Small business funding blocked
A familiar scene is playing out in the Senate as the need for a new funding bill became clear. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which comprised $349 billion of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, is targeted for small businesses and sure to run out of money shortly.
As was the need for the CARES Act two weeks ago, there is also broad agreement throughout Congress and the White House that additional funding is required. As was the case with the CARES Act, Senate Republicans have proposed a quick infusion of capital while Senate and House Democrats seek additional funds for other government coronavirus spending.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put forward a $250 billion replenishment plan for the PPP, seeking approval through the use of unanimous consent where only a minimal amount of Senators are present. Still, one Senator can object, which stops a bill in its tracks.
Senate Democrats blocked the bill while putting forward another bill — blocked by Republicans — that contained $250 billion more in additional spending for hospitals as well as state and local governments, for $500 billion.
Even if the Republican bill had gotten through, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it would not clear the House. Any extended impasse risks letting the funds run out before Congress returns April 20.
“Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the Democrats are once again trying to use this crisis to waste taxpayer dollars,” said Sen. Rick Scott upon rollout of the Democratic alternative. “We should focus our efforts on the individuals and small businesses that need it most.”
As Chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, Sen. Marco Rubio is the Floridian most closely involved with the machinations of passing the original package and is involved with the current effort. He has been involved with shoring up glitches that occurred once the hastily-developed program was launched and tweeting on the progress.
He described the Democratic goal of directing half the PPP funding to smaller lenders as “a good goal,” but it was “unworkable” because it would create “a new pool of money.”
As the Senate haggled, the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that 6.6 million more Americans filed unemployment claims last week. That brings the total to nearly 17 million claims over the previous three weeks.
“Today’s unemployment numbers remind us that now is not the time for congressional horse-trading or partisan politics,” Rubio said in a statement. “Small businesses are being forced to lay off employees and close their doors. I really hope my Democratic colleagues will reconsider their decision to block more money for PPP.”
He also argued that adding non-small business funding was not as urgent, saying funds targeted toward hospitals, state and local governments and other areas have yet to be disbursed. Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami seemed to confirm that with her call to get already appropriated funds for hospitals out the door.
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland is the ranking member of the Small Business Committee. While he and Rubio often work together on issues, the PPP replenishment was not one of them.
“It’s a good program; we strongly support it. It’s bipartisan. But this unanimous consent request was not negotiated,” Cardin said. “There was no effort made to follow the process that we could get this done. So, it won’t get done. The majority leader knows that.”
The Senate adjourned until next week after the failure to pass legislation, but Trump has reportedly assured McConnell he would veto the Democratic version if it would emerge. What comes next is anyone’s guess.
Scott donates salary to USF
The list of needs to combat the current pandemic is endless. It includes seeking effective medications for treatment as well as vaccines to combat COVID-19 and others to come in the future.
This week, Scott announced he would donate his first quarter salary to the University of South Florida’s new Pandemic Research and Response Fund. The funding is intended to support response and training efforts, research, and the continued production of 3-D printed supplies for coronavirus testing.
“We, as Americans, have to come together to innovatively adapt and solve problems, and that’s exactly what USF Health is doing,” Scott said in a news release. “Their work to quickly develop Coronavirus testing supplies with 3-D printing technology will help us ramp up testing efforts nationwide and curb the spread of the Coronavirus NOW.”
USF Health was part of a joint effort that successfully produced and tested a 3D printed nasal swab to address emergency shortages that hospitals and health care teams may face as testing for COVID-19 increases. All testing showed that the 3-D printed swabs perform equally to standard swabs used for testing for COVID-19.
“Sen. Scott’s generosity is especially welcome at this critical time,” said Dr. Charles Lockwood, USF Health senior vice president and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine. “His gift will have an immediate impact on our fight against COVID-19 as we work to generate more COVID-19 testing kits, conduct research on alternative treatments, and care for patients in our region.”
Rubio, Senators urge home treatment
With the country mostly sheltered in place, concern for senior citizens venturing outside and risking exposure still exists. To that end, Rubio joined with several Senate colleagues in a bipartisan letter seeking to better protect older Americans from contracting the coronavirus
Rubio and his colleagues wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, encouraging both to develop ways to ensure beneficiaries can access necessary medications from their homes. This would minimize risking exposure to COVID-19 or overburdening health care workers as the battle against the pandemic continues.
“Unfortunately, Medicare beneficiaries in need of medical care or treatment for issues unrelated to the pandemic too often face a grueling decision, whereby they must choose between forgoing the services and medications they need by staying home or seeking care in a hospital setting or physician’s office,” they wrote.
“Many of these providers will be unavailable for patients not presenting with COVID-19-related illness, if not closed altogether, and even providers still offering other services may expose beneficiaries to a heightened risk of infection, due to the growing prevalence of COVID-19 patients at such facilities.”
The Senators added that necessary care and medicines must be provided in the safest possible setting, and “that setting is home.” Signing the letter were 18 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
A word please, Mr. President
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump revealed he is not a big fan of voting by mail, offering the potential for voter fraud as the foundation of his opposition. Despite voting by mail during last month’s primary, he urged his party to oppose the expansion of mail voting.
“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to statewide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it,” he wrote on Twitter. “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
While Democrats expectedly zinged the President for what was considered advocacy of voter suppression, some Republicans may seek intervention with him. The GOP has thrived in harvesting what was formerly called absentee ballots, especially in Florida, before advancing into the modern era of targeting and managing the return of votes by mail.
Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando described Trump’s use of voter fraud as “a trumped-up, fake problem that has been used throughout history to stop legitimate voters from voting — especially Black and female Americans.” Her Democratic colleague, Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, said limiting mail voting would “defraud voters of their constitutional right!”
While Republicans have thrived in mail voting and many would otherwise support expansion, some have expressed concern with “ballot harvesting,” where volunteers are allowed to collect multiple ballots of those voting in ways other than going to the polls.
Florida Republicans might wish to have a word with the President to point out that in 2016, about 58,000 more Florida Republicans voted by mail than Democrats, helping him win the state by 1.2%. In 2018, the GOP had 54,000 more mail votes returned, helping DeSantis win the election by 33,000 votes and playing a big role in Scott’s 10,000-vote win over Bill Nelson.
Dunn tests positive for COVID-19
A second member of the Florida delegation has tested positive for the coronavirus. Panama City Republican Neal Dunn revealed his diagnosis just days after his Republican colleague, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Hialeah, had recovered.
“I had an exposure over the weekend; a couple of days later, I felt sort of rocky,” Dunn said in a video released over social media. “I went into the emergency room, and the test came back positive.”
Dunn said he felt better the following day and has been working from home while awaiting test results. His symptoms were unlike those mentioned prominently during safety warnings that generally include fever, headache coughing and difficulty breathing.
“I had none of that,” he said. “All of my symptoms were gastrointestinal.”
He went on to thank everyone for doing their part to help contain the disease by their adherence to social distancing and “sticking with us and working with us as we get through this.”
“I think pretty soon, America’s going to be rebounding and being back to the way it was,” he added. “I’m gonna be OK; you’re gonna be OK, and America’s gonna be OK, too.”
Yoho backs Taiwan
One of the major complaints expressed by the U.S. against the World Health Organization (WHO) has been their exclusion of Taiwan from membership. By most accounts, they understood how to deal with the coronavirus, but were blocked from presenting their findings and strategy by the WHO and China.
The “Taiwan Model,” as it has become known, refers to the strict early steps Taiwan took to slow the spread of the virus, which has reported fewer than 350 confirmed cases and five deaths despite its proximity to mainland China. Additionally, the island has announced plans to donate 7 million protective masks to European countries and another 2 million to the United States.
Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville believes Taiwan, an island nation of 23 million residents, has done more than enough to earn a seat at the table with the WHO and other international organizations. They had earned applause from Yoho and many others on Capitol Hill for their excellent crisis management with COVID-19 and their ability to overcome the alleged misinformation from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) when the virus first surfaced.
The four-term Republican, who is the ranking member on the subcommittee overseeing Asia and the Pacific, has been an advocate for having Taiwan play a more prominent role in world affairs. He is entirely on board with their membership in the WHO, especially since their actions surrounding the virus have proved correct.
Also, Yoho is part of the growing call to withhold funds to the WHO for mistakes made in dealing with the virus. Besides excluding Taiwan, the group faces criticism for accepting China’s word that “no clear evidence” existed of human-to-human spreading as people were becoming infected and arguing against travel bans from China and Europe.
“(Trump) is right to call out #WHO for heavy reliance on #China & embrace of their propaganda machine,” he said. “We must reevaluate relationships with any multilateral organization that blindly follows malicious misinformation campaigns.”
Murphy, Soto seek safety equipment
Every day for two weeks, the pleadings by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) have been shown on live television. Two Central Florida Democrats have taken a page out of Cuomo’s book but on a slightly smaller scale.
Reps. Darren Soto of Kissimmee and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to immediately dispatch safety equipment to first responders in the Orlando area. Responding to what they described as an imminent shortage, they sent a letter earlier this week asking for these supplies “as soon as possible.”
They wrote that the Orlando Police Department (OPD) and the Orlando Fire Department (OFD) had received only 10% of the supplies they had requested and may run out within one or two weeks, a circumstance they described as “unacceptable.” The local requests include restocking of N-95 masks, gowns, and bottles of hand sanitizers.
“As you know, police officers, firefighters, and paramedics are putting their lives at risk every day, and they cannot be left unprotected from the threat of COVID-19,” they wrote. “We respectfully request that you work with the Florida Department of Emergency Management to fulfill these requests as soon as possible.”
They pointed to an expected receipt of supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile and wrote to advocate for Central Florida to receive their share of that shipment.
“We understand that PPE resources are scarce and that areas of the state most affected by COVID-19 have received priority consideration,” they continued. “However, such limited disbursement to central Florida is unacceptable. When Florida receives the coming shipment of materials from the SNS, we urge you to direct critical protective gear for law enforcement to OPD and OFD.”
Increased unemployment benefits urged
As the DeSantis administration was mobilizing resources to handle the onslaught of unemployment claims, two Tampa Bay Democrats were focusing more on the product instead of the process.
During a press call, Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg are asking the Governor to use his executive authority to increase the amount of benefits Florida’s unemployed can receive and the time frame they can obtain them. While this action would typically require legislative action, they argue that the Governor’s powers are broader during a declared state of emergency.
“They’ve already used their emergency authorities to make certain waivers,” Castor said. “There’s no difference … This is a crisis. It is an emergency. That’s why the emergency authorities are there.”
The state of Florida’s unemployment benefits is among the lowest in the nation providing $275 per week for a maximum of 12 weeks. The CARES Act boosts those benefits by $600 per week in all states.
“These people need this money,” Crist said. “Getting by on $275 and $600 from the feds is simply not enough.”
Castor and Crist both applauded DeSantis for the action he has taken to redirect staff from other departments to assist with the unemployment crisis and allowed the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to move forward with paper applications for those without online access. However, they lamented that the actions were not enough and came too late.
“What’s wrong with us?” Crist asked. “We have to have greater compassion and empathy.”
Nurses honored for contributions
This year the spotlight on world health is brighter than it has been in a century. In the middle of the tragedy of global panic, World Health Day celebrated the contributions of health workers April 7 with a reverence their contributions deserve.
The World Health Organization (WHO) focused on nurses and midwives in their Health Day message. This year is the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.
“This #WorldHealthDay, let’s salute all of the health care professionals and stalwart support teams who are keeping us safe & healthy through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Castor. “We are indebted to the workers risking their own health in order to protect everyone else.”
“God Bless our medical professionals today and every day for their selfless work battling the #coronavirus said Yoho. “Your tireless work is saving lives, and America is grateful. #WorldHealthDay2020”
On the same day, the WTO released the initial State of the World Nursing Report, which calls for “urgent investment in nurses.” According to the report, one out of six of the world’s nurses is set to retire in the next 10 years, while other concerns include the number lost or sickened during the ongoing pandemic.
At the same time, the WTO, especially its leadership, is under fire from Trump for “being wrong about a lot of things.” Among the items, he cited their opposition to his January ban on flights from China and called for a hold on funding from the U.S.
Scott accused the organization of doing “work for Communist China) and is seeking an investigation by Congress. Rubio praised WHO medical personnel, but called for the resignation of the WHO world leader, and also said he would work with the Trump administration “to ensure the WHO is independent … before we continue our current funding.”
Navy leadership in turmoil
The controversy surrounding Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly’s removal of USS Theodore Roosevelt commanding officer Capt. Brett Crozier came to a head this week. After visiting the ship and going into a diatribe calling Crosier’s actions “stupid” and “naive,” Modly submitted his resignation after an apology failed to quell the uproar.
Modly’s words and actions stood in stark contrast to the video of Crozier leaving the ship as several crew members chanted his name as he walked down the gangplank. Current and former senior military officers criticized Crosier’s actions in writing an unclassified email detailing his concerns for the crew that leaked to the press but were nearly unanimous that Modly’s handling of the matter was severely flawed.
Before Modly stepped down, Crist was among the first to call for him to resign. The St. Petersburg Democrat said that while there were “significant chain of command issues that require a full review,” Modly’s attack on Crozier was “unconscionable.”
