All across the country, Americans are stepping up in response to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping our nation.

Doctors and nurses are working endless hours and putting themselves at risk to care for the surge in patients. Manufacturers, including many in Maine, are working overtime and retooling their product lines to make medical testing swabs, ventilators and personal protective equipment. Truckers are going above and beyond, missing time with their families, so that they can deliver goods needed to restock depleted grocery store shelves. People are looking out for their neighbors and making personal sacrifices to help reduce the virus’ spread.

Congress is doing its part too by finally reaching a $2 trillion, bipartisan agreement that will help protect the health of the American people and support our economy. Last week, the Senate unanimously passed this urgently needed economic relief by a vote of 96-0.

Help is also on the horizon for small businesses and their employees, who are facing economic devastation through no fault of their own. The agreement includes a bipartisan $377 billion small-business economic relief plan that I authored along with Sens. Marco Rubio, Ben Cardin and Jeanne Shaheen as members of the Small Business Task Force.

This aid is essential to reverse the tsunami of unemployment facing our country. Last week, a record of more than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment – five times the previous high.

Under our approach, small businesses harmed by the COVID-19 crisis would be eligible for a 100 percent federally guaranteed emergency loan to cover eight weeks of payroll as well as rent, mortgage and utility payments. To help keep workers paid and employed, the portion of the loans used for payroll costs and certain overhead expenses would be completely forgiven. Workers who have already lost their jobs because of this crisis could be rehired under our program.

A separate provision in the $2 trillion package makes large companies eligible for certain loans so that they can avoid laying off their workers, but they would be required to repay the government in full. Large companies will also be prohibited from stock buybacks and increasing executive pay for the duration of the loans, restrictions I fully support.

In addition to serving as a lifeline for American workers and small-business owners, the comprehensive legislation Congress approved makes substantial investments in our nation’s education and health systems.

The package provides more than $30 billion for states, school districts, colleges and universities to help them meet the unexpected expenses that have flowed from the coronavirus crisis, such as adapting to remote learning, refunding room and board and delivering free meals to low-income students. Moreover, it suspends student loan payments through Sept. 30 and stops interest from accruing during this time.

In an effort to reinforce our medical professionals and first responders who are on the front lines of this pandemic, the funding includes a $130 billion infusion for our hospitals; $11 billion to catalyze the development of an effective vaccine and treatment; $4.3 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and $16 billion for the Strategic National Stockpile to purchase medical supplies and personal protective equipment for states. The list of benefits that will be felt in communities across the country goes on and on.

Finally, I am pleased to report that the package contains two additional pieces of legislation I authored: the Mitigating Emergency Drug Shortages (MEDS) Act, which will help prevent the shortage of vital medications, and the Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act, which will allow nurse practitioners, physician assistants and others to certify patients for home health services without needless delays.

Every day, more small businesses are forced to close their doors. Every day, Americans are losing their jobs and their income. Every day, medical professionals are increasingly overwhelmed by the exponential rise in cases.

The package Congress advanced last week will help to turn the tide by bolstering our health care system, shoring up our economy and our businesses, supporting those who are unemployed, strengthening the link between employers and their employees, saving millions of jobs of those employed by small businesses and helping to lessen the impact and duration of a devastating recession.

A difficult road still lies ahead, but Congress’ ability to pass a bipartisan relief package last week is an encouraging sign that America is ready to confront this crisis by working together.

 


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