Statement for the Record in Support of H.R. 748, the CARES Act
M. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Our country is suffering from a pandemic on an unimaginable scale, and this legislation will provide critical support to workers and families, small businesses, healthcare providers, student loan borrowers, and people struggling to make ends meet.
During the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that we need direct payments to individuals to strengthen and rebuild our economy and to assist everyone with basics needs, such as rent and groceries. The pandemic has caused businesses to shutter without clarity about if or when they will be able to reopen, and it has left workers with the uncertainty of whether they will have a job to return to when this crisis ends. I’m pleased that this bill provides a direct cash payment of up to $1200 for individuals making up to $75,000, and at least $2400 for families making up to $150,000. This is a good start, but Congress will need to extend this assistance if the pandemic continues as expected. Last week more than 3 million people applied for Unemployment Insurance benefits, including more than 76,500 claims in Oregon. This is the highest number in our country’s recorded history. The bill we are passing today will expand Unemployment Insurance to part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers and it bolsters the weekly benefit by an additional $600. Incentives for states to eliminate waiting periods for enrollment of UI and an additional 13 weeks of federal funded unemployment benefits are also included. Additionally, the bill includes rent assistance and additional funding for SNAP.
In addition to providing for cash payments and enhanced UI benefits, the bill greatly increases wraparound services that families across the country need. The bill includes an increase in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding to help people heat and cool their homes, a moratorium on many evictions and foreclosures, more than $30 billion to help school districts and higher education institutions, and a six-month pause on payment and interest accrual of federal student loans. Furthermore, I advocated for the Treasury Department to temporarily halt wage garnishment and collection programs for certain unpaid debts, and this bill incorporates provisions to suspend involuntary collections of student loans, including garnishing wages, tax refunds, and essential benefits like Social Security. We also know that now, more than ever, we need to be taking care of our seniors and the most vulnerable. My legislation, the Advocating for Older Americans During Coronavirus Crisis Act, was included in the bill. These provisions will make sure that seniors in long-term care facilities have access to support advocates during the crisis. I also led my colleagues in advocating for funding for workforce development programs for workers displaced or dislocated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although I am pleased that this bill includes some funding for employment services, much more is needed to support our nation’s economic recovery and the success of workers. As a leader on the Education and Labor Committee, I will continue to fight to protect workers, families, students, and seniors throughout this crisis.
Additionally, many small business owners have had to close because of the pandemic. Their owners have told me that they do not know if or when they’ll be able to return to normal operations. This legislation provides $377 billion for small businesses, including $350 billion in loans for small businesses and non-profits to use to cover their expenses. Importantly, these loans may be forgiven if the proceeds are used to retain employees and keep the businesses open. I also advocated on behalf of the arts and humanities community to make sure that relief for non-profits was included in this bill.
Small and medium sized farms in Northwest Oregon are continuing to supply our food chain, but this pandemic is disrupting the livelihoods of farmers, their families, and their employees. I advocated for additional funding to send directly to farmers, and I’m pleased that this package includes $9.5 billion in emergency funding for agriculture, including growers of our prized specialty crops.
Our health care workers and hospitals have been on the front lines of fighting this pandemic, and this legislation secures $150 billion in funding to support those efforts. The bill makes sure those critical care providers have the resources they need to respond to the crisis by making additional investments in public health infrastructure, community health systems, vaccine development, and funds for the purchase of critical medical supplies. Importantly, that funding will be used to acquire urgently needed personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies, as well as new facility construction to meet the demand. There is more we need do to get PPE into the hands of our health care providers and first responders, and I’ll be focusing my efforts on increasing production of domestic manufacturing in the days and weeks ahead.
Our frontline workers would not be able to do their lifesaving work without robust child care support. This bill provides an additional $3.5 billion in Child Care Development Block Grant funding to make sure that nurses, firefighters, doctors, and others who are still working are able to access child care, and that our child care providers have the financial support necessary to keep their doors open and safely care for children. There is also additional funding for Head Start programs.
For weeks, states have been shouldering the burden of combating the pandemic, and this bill provides critical funding to support their ongoing efforts. The legislation creates a Coronavirus Relief Fund for states, and Oregon will receive more than $1.6 billion to help pay for the costs associated with fighting coronavirus. The bill also contains funding for Community Development Block Grants, which will help our local communities rebuild.
As we continue to battle this pandemic, I am so grateful for manufacturers across Oregon and around the country are stepping up and working on innovative ways to provide assistance. The bill will make it easier for manufacturers to make personal protective equipment and get it into the hands of those who need it most. I championed a provision in the bill that increases federal funding for Manufacturing USA Institutes and our local manufacturing extension partnerships, and a cost share waiver so that partnerships like the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership can begin their work without delay. I also advocated for strengthening of the Defense Production Act to support our manufacturers in meeting the PPE shortage, and I am pleased that this bill includes $1 billion in DPA funding to strengthen the domestic supply chain.
Finally, this bill includes $500 billion in loans to companies to provide security to our economy. We fought tirelessly to make sure that these loans are subject to strong oversight and robust guardrails to provide accountability and protect the American workforce. Companies that participate in the bill’s loan program must not engage in stock buyback for the life of the loan plus one year, there are restrictions on executive compensation increases, and collective bargaining agreements are protected. The bill creates a Treasury Department Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, as well as a Congressional Oversight Committee to make sure that the loan program is fully transparent and accountable to the American people. Importantly, the bill prohibits businesses controlled by the President, his family, and members of Congress from receiving
loans under the program. We will continue to provide vigorous oversight over these companies and further advance the needs of workers in future legislation to promote economic recovery.
I thank Speaker Pelosi for her leadership in negotiating this critical package. There is much more work we must do on behalf of Oregonians and people around the country, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to enact policies to help working families. Thank you, and I yield back.