March 11, 2021
Thank you for contacting me regarding the coronavirus pandemic. This is a global public health and economic crisis the likes of which the world has not seen in over a century.
The coronavirus, known as COVID-19, continues to spread and has affected every corner of our society. Despite the severity of the situation, the Trump Administration failed to mount a meaningful response, and instead downplayed the magnitude of the crisis. Thankfully, President Biden has already demonstrated his commitment to following the science and leading an effective federal response so we can finally bring this pandemic to an end and build back our economy. Just recently, President Biden announced the purchase of an additional 200 million doses of the two vaccines authorized for emergency use, securing sufficient shots by the end of July to cover those currently eligible for vaccination.
In the past year, Congress passed 4 major coronavirus relief packages. Most recently, the Consolidated Appropriations Act was passed by Congress and eventually signed into law on December 27, 2020. This $900 billion coronavirus relief package invests in much-needed public health measures to combat COVID-19. While this is a start, we must past the robust $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package proposed by President Biden if we want to truly address the dire needs of American workers, families, and businesses that were largely ignored by the Trump Administration for months.
Our COVID response must also address the glaring economic and public health disparities disproportionately affecting women and communities of color. Black and brown individuals are nearly four times as likely to be infected and hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, and three times more likely to die. Minority-owned businesses have struggled to gain access to vital small business programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Women, and particularly women of color, have experienced record job losses. Women’s participation in the workforce is at a 33-year low, with 2.3 million fewer women in the workforce. President Biden announced more targeted outreach and financial assistance for communities of color, and it’s critical that we follow through on that promise – especially when it comes to vaccine equity. There’s significant vaccine hesitancy within communities of color and it’s up to the government to improve education and outreach to ensure equitable vaccine distribution.
Two approved COVID-19 vaccines, with the possibility of two more, provide a light at the end of this long and dark tunnel. Between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the federal government has purchased enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans. The challenge now is manufacturing the vaccine at a rate that meets the demand. President Biden’s decision to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) will certainly help, especially with the manufacturing of other critical supplies like testing kits and PPE, but it will not fully solve the vaccine supply problems. I support the $20 billion investment in a national vaccination program that the Biden stimulus plan calls for. Mass vaccination of American citizens is an incredible undertaking, and needs the full backing of the federal government.
Even with the DPA, private or nonprofit businesses that need access to PPE may still struggle to access supplies at a fair price, and states might still face price gouging of critical supplies before manufacturing fully ramps up. I introduced the Unconscionable Pricing Act to address these concerns and ensure that state government and private and non-profit business purchasers aren’t subject to the mercy of profiteers by preventing sellers from raising prices of covered items by ten percent or more during the COVID-19 pandemic and any future emergency declarations.
COVID-19 therapeutics, contact tracing, and testing will be critical to managing the virus in junction with the vaccine. The December relief bill includes $73 billion to support these efforts and other COVID-19 related public health measures with a $2.5 billion set aside for improvements in testing and contact tracing in high-risk and underserved populations. The Biden stimulus would invest an additional $50 billion in testing, and fund the hiring of 100,000 public health workers. My bill, the Secure Data and Privacy for Contact Tracing Act, would also provide grant funding for states to responsibly develop or support digital contact tracing technologies with heightened privacy protections. Tracking the virus and identifying the hardest hit communities will allow us to focus our resources where they’re needed the most. The vaccine is ultimately the solution for ending the pandemic, but it won’t provide immediate relief for families who are struggling and need help surviving the next several months.
A staggering 1 in 3 adults reported having trouble paying basic household expenses in January. Ensuring that individuals and families have enough food, safe housing, and access to affordable health care should be non-negotiable in the best of times, but especially during a pandemic. Approximately 30 to 40 million Americans are at risk of eviction, and nearly 24 million adults report not having enough to eat. The Consolidated Appropriations Act includes $25 billion for emergency rental assistance and President Biden has already extended the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until March 31. The $1.9 trillion plan further builds on this with an additional $47 billion in aid for renters, homeowners, and unhoused individuals.
In December, Democrats secured $300 in weekly unemployment benefits for another 11 weeks, another round of $600 direct payments, and an increase in monthly SNAP benefits by 15 percent. The Biden stimulus builds on these efforts by extending the $300 unemployment benefits through September, providing an additional round of $1,400 direct payments, and extending the SNAP increase through September. Unfortunately, due to Republican unwillingness to move forward with a meaningful relief package, Democrats are using a budgetary process called reconciliation which prevented the minimum wage increase from remaining in the final bill.
I’ve also authored legislation – the Essential Worker Pandemic Compensation Act – to provide a tax-free $370,376 payment and educational benefits for the family of an essential worker who dies due to injuries sustained in the line of duty. Our nation has a special obligation to individuals and families who have paid the ultimate price while doing work that enables the Americans to survive this pandemic.
We can further rebuild our economy through robust financial aid to small businesses, which employ nearly half of the nation’s private workforce. One recent study found that between April and September of 2020, an estimated 160,000 businesses closed permanently – an average of 800 businesses per day. The December relief package included a second round of PPP loans, EIDL grants for businesses in low-income communities, an expansion of PPP benefits, a new grant program for live venue operators, and renewal of the Payroll Support Program, which provides financial assistance to airline employees. This is a good start, but we’ll need to provide even more comprehensive aid – grants, not loans – to the hardest hit sectors, like the food and hospitality industry. President Biden’s stimulus package includes additional funding for both PPP and EIDL, and also creates a $28 billion restaurant revitalization grant program.
Similar to small businesses, the pandemic has also had an outsized impact on students, parents, and educators. It’s not only been disruptive for students’ education, but also detrimental to their social development and mental health. While school districts are doing their best to adapt, not every school or family has the resources to easily convert to distance learning, and educational disparities are widening as a result. The December relief package provided over $160 billion for school districts and institutions of higher education to cover new expenses related to COVID-19. The $1.9 trillion aid package would double this aid with an additional $170 billion for schools. To help fill other needs, the Biden stimulus bill includes $39 billion for child care and the necessary funding and flexibility for school lunch programs to continue operating even when schools have closed. President Biden set an ambitious goal to reopen the majority of K-12 schools within his first 100 days, but we must ensure that schools and teachers have the proper resources to safely do so.
We’ve learned some important lessons since the last major round of aid in the CARES Act, but we also face new challenges as we enter the next stage of the pandemic. The $900 billion in aid allocated in December will provide some relief, and I expect even more assistance in the coming weeks. As we move forward, we must ensure that we continue to take proper precautions of wearing a mask and physical distancing. We must also ensure that funding is spent prudently so as to maximize the benefits for the American people. I’ve introduced the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act, to help ensure whistleblowers have the law on their side to report any fraud, waste, and abuse in coronavirus funding.
As always, my office will continue to be a resource for anyone needing help or feeling confused or anxious. On my website, you can also find answers to frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, as well as information on small business programs, unemployment benefits, and local resources. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, I am confident that we will finally be proactive about tackling the pandemic and overcome these challenging times together.
Thank you again for taking the time to write to me about this issue. Constituent letters are an important part of my decision-making process. If you would like more information on my work in the 14th congressional district, you can visit my website, like my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter. Through my website, you can send me opinions, request tours in DC, and get help on issues you might have with federal agencies. I also send out a periodic newsletter which you might find interesting. You can sign up to receive it on my website. Please contact me in the future if I may be of assistance to you.
All the best,
Member of Congress