What is Congress doing to address the public health and economic emergency?
As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the country, lawmakers are working with the Trump administration to deliver an unprecedented response to this unprecedented crisis. Congress passed phase one, an $8.3 billion package to deliver aid to state and local governments, ramp up production of a coronavirus vaccine, expand access to telehealth services for seniors during the pandemic to limit exposure and spread of the virus, and purchase medical supplies and equipment.
Meanwhile, efforts to contain and mitigate transmission of the virus have required Americans to make significant changes and sacrifices. Congress this week passed phase two to help workers facing layoffs and lost wages. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act will provide free testing for the virus, increase food assistance, extend unemployment insurance, and provide small- and medium-sized businesses with a payroll tax credit to fully cover costs for sick and family leave for their employees.
On top of the public health crisis, the pandemic is disrupting the economy and turning lives and livelihoods upside down. The COVID-19 pandemic will rank among the greatest social and economic disruptions in modern history. Not even 9/11 shut down entire sectors of the economy, from the U.S. auto industry to the travel, sports, entertainment, and hospitality sectors.
In addition to declaring a national emergency that freed up to $50 billion in federal aid, President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950. This Korean War-era law will give the executive branch the authority to lean on domestic industries to fill gaps in the nation’s stockpile of medical equipment, such as protective face masks, ventilators, and other essential health care supplies.
Work is underway in Congress to address the sharp financial hardship on employers and workers. Phase three recognizes the catastrophic financial hit wage earners, small businesses, and the restaurant, retail, travel, and hospitality industries – among many others – are facing with coast-to-coast shutdowns and restrictions that are disrupting our consumer-driven economy and way of life.
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’ve got a front-row seat at the policymaking table and the concerns Iowans are talking about around their kitchen tables are informing my work during the negotiations. Specifically, we are working out details to get cash into people’s pockets to help them pay their bills and to provide relief to businesses and industries slammed by the pandemic.
All levels of government and institutions in American society are in this fight together. Throughout our nation’s history, Americans have answered the call of service and sacrifice to lift our nation from its darkest hours. On the official seal of the United States Senate, a scroll is inscribed with the words E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.”
The silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic is that Americans are pulling together to fight the spread of the coronavirus and to help our neighbors in time of need. Working together, we will save lives, schools will re-open, and our streets and neighborhoods will once again hum with commerce, creativity, health, and prosperity.
What can Iowans do?
The first priority must be to protect and save lives. The novel coronavirus has no known treatment, cure, or vaccine. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says most people will experience mild symptoms and recover, COVID-19 can be fatal, especially for older Americans and those with underlying health conditions. It’s important for everyone to practice social distancing. Public health experts call it “flattening the curve.”
Community transmission is happening in Iowa. That’s why Gov. Kim Reynolds, the state legislature, the Iowa Board of Regents, and local hospitals and nursing homes are taking extraordinary steps. Shutting down schools, closing businesses, postponing non-emergency medical and dental visits, restricting travel, and limiting social gatherings to less than 10 people may seem like overreach. Underestimating this outbreak threatens to overwhelm our hospitals, push our health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic to the brink of exhaustion, and put the lives of loved ones at risk.
As President Trump said, I encourage Iowans to hunker down and “enjoy your living rooms.” By spending a lot of quality family time together, Iowans can help stop the spread of the virus. Follow the CDC guidelines for social distancing, handwashing, and disinfecting surfaces. Fear and uncertainty about the pandemic may cause anxiety or depression. Be a good neighbor. Reach out to friends and check up on loved ones to make sure they are okay.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) operates a distress helpline to provide confidential crisis counseling around-the-clock. Call 800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs (66746). Iowans who have questions about COVID-19 may call 2-1-1 to speak to a public health official.