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Thu, Sept. 23

Column | Sinema: Crafting a virus bill to help Arizona

It’s a difficult time for Arizonans and people across the country. Many of us are separated from family, friends and loved ones. Many more are facing financial challenges or are out of work as employers temporarily close.

Staying at home and social distancing are necessary to prevent the coronavirus outbreak from further overwhelming our hospitals and health workers, endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands more Americans than are already at risk.

While everyday Arizonans do their part to overcome this crisis, the federal government must do the same.

Congress recently passed the CARES Act with overwhelming bipartisan support, providing massive investments to our hospitals and health workers and financial support to individuals and businesses. The legislation offers critical lifelines to employers and families, and it is already clear that more must be done.

Leaders in Congress must immediately negotiate the next coronavirus-response bill to fill critical gaps in America’s public health response, allow companies to retain employees, and help everyday families stay afloat.

Scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have made clear that several more weeks of social distancing will be needed to overcome this public health crisis (which itself is a necessary step toward economic recovery). The CARES Act was a large investment, but not so large when viewed in the context of America’s usual economic activity. More action is clearly needed to shore-up our country’s job market, and our families and small businesses.

Every day of the past several weeks, I’ve talked directly to Arizonans – families, health providers, small business owners, educators, Tribal leaders and local elected officials. In addition to more funding for states and Tribes, and targeted relief to critical industries, Arizonans have identified key issues that should be addressed:

  1. We must immediately cut red tape and boost the production and distribution of more personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health workers and first responders. Face masks, gowns and gloves will help protect those who are protecting us, and keep our hospitals open. The federal government must develop distribution systems so that state, local and Tribal governments are not forced to bid against one another to receive this crucial equipment. We must also ensure that other essential workers get access to face coverings and gloves, including those serving our seniors, working in grocery stores, providing services to Arizonans experiencing homelessness, and delivering meals to Arizonans and Tribal communities. States like Arizona that lack the PPE and testing capabilities required to accurately report COVID-19 cases cannot be left behind.
  2. We must strengthen the Paycheck Protection Program, the massive employee-retention effort established under the CARES Act providing small businesses with forgivable loans of up to $10 million for payroll and operational expenses. The program is critical to getting Americans back to work once this crisis passes, but the funding will soon run dry and too many logistical hurdles remain to small business owners attempting to access the loans.
  3. We must strengthen Unemployment Insurance and direct rebate payments under the CARES Act to ensure all eligible Arizonans get needed support. Arizonans out of work, furloughed or who have seen their hours reduced need help now. Eligible Arizonans who live almost entirely on veteran or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, or who are experiencing housing instability, should not be denied rebate checks. The assistance included in the CARES Act for everyday Arizonans must be enhanced, because this pandemic will have lasting impacts on our economy.
  4. We must provide additional resources for states, including financial relief that can be accessed directly by towns, cities, counties and Tribal communities with less than 500,000 residents. Relief has been delayed for too many Arizona communities that do not meet that threshold.
  5. We must invest in our schools and expand broadband service. Over 20 million Americans, including 12 million children, lack reliable internet access, a necessity for Arizona students to access online learning during this crisis. The next response bill must better equip Arizona schools to transition to distance learning, and invest in our research institutions that are innovating to educate the next generation and develop health-care solutions to fight this and future pandemics.

I will continue working across the aisle to ensure these critical areas are addressed in the next federal coronavirus-response bill. Arizonans can and will overcome these difficult months by making hard choices now to protect our communities. Congressional leaders should follow that example, and act now to support everyday families and businesses across the country. In the meantime, Arizonans can visit sinema.senate.gov/corona for up-to-date information and details on how to access needed resources. They can also email casework@sinema.senate.gov for help with individual cases from our team of social workers.

(Sinema is a Democratic U.S. Senator from Arizona.)

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