(OP-ED by U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell)
Every Kentuckian is feeling the effects of the coronavirus. It’s a national health and economic emergency that demands action. The Republican-led Senate answered with the biggest rescue package in history, and Kentucky will see at least $1.25 billion in relief. We’ve already received $39 million to address urgent housing and economic development priorities, and more funding will soon be on the way.
Since the beginning of this crisis, we’ve been coordinating with President Trump and Vice President Pence to mobilize a “whole-of-government” response. Right away, Congress delivered billions of dollars on a bipartisan basis to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, among other agencies at the forefront of our response. In the first coronavirus bill, Kentucky received more than $9 million to boost efforts, including for our vital community health centers.
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and House Democrats next agreed to a modest proposal to provide families with additional benefits, such as extra food assistance and enhanced unemployment insurance. However, the House’s plan also imposed new costs on small businesses at their most challenging moment.
Senate Republicans knew further legislation was needed to quickly defeat this virus and support Americans left in its wake. Directing the response as Senate Majority Leader, I organized bipartisan task forces to develop bold ideas addressing four priorities.
I introduced legislation reflecting the task forces’ best ideas called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It became the foundation for our country’s largest economic relief legislation. And in about a week, I shepherded the bipartisan bill to Senate passage with a 96 to 0 vote and on to President Trump’s desk to become law.
First, our bill puts cash directly into the hands of the American people. Eligible Kentuckians will get up to $1,200 for individuals, along with student loan deferments and other benefits. For middle-class workers, seniors and those laid off, we’re sending critical relief.
Small employers in Kentucky account for more than 99% of our businesses, employing nearly 700,000 workers. Our second priority helps keep their lights on through hundreds of billions in federally-guaranteed loans. We are hopeful this rapid injection of cash can help Main Street businesses continue paying workers and survive the crisis.
Our third objective looks to shore up our country’s economic foundations. To fight the virus’ spread, our government practically shut down entire sectors of the economy. Additional programs will also deliver targeted federal resources to employers in an effort to prevent as many layoffs as possible.
Finally, the CARES Act bolsters the healthcare response to the coronavirus. It addresses supply and testing shortages, fuels innovation and funds hospitals and healthcare providers. For Kentuckians on Medicare, it also expands access to telehealth services, which can be particularly important in rural areas.
Unfortunately, Washington politics nearly bogged down our rescue operation for the American people. Speaker Pelosi flew back from California at the eleventh hour, disrupting bipartisan progress with totally unrelated environmental provisions that were reminiscent of the Green New Deal.
I’m proud Congress ultimately rejected political posturing and voted to send immediate relief to American families, small businesses and healthcare workers.
If further legislation is needed to address the health and economic needs of Kentucky and the country, Senate Republicans will be ready to continue working in a bipartisan manner to finish the job. We are now working with the administration to ensure the resources included in the CARES Act are deployed to families and small businesses as quickly as possible.
Federal, state and local officials in our Commonwealth are working together to get assistance to those most in need. For example, Congressman Comer, Agriculture Commissioner Quarles and local leaders have overcome obstacles to get vital nutrition to kids while schools are closed. Following a conversation with Governor Beshear, I also called for an increase in federal support for coronavirus equipment and testing in Kentucky.
Government action isn’t enough to get through this crisis, however. We all need to pitch in.
Health experts have told us how to help, including social distancing, washing our hands, staying home and using technology to check in on loved ones. We can also continue supporting local businesses by purchasing gift cards or eating takeout.
Some inspiring Kentuckians are going out of their way to help their neighbors. School districts are using their buses to deliver meals to kids. Grocery stores are setting aside time for seniors. Even Kentucky distilleries are transforming their operations to increase the supply of hand sanitizer. Along with our medical professionals, law enforcement and first responders, we owe our thanks to childcare workers, truck drivers and sanitation employees and many others for doing their part to address this crisis.
I’m grateful to Kentuckians who are stepping up to show generosity and resolve. It’s with their help we will come out of this stronger. Even apart, we are all in this together.