March 2020: Coronavirus Update Part II

U.S. Senator Tina Smith Coronavirus Update

Note: This is the second installment of my regular updates to Minnesotans on my work to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minnesota and the nation are facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis in the coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully, with a new bipartisan assistance package signed into law Friday, help is on the way.  It will provide significant and urgently-needed help for our health care system, families and small businesses. Minnesotans are coming together to respond to this economic and public health catastrophe. Soon, families will see direct financial help, local businesses will find a lifeline, and our heroic health care workers will know we have their backs. This pandemic will touch all of us, and this effort is a major step forward in our country’s response. There will be more work to do, and I’ll keep working to get help to people in Minnesota and across the country as quickly as possible.

You can also find information on the latest actions to combat the pandemic from the State of Minnesota here.

-U.S. Senator Tina Smith

News Minnesotans Can Use

Staying Safe: Throughout this crisis, my top priority has been the health and safety of Minnesotans, and ensuring they are getting accurate information to deal with this crisis. You can turn to the Minnesota Department of Health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for up-to-date, accurate information on Preventing COVID-19. These resources provide information on keeping families in our state safe, and include official guidance for Minnesotans who think they may need to be tested for the virus.

Contacting My Office – As I work in to deal with the impact of the coronavirus on Minnesotans, my staff and I are continuing to help people in need of constituent services. Out of concern for everyone’s health and safety, my staff in both Washington, D.C. and in Minnesota are all teleworking, and while we are not physically in the office, we are engaging with Minnesotans remotely. You can get information on contacting my office here.

The New $2 Trillion Bipartisan Coronavirus Package:  
What it Means for Minnesota and the Nation

On Friday, a $2 trillion package to help Minnesota and the nation battle the coronavirus was passed by Congress and signed into law.  It will send much-needed assistance to health care providers in Minnesota and across the country as they deal with the coming surge in cases, and it will help hard-hit Minnesota families, workers and small businesses deal with the economic fallout of he pandemic.  In the coming days, will push hard to get assistance out to states as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

The bipartisan package is the third measure passed by Congress to respond to the pandemic. Earlier this month, two other packages were signed into law:

  • On March 5, Congress passed a bipartisan $8.3 billion emergency funding package to deliver an initial response to the crisis. Among other things, Minnesota is expected to receive approximately $10 million for its public health response from this new law.
  • On March 18, Congress overwhelmingly passed a second bipartisan package to provide paid sick and family leave, expand Medicaid, unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance. The measure included Sen. Smith’s bill to ensure testing for the virus is completely free.

How the $2 Trillion Relief Package Helps Minnesota, the Nation Respond

The relief package passed by the Senate on Wednesday – and signed into law Friday is a major response to Covid-19 and will help bolster our hospitals and health care providers, who are on the front lines of fighting this pandemics, and it helps families, businesses and workers dealing with the significant economic fallout:

Helping Families, Workers and Small Businesses

Economic Support for U.S. Families and Individuals

  • Households with incomes under $150,000 ($75,000 for singles) will receive $1,200 per adult and $500 per child from the Department of Treasury.

Helping Unemployed Workers

  • Weekly unemployment benefit is increased by $600 per week (in addition to the normal unemployment benefit), for the next four months. Together, this is additional benefit, plus traditional unemployment insurance, is enough to replace 100% of lost wages for a large portion of workers, especially lower-income workers.
  • Unemployment insurance will be extended to part-time workers, self-employed workers, and many other workers who aren’t eligible for traditional unemployment insurance.
  • Adds an additional 13 weeks for unemployment insurance beyond existing programs.

Support for Small Businesses to Afford Expenses and Keep Workers Employed.

  • The Paycheck Protection Program pays for two months of employee wages for small businesses that keep workers employed or rehire them, plus provides additional funding for rent, utilities, and similar expenses. The program is structured as a forgivable loan.
  • The Emergency Economic Injury Grant and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs provides small businesses with up to $10,000 in grants for quick economic relief (often on the day of application) that don’t need to be repaid, plus provide additional access to loans for businesses in need of funding.
  • Under the Small Business Debt Relief program, small businesses with existing SBA loans can receive six months of payments on forgiveness on their current loans, including principal, interest, and fees. This debt relief is also available for borrowers to take certain new SBA loans in the next six months.
  • Additional resources for Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, and Minority Business Development Agency Business Centers to help small businesses understand their options and adjust to new economic conditions .
  • For businesses who don’t use the Paycheck Protection Program, the law provides employee retention tax credits to support a portion of an employer’s payroll expenses for certain workers.

