Rep. Hartzler gives update during Tuesday conference call
In light of the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (in conjunction with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry) provided an update to business owners and chamber leaders in her congressional district during a conference call Tuesday afternoon.
Starting the call off was Missouri Chamber President and C.E.O. Daniel P. Mehan. “If anyone wants to do any research or check out any appropriate links, I'd encourage you to visit our website (mochamber.com/coronavirus) at any time,” stated Mehan. “It's got a lot of the more tangible links to the Department of Economic Development; the Small Business Administration; the Center for Disease Control; and things that might be of interest to you.”
Staff at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry are currently working from home. “We've been talking to our members and to people around the country — we see this as a 'V' shaped curve event,” noted Mehan. “We're still on the left side of the 'V' going down, trying to contain the virus and triage what is going on out there — make sure people get the health care they need as quickly as possible. And, hopefully, positioning Missouri in particular to come out of this problem in good shape on the other side of the 'V.'”
“The state of Missouri has not issued a statewide shelter in place order,” added Missouri Chamber Vice President of Governmental Affairs Matthew Panik. “Several local governments have done so and they vary quite a bit in how strict they are and what individuals and businesses can continue to do.” Columbia, Mo., and Boone County issued the most recent order this morning at 10 a.m. “We are monitoring that,” noted Panik. Other areas with shelter in place orders in effect include St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles, Jefferson County, Jackson County, and Platte County. “As of now, there is no statewide order,” continued Panik. “The capitol is closed down for the next two weeks in Jefferson City. We have until May 15 with this legislative session. The state budget does have to get done.”
Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler then gave an update on what was going on at the federal level. “As far as Washington, D.C., I feel like we are at war with this coronavirus,” Hartzler stated. “We have two battlefronts right now. We have the health care battlefront, which is so important that we get these therapeutics out to treat this illness as quick as possible so people get better, that we develop a vaccine, and that we make sure that people have the test kits and all the health care items they need to be able to tackle this health care problem and help people get well. Of course we’re very focused on making sure we have enough money and resources. We’ve been very busy talking to our hospital administrators and individuals to determine what they need and avocating that they get those face masks and PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment). We also have the battle on the economic front. My number one goal is try to keep businesses going so they can keep people on the payroll. We have passed two major pieces of legislation so far and, as you know, there is a third one that is pending right now.” These pieces of legislation are as follows:
Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020
The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 passed with near unanimous support in both the House and Senate. It was signed into law by President Trump on March 6, 2020. The bill provides $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Of the $8.3 billion, $6.7 billion (81 percent) is designated for the domestic response and $1.6 billion (19 percent) for the international response. “That provided a lot of additional money for diagnostic tests and treatments, and vaccine development,” stated Hartzler. “It did authorize the SBA (Small Business Administration) disaster loans for small businesses that has just been approved a couple days ago. As of yesterday, you can now apply for those disaster loans through SBA. They go up to $5 million and are about 3.75 percent interest rate and can help you get through this time.” Telehealth capabilites were also approved with this bill which will help people access their doctors from home with Medicare and Medicaid paying for that now.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law on March 18, 2020, marking the second major legislative initiative to address COVID-19. It addresses the domestic outbreak, including paid sick leave, insurance coverage of coronavirus testing, nutrition assistance, and unemployment benefits. “This, too, impacts businesses,” noted Hartzler. “It provides 100 percent refundable payroll tax credits to employers for paid sick leave for their employees if the employee gets sick themselves with coronavirus, or has a loved one that has coronavirus and they have to care for that person, or if they have a child that school has been cancelled and so they have to be home with the child. The federal government will pay the employer back for that paid sick leave. This is for businesses that have less than 500 employees. If you have less than 50 employees, the Secretary of Labor has the authority to issue regulations to exempt you from having to pay this if you feel like it would be too onerous.”
“That’s the first part — the paid sick leave,” continued Hartzler. “The second part gives qualified emergency and family medical leave. Right now, a lot of entities use this voluntarily. Businesses don’t have to pay. In this case, the federal government will pay the employer for individuals if they have to stay out due a child being out of school. The formula is that the employer would pay 2/3 of their salary, capping at $200 a day for up to 50 days, and then the federal government will provide businesses with the refundable payroll tax credit of 100 percent of the required wages. Just like on the paid sick leave, the Secretary of Labor has the option to issue regulations.”
The bill also expanded unemployment insurance. It gave $500 million emergency admininstrative assistance for all the states to help set up what they expect to be a much higher demand of people using it. It also gave $500 billion to extend the amount of weeks that unemployment can be given to individuals. In Missouri, currently, it is 20 weeks. This will pay for an additional 13 weeks and is paid 100 percent by the federal government. A state can qualify for this if they have a spike of at least 10 percent of unemployment compared to normally. “I would expect most every state would qualify for this,” noted Hartzler. This would mean that individuals in Missouri could receive up to 33 weeks of unemployment.
In regards to the third piece of legislation still being discussed, Hartzler stated, “Right now, they (Senate leadership) are trying to work out a third package which would make these look like small change. We’re talking between $1 to $2 trillion in this next package. It’s kind of mind boggling for me, but once again this is an economic battle. The main part that I’m in support of with this new bill that’s being discussed is an ability for businesses to get an SBA loan that would be 100 percent backed by the government to make payroll, mortgage payments, interest on your debt and rent payments and utilities. Those would be forgivable between March 1 and end of June.”
In closing, On My Own, Inc. Executive Director Jennifer Gundy posed a question to Congresswoman Hartzler. “We have an in-home program and also a consumer directed program. We understand the PPE issue — we’ve gone through all the proper channels,” stated Gundy. “We’re a Medicaid provider so we have access to get PPEs through the state and we were denied. We’ve contacted local health departments in our areas and they’re trying to get us supplies. We’ve got a phone call into a couple emergency management folks to try to access supplies there. The issue is when we’re providing care in people’s homes, that’s not any different than a nursing home or hospital. I don’t feel that is being given the same attention as the hospitals and EMTs and at some point, the more and more people that are getting this virus, it’s going to become an issue. We’re trying to get orders off of Amazon and our typical places like that, but it is a very real issue for our staff who are in the homes every day. Right now, we don’t have anybody who is positive, but we all know that’s not going to last. Plus, we need to be taking precautions so that we’re not spreading. We’re using gloves, but we’re having a hard time finding masks and gowns for when we do need to use them.”
In response, Hartzler stated, “We will get back with on that and see if we can be helpful. We’ll do what we can to raise this issue for you.”