The House approved legislation early Saturday to provide relief from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate still must vote on the package. It includes provisions for free testing and family leave. Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York 21st District was among the bipartisan supporters of the bill. WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley spoke to her about the pandemic’s impacts.
Congresswoman Stefanik praised President Trump following his Oval Office speech to the country, tweeting his address “was a strong and clear message to all Americans to encourage unity and swift action as we confront and ultimately beat Coronavirus.” Yet the next day the stock market sank and his speech was widely criticized. Stefanik says the fact it was the president’s second Oval Office speech reflected the seriousness of the crisis. “I thought his message was clear that small steps taken today on behalf of the public health are really important to frankly save lives and stem the growth of this. I also think many of the steps the administration has taken since that Oval Office Address including the speech in the Rose Garden, the public private partnerships, the announcement that testing will be covered whether you're on Medicare, Medicaid, uninsured or on private insurance, so that we can get the test numbers because information is the way that we're going to combat this.”
Over the weekend, the House passed a bill that provides relief to Americans suffering from the impact of the pandemic. “This should not be political and I was pleased there was such an overwhelming vote. You know, one of the one of the real brunt of the costs are the counties. And a priority for me was making sure that we increased the dollars for the federal share of Medicaid that the counties pay in New York because they're going to see a significant increase. Additionally making sure that testing is free. That was a key cornerstone of the bill as well. And then in addition to that bolstering state unemployment compensation, as well as food assistance programs for seniors and for school nutrition programs, which are very important given the percentage of students that rely on those programs.”
Many states are implementing steps to stem the spread of the virus. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has perhaps made the most aggressive moves. Congresswoman Stefanik says she is maintaining communication with state officials but adds she is working most directly with officials from the 12 counties of her district. “Our county public health officials and frankly our county legislatures and county board of supervisors typically have task forces and they’re really making sure that there’s an information flow; making sure that they’re solving problems like delivery of food to students who are staying at home; making sure that we’re addressing child care issues; making sure that hospitals have the supplies they need. And another concern that I’ve been hearing is the challenges that small businesses are going to face especially if they are a restaurant or a bar or even locally-owned gyms that have to face closure for a short time. That is significant uncertainty for these small businesses and their employees and we need to make sure that we’re stepping up to provide some sort of relief to them at the federal and state level.”
As for the long-term repercussions of the pandemic, Stefanik says her focus is on the small businesses that will feel the brunt of the crisis. “These are businesses that have been in existence in some cases for decades where they've never closed their doors, not once. So this is not part of their typical DNA. But it is important to follow these guidelines for the sake of public health, and doing so now will help shorten the length of this overall crisis. We are absolutely looking at every option at the federal level. There have been some administrative actions taken. The Small Business Administration will be offering low interest loans. That is just one small step. I've talked to small businesses and what they'll say to me is we don't want those loans. We want something else and we wish we could stay open in business. And I urged them that for the public health sake it's important to take the guidance from cdc.gov very seriously and Congress is going to work to provide relief to those small businesses and to their workforce.”
Stefanik noted that while the coronavirus is the top priority in Congress, other issues are being addressed. “We have to pass a national defense bill. I've been in contact with my committee staffers on the Armed Services Committee. Many of them are teleworking but they are still hard at work making sure that we have a strong national defense bill for example. I'm still doing case work on VA cases working with the Department of Veterans Affairs. So we continue to do our job with a surge of focus on Coronavirus.”
Congresswoman Stefanik urges the public to seek guidance and information about Coronavirus from cdc.gov and local health departments.