03.09.20

Reps. Kilmer, DelBene Lead Call for Immediate Federal Response to Washington’s Additional COVID-19 Needs

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Derek Kilmer (WA-06) and Suzan DelBene (WA-01) led a bipartisan letter by the Washington congressional delegation calling on the Trump Administration to immediately fulfill Washington state’s additional needs to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Ongoing support at the highest levels of the U.S. government is critical to our state’s ability to respond to this epidemic […] We recognize that as the first state to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak of this magnitude, eyes around the country are closely watching the Washington state response. We thank you in advance for your efforts to mitigate the outbreak in our communities, and across the country, and we look forward to continuing our joint efforts to keep our communities safe,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Vice President Pence, the administration’s lead on COVID-19.

On Friday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee sent additional requests to the federal government to support the state’s response to the virus. These requests include ensuring COVID-19 testing is accessible to those who need it, supporting individuals and families financially impacted by the outbreak, and providing additional personal protective equipment (PPE) from the Strategic National Stockpile.

Last week, Congress passed an $8.3 billion emergency spending package to support the response to COVID-19. The legislation, which passed the House 415-2, includes $950 million for state and local health agencies to conduct vital public health activities, including surveillance, laboratory testing, infection control, contact tracing, and mitigation.

The legislation also included a provision championed by Rep. Kilmer that allows up to $7 billion in low-interest loans to be made available by the U.S. Small Business Administration to help small businesses, including shellfish growers, trade-dependent manufacturers, and others that have been impacted by financial losses as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

 

Full letter:

 

 

March 9, 2020

 

The Honorable Michael R. Pence

Vice President of the United States

The White House

Office of the Vice President

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear Vice President Pence:

Thank you for your visit to Washington state last week to review the efforts of our state and local officials in responding to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in our state. Ongoing support at the highest levels of the U.S. government is critical to our state’s ability to respond to this epidemic, which is why we are eager to work with you on a coordinated response.

We appreciate that you have pledged to support the state’s efforts to combat this serious health crisis and we urge you to expeditiously review the list of requested actions provided by Governor Inslee during that visit (and included with this letter). In addition to the actions outlined by the Governor, we believe there are several other federal actions that the Administration should take to ensure a robust and coordinated federal response to this epidemic.  

  1. Last week you announced that the COVID-19 test will be deemed an “essential health benefit” and will be covered by Medicaid, Medicare and private insurers. However, the “essential health benefits” requirement does not apply to the majority of Americans, including those covered by Medicare and large employer plans, nor does it ensure that the test is available to patients at low or no cost. We appreciate that the administration has since determined that the COVID-19 test will be covered under Medicare Part B. Please explain how the Administration intends to follow through on your statement and ensure that this test is made available to all Americans, and what steps the Administration is taking to ensure those who need to be tested can readily access it.
  2. Because stockpiling food is exceptionally challenging for households that already struggle to put food on the table, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should give states affected by COVID-19 the flexibility to provide an additional month’s worth of food benefits for SNAP households. In addition, the Administration should waive federal requirements that retailers’ stock specific food products and a specific amount of those products in order to be certified for the WIC (Women, Infant and Children) Nutrition Program. With uncertainty in how food supply chains may be affected by COVID-19, a waiver of this rule would ensure retailers can continue to serve low-income families without fear of losing WIC certification. Further, the USDA should give states affected by COVID-19 waivers on school meal requirements, including allowing for meals to be served through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)/Seamless Summer Option (SSO) in non-area eligible locations so that all children impacted by school closures can continue to receive the nutrition they need. Increased flexibility to States in delivering basic food assistance, and administering other social and health services, like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), WIC (Women, Infants & Children) Nutrition Program, SNAP, SFSP, and SSO, will allow states to determine the best way to meet the needs of families and communities impacted by the outbreak.
  3. The impact of COVID-19 extends beyond just the health of our communities. It has an impact on the financial wellbeing of individuals and families, businesses, and the entire economy. Uninsured individuals, hourly wage workers, and those without paid sick leave are likely to experience disproportionate economic impact due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This, in addition to the potential lay-off of employees and reduction of work hours during an economic downturn, may have lasting impact on communities across the state, particularly in rural communities. We strongly encourage the Administration to work across federal agencies to identify ways it can provide direct support to individuals, families, and businesses that are impacted by this epidemic. We also urge the Administration to work with Congress to enact emergency policies to help protect workers, families, and businesses, and further mitigate any economic fallout caused by the outbreak.
  4. At college campuses across Washington state, study abroad programs are being scaled back and suspended as COVID-19 spreads across the state and other countries. The impact to Washington state colleges and universities, with a pending loss of thousands of international students, would be significant. We ask that the Administration consider an emergency exception to the restriction on online class time students can take and maintain their student visa status.
  5. As the first state to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak, Washington state will need ongoing support for our first responders who may not yet have the proper equipment to protect themselves and quickly respond to assist in urgent health cases. As the testing ground for the U.S. response to COVID-19, we need the Administration to work closely with Members of Congress and Washington state officials to address emerging needs for first responders in real-time in the coming weeks.
  6. There are reports of an increase in phishing email attacks capitalizing on fears surrounding the outbreak. Attackers posing as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) are spreading misinformation and in some cases malware. CDC should continue to make information about the COVID-19 outbreak clear and easy to access, and work with the appropriate federal enforcement agencies to protect consumers.
  7. The federal government has already approved one request from Washington state for additional supplies and equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), including personal protective equipment (PPE) but we know that an additional request has been made in order to meet growing demand. We encourage the federal government to continue to fulfill these requests from Washington state as the need for supplies continues to rise in both urban and rural communities. 
  8. As we continue to see this virus spread to other regions of our country, we strongly urge the CDC to continue working to develop an effective serology test that will allow us to determine the full extent of exposure across the entire U.S. population. This, in addition to a long-term strategic plan to rebuild our public health infrastructure, is necessary to help ensure that we can react to future outbreaks more efficiently.
  9. We applaud the recent bipartisan effort to finalize a coronavirus emergency supplemental funding package and the initial federal funding released to Washington state for its public health response to COVID-19. State and local health agencies and other health care entities are bearing enormous costs on a daily basis to respond to the outbreak. Should additional federal funding be required, we urge the Administration to work with Congress to support adequate additional funding to continue to fight the outbreak until the end.

Thank you again for visiting Washington state to speak with us, our state and local officials, and to let the American people know that the Administration takes the COVID-19 outbreak threat seriously. We recognize that, as the first state to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak of this magnitude, eyes around the country are closely watching the Washington state response. We thank you in advance for your efforts to mitigate the outbreak in our communities, and across the country, and we look forward to continuing our joint efforts to keep our communities safe.

Sincerely,

 

 

 

_______________________________                      _______________________________

Derek Kilmer                                                              Suzan DelBene

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

 

 

 

_______________________________                      _______________________________

Adam Smith                                                                 Rick Larsen

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

 

 

 

_______________________________                      _______________________________

Denny Heck                                                                Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

 

 

 

_______________________________                      _______________________________

Pramila Jayapal                                                          Dan Newhouse

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

 

 

 

_______________________________                      _______________________________

Kim Schrier, M.D.                                                      Jaime Herrera Beutler

Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress