Newtown's Federal Delegation Reflects On Latest COVID Relief Package
Connecticut's US Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal along with 5th District Congresswoman Jahana Hayes have each released detailed statements and analyses of how the latest COVID-19 federal relief legislation — the Coronavirus Relief & Omnibus Agreement — will help various constituents here in Newtown and across the state.
The President is poised to sign the legislation and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a key negotiator, said on CNBC December 21 that the direct payments would begin arriving in bank accounts the week of December 28.
Hayes noted in a release that the bipartisan legislation combines over $900 billion in emergency COVID-19 relief to protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people with $1.4 billion in funding for the government through the annual appropriations process.
The Senate cleared the massive package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved the COVID-19 package by another lopsided vote, 359-53. The 5,593-page legislation — by far the longest bill ever — came together Sunday after months of battling, posturing and postelection negotiating that reined in a number of Democratic demands as the end of the congressional session approached.
Upon senate passage of the relief package, Murphy, a Senate Appropriations Committee member said, “the bill we passed today is a clear win for our state.”
Blumenthal called the legislation “a morally imperative rescue measure — an economic and public health life raft for struggling families, businesses, and hospitals.”
Hayes rightfully pointed out the grueling wait some of her constituents faced as the support measure progressed glacially, if that, over the past few months.
“They are struggling to keep their lights on, put food on the tables, and navigate their way through a year of untold economic suffering, emotional hardship, and worst of all, loss of loved ones,” she said. “Bills are due and it is unconscionable that Americans have had to wait months for relief and critical federal programs that they rely on to be funded.”
Murphy said the funding package includes important money for testing and vaccine distribution that will help combat COVID-19, and directs cash payments and small business assistance to help those in need.
“I’m also glad to see funding in this bill that supports longstanding local priorities like Amtrak, the Long Island Sound, and the new Coast Guard Museum, in addition to language repealing the mandate to sell Plum Island and providing first-time funding for the Hartford courthouse project,” Murphy said. “Finally, as we’ve seen mental health issues spike throughout COVID-19, I’m also proud my bipartisan legislation that cracks down on insurers who don’t pay for mental health treatment was included in this bill.”
Blumenthal described the legislation as a vital “shot in the arm to our economy while the real shots — the vaccine doses that will finally help end this pandemic — are distributed across the country.
“I am most happy to have successfully included the Save Our Stages bill in the final package, along with significant new funding for the PPP program and support for restaurants and other struggling businesses,” Blumenthal said, adding — “This measure makes major investments in defense manufacturing — a huge national security priority and essential job creator at home in Connecticut. I fought for additional measures to combat gun violence, fight online child exploitation, protect against dangerous chemicals in our furniture, support women veterans — and more.”
Hayes said she was “grateful for the hope this bill brings to my constituents.”
She said the 2021 Appropriations package invests in key priorities for the 5th District — “from aggressively tackling the opioid crisis, investing in community health centers, disease research and mental health services, and helping students with learning disabilities. This bill will help to fight our nation’s gun violence epidemic, protect the environment and combat climate change, and tackle food insecurity.”
COVID Relief Breakdown
Hayes highlighted the following provisions to combat the COVID-19 crisis in Consolidated Appropriations Act:
*Accelerating vaccine distribution and crushing the coronavirus: The package provides billions in urgently need funds to accelerate the free and equitable distribution of safe vaccines to as many Americans as possible as soon as possible, to implement a strong national testing and tracing strategy with billions reserved specifically for combating the disparities facing communities of color, and to support our heroic health care workers and providers.
*Direct payment checks: Provides a new round of direct payments worth up to $600 per adult and child, also ensuring that mixed-status families receive payments.
*Strong support for small business: Includes critical funding and policy changes to help small businesses, including minority-owned businesses, and nonprofits recover from the pandemic. The agreement includes over $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters, key modifications to PPP to serve the smallest businesses and struggling non-profits and better assist independent restaurants, and includes $20 billion for targeted EIDL Grants which are critical to many smaller businesses on Main Street.
*Education and child care: The agreement provides $82 billion in funding for colleges and schools, including support for HVAC repair and replacement to mitigate virus transmission and reopen classrooms, and $10 billion for child care assistance to help get parents back to work and keep child care providers open.
*Rental assistance: Provides $25 billion in critically needed rental assistance for families struggling to stay in their homes and an extension of the eviction moratorium.
*Enhanced Unemployment Insurance benefits: Averts the sudden expiration of Unemployment Insurance benefits for millions and adds a $300 per week UI enhancement for Americans out of work.
By The Numbers
Murphy said Coronavirus Relief & Omnibus Agreement dollars are being allocated to Connecticut as follows:
*An additional $5 million in funding for the Coast Guard museum in New London;
*$30.4 million for the Long Island Sound Geographic program, a nearly 50 percent increase from last year’s levels;
*$109 million for magnet schools, an increase of $2 million from last year, as well as a language repealing the only remaining prohibition on using federal funds for transportation to carry out school desegregation efforts. This means more flexibility for magnets as well as school districts more broadly to fund efforts to increase school diversity;
*$25 million for gun violence research within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH);
*$4.5 billion direct to states for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, monitoring, and tracking, including a targeted investment of $300 million for high-risk and underserved populations;
*Language to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — extremely potent greenhouse gases that are used in air conditioners and refrigerators — by 85 percent over the next 15 years;
*$5 million to conduct COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution on Capitol Hill, after Murphy led a letter to Senate and House leadership calling for a comprehensive testing plan for everyone who works in and around the Capitol;
*$13 billion to increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent, following a letter Murphy co-led with Senator Merkley that called for the same increase, as well as language expanding SNAP to college students as Senator Murphy has championed;
*$2 million for the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology to partner with a university to study and develop a reliable and cost-effective standard for testing for the presence of excessive pyrrhotite in concrete, which is the root of the crumbling foundations problem plaguing Connecticut;
*$10 million for Highlands Conservation Act, one of the most significant federal investments of conservation funding in Connecticut that allows state and municipal land trusts to conserve thousands of acres of land; and
*$5 billion towards aerospace and defense manufacturing in Connecticut that will keep jobs and increase demand for Connecticut manufacturers, expand funds for Workforce Development Programs, and authorize advanced payments to small and medium aerospace and defense businesses.
Stages, Lending, Broadband
Blumenthal said package includes crucial components of the Save Our Stages Act, including $15 billion for arts organizations, museum operators, theatrical producers, and others. These provisions are critical to ensuring the livelihoods of the arts industry in Connecticut.
He said it also includes $15 billion specifically set-aside for lending through community financial institutions to increase access for minority-owned and other underserved small businesses and nonprofits. It also includes special funding for very small businesses with 10 or fewer employees and for small businesses located in distressed areas.
The relief package includes a major $7 billion investment in broadband funding, including: *$3.2 billion for program based on the legislation Blumenthal introduced with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to provide broadband access and connected devices for low-income Americans; *$1.9 billion to fund the FCC’s program to replace insecure telecommunications equipment from Chinese vendors; *$250 million for additional FCC support for telehealth services for underserved communities, which has supported upgrades and new infrastructure in Connecticut; *$300 million for pilot programs to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband; and *$65 million for FCC’s development of new, more accurate, and more granular broadband availability maps.
Blumenthal said the bill also makes major investments in programs to help prevent and respond to gun violence:
*$85 million for grants to states to upgrade criminal and mental health records for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), an increase from $78.29 million during the previous fiscal year.
*$14 million for community-based violence prevention initiatives, which have supported cities implementing a combination of evidence-based intervention and prevention strategies that have been shown, through research and evaluation, to effectively reduce youth violence.
*$8 million for Children Exposed to Violence, a program working to interrupt cycles of violence through early intervention strategies that address and treat children’s exposure to trauma and violence.