championed to give families additional flexibility to use 2020 Flexible Spending Account contributions for an additional year to adjust for delays in accessing non-emergency care related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Providing Direct Support to Individuals
With over 1,000,000 initial unemployment claims filed in Washington since this pandemic began, we know folks are hurting. The Heroes Act puts money in the pockets of workers with a second round of direct payments to families of up to $6,000 per household and extends weekly $600 federal unemployment payments through next January, if needed.
But the best way to deal with unemployment is to keep people employed! With that in mind, the bill includes a significant expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit – a proposal to keep workers attached to their jobs and receiving a paycheck until the economy is able to safely re-open. These new payroll protection measures are projected to keep 60 million workers connected with their jobs.
This bill also helps folks in our region and across the state who have struggled to keep up with the cost of housing. The Heroes Act provides critical new support to assist renters and homeowners make monthly rent, mortgage, and utility payments as well as other housing-related costs. The bill includes the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act, a bill I introduced with my colleague, Representative Denny Heck, to provide $100 billion for states, local governments, and nonprofit organizations to provide housing support to individuals and families who have experienced homelessness or are at risk of homelessness. People shouldn’t lose their housing for something that’s not their fault.
Additionally, we’ve unfortunately seen a real strain on our foodbanks due to this pandemic. The Heroes Act will help families put food on the table by increasing the maximum benefit to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - one of our most vital social safety net programs - which will continue to play a critical role in reducing hunger, malnutrition, and poverty during this public health crisis.
Supporting Increases to Coronavirus Testing
For months, I’ve been calling for more tests in Washington and across our country. As we take steps to re-open our economy while keeping folks safe, it’s imperative that we follow the science behind the virus – and testing is critical to that goal. The Heroes Act builds on previous investments to ensure that every state can support the robust testing and tracing strategies that are necessary to safely begin to re-open local economies.
Providing Critical Assistance to Tribal Communities
Native American communities in our region and across the country have been hard hit by this public health crisis. That’s why the Heroes Act included much-needed support for tribal communities to help with the fiscal impacts of the public health emergency and ensure the federal government upholds its trust and treaty obligations. Importantly, the legislation also included critical funding for the Indian Health Service to ensure tribal communities can provide care, improve telehealth services, and purchase medical supplies and personal protective equipment.
Working for You
Discussing Resources for Small Businesses
The City of Destiny is going the extra mile for its small businesses. Thanks to Councilmembers Robert Thoms and Conor McCarthy and Mayor Victoria Woodards for inviting me to be a part of a great Virtual Town Hall last week. We discussed resources for small businesses and efforts to recover our economy. I’m grateful for their amazing partnership! Catch the full conversation here:
Meeting with Those Dedicated to Service
North Mason Rotary, South Kitsap Rotary, and the Rotary Club of Aberdeen are putting service above self! Thanks to these three amazing service clubs for inviting me to provide an update on the work we are doing to ensure we keep people healthy and do what’s needed to make certain folks have economic security. And thanks for all they do to strengthen the health of our community!
Stepping Up for Veterans and Service Members
The Bremerton-Olympic Chapter of the Navy League is doing extraordinary work to ensure our service members and veterans are protected during this pandemic. Thanks to their leadership team for meeting with me (virtually) last week!
Answering Your Questions
Last Monday, I held a telephone town hall with Washington Health Secretary John Wiesman to talk more about the coronavirus recovery, discuss ongoing efforts to ensure the federal government steps up to lend a hand to families and local employers, and answer questions about the CARES Act, unemployment, virus testing, protecting the health and safety of Washingtonians, and plenty more! If you missed it – you can listen to the full telephone town hall by clicking here:
OK – that’s it for now folks. I hope you’re all taking care of yourselves – and each other.
As always, I’m honored to represent you.
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