“It brought drama and invective into an already challenging situation, and displayed incredibly poor judgment,” Crist said. “Acting Secretary Modly should resign or be relieved of his duties. He is unfit to lead our Navy or serve in any position of leadership in our armed forces.”
Later that same day, Modly’s letter of resignation was accepted by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who appointed Undersecretary of the Army James McPherson as the new Acting Secretary. McPherson will be the third Secretary of the Navy in six months, following the ouster of Richard Spencer and the sacking of Modly this week.
Steube proposes seniors accounts
There is no argument that seniors are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Those in retirement or near that age require the ability to afford quality health care as a rule, but the devastation caused to elders highlights the need to make care easily available to them.
Rep. Greg Steube said seniors face enormous challenges at the very time they need their health care the most. To that end, he joined with New York Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins to introduce the Senior Health Care Planning Account Act.
“Recent events have caused the value of seniors’ life savings to plummet, and, unlike younger adults, seniors have neither the time nor the future earnings to recover financially,” the Sarasota Republican said in a recent op-ed. “We must act to help our seniors, and do so in an innovative, effective and fiscally responsible way.”
The bill would allow seniors to roll over tax-free proceeds from settlements of life insurance policies, many of which would be near lapse, into Senior Health Planning Accounts. The accounts could be used only to pay health care expenses for the account holders and their spouses.
“The Senior Health Planning Account Act also could result in substantial taxpayer savings by using underutilized private assets to pay Medicaid expenses otherwise borne by taxpayers,” Steube wrote.
Delegation to Perdue: please hurry
The dire plight of farmers during the coronavirus crisis is an underreported dilemma, as most attention correctly goes to public health concerns. Last week, several delegation members wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, seeking his department’s help in buying up crops that are rotting in the field.
This week, another group, led by Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City and Soto, sent Perdue the equivalent of a “please hurry” letter. The letter cited the provision for agriculture relief in the CARES Act, but wrote to urge the quick delivery of help because imported vegetables are making the current situation worse.
“As we all consider efforts to maintain the economic drivers of our economy, we urgently ask for your support in providing relief to Florida farmers who are sustaining the double blow of abruptly lost markets during the COVID-19 pandemic on top of our ever-growing unfair competition from Mexican produce,” they wrote
“Given these dire circumstances, we urge you to provide on the most expedited possible basis all necessary relief to our Florida growers.”
Also signing the letter were Republican Reps. Steube, Dunn, Yoho, Mario Diaz-Balart, Bill Posey, Daniel Webster, Michael Waltz, Ross Spano, Vern Buchanan and John Rutherford. Democratic signees included Reps. Murphy, Demings, Mucarsel-Powell, Ted Deutch, Donna Shalala, Al Lawson and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
Deutch urges action for students
Among the many targets of the $2.2 trillion appropriated in the CARES Act were colleges and students. The bill provides $14 billion for institutions to continue paying faculty and staff, as well as helping with the cost of moving instruction away from classrooms to online education.
Half those funds are to be directed to student loan emergency grants that would include costs associated with food, housing, course materials, technology, or health care and child care. Deutch recently wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to ensure the money flows.
As Deutch maintained more must be done in subsequent legislation, the Boca Raton Democrat wrote: “It is imperative that you act now to ensure that students swiftly receive the $7 billion in emergency grants that Congress has already made available for them.”
With no direct payments provided for students aged 17-24 who may be claimed as dependents, or for their families who may claim them, Deutch said the only direct assistance available to these students are the emergency financial aid grants.
“While dramatic action is necessary to make access to college more affordable in America, there is a way to provide immediate relief to students struggling amid this global pandemic,” he added. “Your leadership at this moment is critical in helping to meet those needs.”
On this day
April 10, 2012 — Mitt Romney is now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party as Sen. Rick Santorum suspended his campaign for President. Santorum, who represented Pennsylvania in the Senate for 12 years, proved to be a formidable opponent for Romney, winning the Iowa caucuses and 10 other state contests.
He chose to make his exit speech in Gettysburg, site of the most famous battle from the Civil War, saying that while the campaign was over, “we are not done fighting.” Romney called Santorum “an important voice in our party and the nation.”
April 10, 2018 — Cybersecurity was the topic of a highly anticipated hearing before two Senate committees as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took questions — and a few zings — from Senators of both parties. They demanded details about how Facebook collects and uses the personal data of users.
Sen. Bill Nelson, the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, had a blunt warning for Zuckerberg if problems are not addressed. He looked at one of the world’s youngest billionaires and said: “If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix these privacy invasions, then we will.”