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Richmond Times-Dispatch: Abigail Spanberger column: One year in, keeping our momentum in the fight against COVID-19

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, ABIGAIL SPANBERGER

One year ago, I wrote an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in response to the arrival of an unfamiliar and dangerous virus in central Virginia.

COVID-19 had brought chaos to our long-term care facilities, and our front-line health care workers — many lacking the personal protective equipment (PPE) they desperately needed — worked around the clock to save lives. Dedicated volunteers sewed thousands of homemade masks, food pantries welcomed hungry families, local distilleries tackled a hand sanitizer shortage and K-12 students relearned how to raise their hands during class — this time through a computer screen.

On Capitol Hill, Congress just had passed the CARES Act to protect health care workers, create the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses and distribute the first round of what would come to be known as “stimulus checks.”

It’s impossible to think back on those early weeks of the pandemic without feeling a sense of heartbreak for all that we’ve lost in the past year. We remember the thousands of family members and friends who no longer are with us. We hold our loved ones just a little bit closer. We think of the businesses that have closed and the jobs that haven’t come back.

However, I’m also reminded of the countless ways our community, in the face of this tremendous loss, has banded together to tackle a once-in-a-generation pandemic. In that spirit, many of us are feeling a recent sense of optimism. With promising new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines released this week and the commonwealth now vaccinating more than 50,000 Virginians per day, we undoubtedly are moving in the right direction.

Virginia has momentum on its side, but our work is far from over in this marathon battle against COVID-19. We must do more to strengthen vaccine distribution, keep businesses open and prevent working families from being left behind — we can’t afford to lose momentum.

The American Rescue Plan, passed in the House and signed into law by President Joe Biden this week, provides a major opportunity to maintain this momentum. This bill will provide direct aid to those who need it most in central Virginia, and as we confront our massive economic and health care challenges, it will meet the current moment with the investments our communities require.

The American Rescue Plan provides $20 billion for increased vaccine distribution — as well as $10 billion to use the Defense Production Act to increase the production of vaccines and other medical supplies here in the United States, rather than overseas. The package also provides billions for PPE, and continued COVID-19 testing and tracing.

As approximately 250,000 Virginians remain unemployed, the American Rescue Plan prevents a lapse in vital unemployment benefits, which now will be extended until September 2021. Without this extension, federal unemployment insurance would have expired on Sunday, March 14 — mere days after this legislation was signed into law.

Virginia families also will see tangible economic benefits directly in their pockets. Low- and middle-income Virginians will receive an additional $1,400 stimulus check — and working families, many of whom have been racked by financial and logistical challenges caused by the cancellation of day cares combined with virtual learning, will see a major expansion of both the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

Many of the businesses that employ these working parents still are in need of a helping hand to keep their operations open. This package provides an additional $7.25 billion for forgivable PPP loans and also creates a new $25 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. I’ve personally heard from Virginia restaurants about the unique challenges they’ve faced, particularly as earlier programs like the PPP weren’t designed for the unique challenges facing the restaurant industry.

And as school districts continue the transition from hybrid learning to full in-person learning, the American Rescue Plan provides more than $125 billion for K-12 schools. Schools now will have additional funding to purchase PPE, improve their HVAC systems and hire staff to help students who’ve fallen behind during the past year.

More broadly, this bill marks an investment in our values. It invests in a future sense of normalcy. It invests in a durable supply of vaccines. It invests in Virginia businesses and their customers. It invests in roofs over heads and families fed. It invests in the most vulnerable among us, but also in the working men and women who make Virginia and our nation strong.

These are wise investments, and they are the right course of action.