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Culpeper Star-Exponent: No extras in virus stimulus, Spanberger says; Kaine and Warner spur USDA on feeding families

Washington, March 24, 2020
CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER

As House and Senate negotiators tried Tuesday to strike a bargain, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger urged congressional leaders in both parties to seek compromise on their third emergency economic-relief package addressing the global pandemic.

The Central Virginia lawmaker, in a statement as she worked from home in Henrico County, said she opposes pursuing “unrelated policy objectives or funding priorities that may slow down negotiations” in the nation’s pivotal time of crisis.

Spanberger urged both political parties’ leaders to keep that focus.

“In the coming months, we will surely have conversations about the next-step investments necessary to rebuild an economy ravaged by this virus, but we must take action now,” the freshman Democrat said.

“The people of Central Virginia need immediate help,” Spanberger said. “Our hospitals and nursing homes need personal protective equipment—gowns, masks, respirators, shields, and more—to protect our frontline healthcare providers and to stop the further spread of this deadly virus and care for the afflicted.

“Across our economy, our workers are facing layoffs and are fearful about how they will keep food on their tables and roofs over their heads,” she continued. “Our small businesses, nonprofits, and large employers are struggling and trying to adjust to an unknown future. Schoolchildren nationwide are at home or in makeshift, alternative care, and millions are going without the nutrition support they so desperately need.”

The legislator said the first and second relief bills from Congress, with broad bipartisan support, began to address those “devastating” problems.

“Our third relief package must follow suit,” Spanberger said. “In this heightening crisis, we must be deeply responsive to the impact of COVID-19 on the health and financial security of our citizens and country.”

Better food distribution

Meanwhile, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to swiftly approve Virginia’s request to operate a Disaster Household Distribution Program. That designation would let food banks distribute USDA food directly to Virginia’s neediest families while limiting the interactions between food bank staff, volunteers and recipients during the coronavirus outbreak, the two Virginia Democrats said Tuesday.

“In Virginia, many households are out of work due to the ongoing public health emergency. This has created an unprecedented increase in need for food services across the commonwealth,” Kaine and Warner wrote Pam Miller, administrator of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. “With little time to prepare, many families have found themselves without the finances to maintain a healthy diet. Unfortunately, congregate food distribution is not an option at this time due to the potential spread of COVID-19. A household distribution program is required to ensure the safe and efficient distribution of food to families in need.”

In their letter, the senators underscored that food banks are a vital lifeline for families across the commonwealth.

By approving household distribution to speedily distribute food to families in need, the USDA would remove the burdensome paperwork that often accompanies a family’s application for food assistance, they said.

The Virginia Federation of Foodbanks, working with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service, would operate the program.

Virginia food banks will use their existing inventories of USDA foods and donated foods to supplement families’ nutritional needs, Kaine and Warner said.

The state of Virginia asked the USDA on March 19 to let it offer such a food-relief program.

Help for small businesses

Also on Tuesday, Warner said he hopes the Senate can approve a bipartisan agreement with the Trump administration on an aid package to help workers and small businesses weather the pandemic’s economic effects, and fund hospitals, medical personnel and first responders on the front lines of the health crisis.

Speaking from his office in the U.S. Capitol, Warner highlighted several provisions in the bill that he said would help Virginians who are suffering, including:

—Direct financial assistance for Virginia families in the form of checks to most American taxpayers and their children;

—Low-interest loans to small businesses to help keep employees on payroll and stay operational until they can reopen;

—Expanded unemployment insurance for large segments of the American workforce who have previously been ineligible for unemployment benefits, including gig workers, contract workers, and the self-employed;

—Lending programs for larger employers with strong accountability and transparency measures ensuring that companies have access to credit and can’t use taxpayer money on executive bonuses or stock buybacks;

—And a massive infusion of resources to support a pandemic response, including billions of dollars for hospitals, nursing homes, community health centers, and state and local governments.

For days, Warner has been directly negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to secure financial protections for workers and small businesses as part of the relief bill, expected to be the largest-ever of its kind.

“There will be a major program to assist small businesses. Think about your local restaurant, barber shop, local retail store,” the senator said. “We will provide one of the most generous packages ever to make sure that at least for the next four to six weeks, these small businesses can keep their employees on payroll and make sure they don’t have to simply have to close down their businesses. Because with no revenue, we’ve got to keep these small businesses alive or even when we do reopen for business, many of them will not come back at all.”

Urging passage of relief package

On Monday, Kaine gave a floor speech in the Senate pushing for passage of a relief package that backstops low- and middle-income Americans who have lost earnings, supports small businesses, ensures funding for larger businesses is used to protect their employees, provides robust assistance to state and local governments, and strengthens the nation’s health-care network.

“There won’t be any amount of economic stimulus that’ll work if we don’t handle the public health crisis in a very smart way going forward,” Kaine said.

“The American public needs action, the American public needs big action,” said Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “But if we’re going to spend $2 trillion and we spend it the wrong way, we will regret it for years. If we spend it the right way, we can get through this crisis in a way that will do minimum damage to our economy.”

“This package has got to be right for working people and the details matter,” he said. “Only about 26 percent of American workers are covered by the unemployment insurance system, so we can’t just rely on that old system if we really want to backstop all the people who’ve lost income and protect them and their families.”

Kaine has cosponsored bills to support workers and families affected by the pandemic, and called for immediate payments to low- and middle-income Americans to help them weather the pandemic’s economic fallout.

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