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Weekly Column: Confronting COVID-19

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic has challenged our sense of normalcy, and it has tested every institution of daily life we know.  The crisis has had a major impact on the physical and economic health of our country, and a major response has been required. 

Thank you to all those within the health care system and others on the frontlines of battling the coronavirus for your dedication to treating patients and working to identify therapeutic medications (for short-term treatment) as well as developing vaccines (for long-term immunity). 

Phase 1—To help with this immediate response, on March 5, I voted in support of Phase 1 of the coronavirus response legislation, H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act.  This legislation, which President Trump signed into law on March 6, provided $8.3 billion in emergency funding to help bolster states’ responses to the virus, advance research to develop a vaccine, fund community health centers and provide for other emergency response mechanisms. 

Phase 2—On March 18, I voted to support Phase 2 of the coronavirus response legislation, H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  This legislation, signed into law by President Trump on March 18, includes provisions to provide relief to Americans: providing states with an increase in federal medical assistance; expanding emergency nutrition assistance; ensuring TRICARE recipients, covered veterans and federal employees are covered for diagnostic testing; creating an emergency paid leave program under the Family and Medical Leave Act; providing tax credits to employers to cover certain wages paid to employees under the sick and family leave programs; and providing $1 billion to states to process and pay unemployment benefits.

Phase 3—The Senate has since taken its third major action to assist workers, families and small businesses who face financial fallout during this extraordinarily difficult time.  This effort resulted in Phase 3 of the coronavirus response legislation, the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, that puts needed cash directly into the hands of American workers and families, provides rapid relief to small businesses, helps stabilize our markets and the economy, and sends a massive new infusion of resources to the front lines of the medical response.

As Senate Banking Committee Chairman, I worked on the Senate task force charged with addressing small business and market liquidity issues, and led negotiations on a provision that designates $500 billion to replenish the Exchange Stabilization Fund housed within the U.S. Treasury Department.  The Federal Reserve will use $454 billion of this fund to provide broad-based loans to severely distressed industries, cities and states.  Importantly, the Federal Reserve can leverage this money to inject many times that amount into the marketplace, unleashing upwards of $4 trillion into the economy.  This will be a critical tool as Main Street businesses seek funding to stay open and keep their employees on payroll until this crisis has passed.

The CARES Act takes a number of additional bold steps to preserve and protect the economic foundations of our nation and help on the front lines of fighting this epidemic:

  • Direct financial help for the American people including cash payments, expanded access to unemployment insurance and delayed tax filing deadlines;
  • Rapid relief for small businesses and incentives to keep their employees on payroll;
  • Significant steps to stabilize our economy, keep businesses open and protect jobs;
  • Bolstered telehealth capabilities and additional flexibilities;
  • Increased support for health care services at Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities;
  • Ensured patient access to any future COVID-19 vaccine by waiving cost-sharing requirements in private and federal health insurance programs;
  • Expansion of and increased funding for the Strategic National Stockpile to include personal protective equipment; and
  • More support for the brave health care professionals and the patients fighting the coronavirus on the front lines.

Altogether, this amounts to approximately $2 trillion in direct appropriations, combined with approximately $4 trillion in liquidity created through the Federal Reserve—a nearly $6 trillion package to combat the devastating economic toll this pandemic has taken.  The American people are resilient, and we will see the end of this challenge as we continue to work together.

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