Helping Our Hospitals and Health Providers Deal with the Coming Surge

  • More than $100 billion for hospitals to prepare for their surge in demand, including for temporary hospital structures, specialized medical equipment, personalized protective equipment, and testing supplies.
  • Emergency Medicare funding for critical access hospitals in rural Minnesota.
  • More than $27 billion for health systems to develop and purchase COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and therapeutics and to expand invest in telehealth infrastructure.
  • $1.32 billion increase in funding for Community Health Centers, which will support Minnesota’s 17 community health centers deliver care at over 70 sites across the state.
  • Extended federal funding for Minnesota’s Certified Community Behavioral Health Centers (CCBHCs).
  • Delay in cuts to funding for Minnesota’s safety net hospitals and extended protections for spouses of Medicaid recipients.
  • Regulatory flexibility to expand access to telehealth services, protecting both patients and providers during this period of social distancing.
  • $16 billion increase in funding for the Strategic National Stockpile to expand national supply of personal protective equipment and diagnostic tests.
  • $45 billion for FEMA to provide immediate relief to states, local, tribal, and territorial governments for medical response, personal protective equipment, and deployment of the National Guard.
  • $1 billion for Defense Production Act to bolster supply chains for personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other needed medical supplies.

 Relief for the Nation’s Farmers and Ranchers

  • $9.5 billion dedicated disaster fund to help farmers who are experiencing financial losses from the coronavirus crisis, including targeted support for specialty crop farmers, dairy and livestock farmers, and local food producers.
  • $14 billion to fund the Farm Bill’s farm safety net through the Commodity Credit Corporation.
  • Eligibility for farmers and agricultural and rural businesses to receive up to $10 million in small business interruption loans from eligible lenders, including Farm Credit institutions, through the Small Business Administration. Repayment forgiveness will be provided for funds used for payroll, rent or mortgage, and utility bills.
  • $3 million to increase capacity at the USDA Farm Service Agency to meet increased demand from farmers affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Protections for Consumers and the Food Supply

  • $55 million for inspection and quarantine at our borders to protect against invasive pests and animal disease.
  • $33 million for overtime and temporary food safety inspectors to protect America’s food supply at meat processing plants.
  • $45 million to ensure quality produce and meat reaches grocery stores through increased support for the Agricultural Marketing Service. 
  • $1.5 million to expedite EPA approvals of disinfectants needed to control the spread of coronavirus.

Supporting Child Care and Education

  • Student Loan Borrowers– the bill suspends federally held student loan paymentsthrough September 30th, relieving borrowers of their payments and ensures that interest does not accrue during this forbearance. Additionally, for borrowers on income-driven repayment plans or working towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness this time period of suspended payments would still “count” towards progress under those programs.
  • Supporting education– the bill provides $3.5 billion in funding to support childcare, and about $30 billion in support to stabilize K-12 schools and colleges and universities.

Funding for states, local governments, and tribal governments

  • The bipartisan stimulus package includes a total of $150 billion to help states, local governments and tribal governments cover the costs of necessary expenses due to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Minnesota will receive funding directly from the U.S. Treasury within 30 days of enactment, and localities with a populations over 500,000 can also apply to directly to the Treasury to receive their relative share by population of Minnesota’s allocation.
  • $8 billion is reserved for a tribal relief fund. The U.S. Treasury will develop a funding distribution model so that tribal governments and tribally-owned entities can receive funding.

Beyond the Coronavirus Package:
My Push to Help Seniors Experiencing Isolation Becomes Law

Just as Covid-19 is forcing more older Americans into social distancing and isolation, my measures to help seniors in Minnesota and across the country who suffer the negative mental, physical and economic consequences of social isolation were signed into law this week as part of the Older Americans Act (OAA) reauthorization.  The new law also includes my provision to strengthen grants for Tribal organizations in Minnesota and other states to provide home and community-based services to Tribal elders.

Specifically, the legislation  includes provisions from my Older Americans Social Isolation and Loneliness Prevention Act, and my bipartisan Strengthening Services for Native Elders Act with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Seniors need to be connected to their communities in order to thrive. The OAA will help states pursue projects that attack the problems associated with social isolation, and it will help Tribes provide services that allow Tribal elders in Minnesota and across the country to age with dignity in their own homes while still maintaining access to quality health care.

In the News: Responding to Coronavirus Threat

Senator Tina Smith's Signature