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Newsletter: My four priorities for the next stimulus bill

This newsletter was sent to WA-10 constituents on Monday, April 13th. If you'd like to recieve regular updates like this, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter.


The coronavirus has already taken a steep toll on families, workers and businesses across the country.

Nearly 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last three weeks alone. We haven’t seen unemployment numbers of this magnitude since the Great Depression. 

This is a challenge unlike any our nation has faced in my lifetime, and will require all of us, particularly at the federal level, rowing in the same direction. The most recent stimulus package signed into law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, was a promising first step. A crisis of this magnitude demands we continue taking bold, fast, and efficient action through to the end of the crisis. If we do, we can ”wake up” our hibernating economy when the pandemic is over--but we will only be able to minimize the long-term economic damage if we keep families afloat and workers on payrolls. 

The CARES Act was the largest in history, significantly expanding unemployment benefits and eligibility, sending direct payments to individuals of up to $1200, and committing more than $350 billion to paying wages and other bills for small businesses across the nation. But Congress must do more. We can’t let our foot off the gas pedal on responding to our dual public health and economic crises until Americans are back on their feet. 

As Congress begins drafting the next coronavirus stimulus and relief bill, here are the four provisions at the top of my priorities list: 

1. Prioritizing public health

Our economic crisis is a public health crisis. Public health experts have stressed that the only way to protect our communities, curtail the spread of the virus, and “flatten the curve” is to practice social distancing. For the health and safety of our community, that means economic activity across a wide range of sectors has dropped precipitously as people stay home. These are difficult steps to take, but keeping our community safe proactively through social distancing will mitigate the public health crisis and, in turn, staunch the long-term damage to our economy.

Here in Washington state, we know that these measures are making a difference. But there are still hard times ahead. Our public health response is and must remain our top priority as we navigate this pandemic. We must implement a long-term strategy towards containing the virus that involves aggressively testing, tracing and quarantining patients. We will only be able to pull that off if we continue arming our healthcare workers with the equipment they need for this fight, test as many patients as possible, and commit to social distancing until the virus has subsided. The most important thing we can do to get the economy up and running again is to stop the virus.

 

2. Resources for state and local partners

We are fortunate to live in a state that has tackled the coronavirus soberly and proactively from day one, and the federal government must be a strong partner in this response. The CARES Act created a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund for states, cities, and $8 million for tribes. This money was urgently needed, but far more must be done. That’s why any future package must include more targeted relief for local governments that were short-changed in the CARES package, and additional funds set aside for tribal governments.

Our state, local, and tribal governments are on the front lines of fighting this pandemic. The burden they have borne as they fulfill essential services and provide emergency response has swelled even as tax revenues have collapsed. The $150 billion included in the CARES Act is restricted to expenses related to COVID-19 response, but does not address these widening budget shortfalls. In the middle of a daunting public health crisis, we cannot afford layoffs and cuts to essential services at the local, state or tribal levels.

Much of the assistance Washingtonians rely on, such as the expansion in unemployment benefits or Medicaid, is being administered at the state and local level. These agencies are equipped with the expertise and established infrastructure to distribute this critical aid, and they’re working night and day to do just that. The federal government must step in and give our tribes and local partners a helping hand and equip them with the resources they need to cope with this unprecedented crisis.

3. Relief for renters and homeowners

Housing is the single biggest monthly expense for American families -- exceeding the costs of healthcare, food, transportation and education combined. Without a pillow, blanket, and roof, Americans cannot hope to isolate themselves from the disease now or overcome financial devastation in the coming months.

We must act directly to ensure that every American has a safe place to shelter for as long as the public health crisis continues. While no economic class will be untouched by this crisis, a disproportionate share of workers who will be hit the hardest are those who rent their homes. In good times and bad, rent is due on the first of the month. The expanded unemployment benefits included in the CARES Act are retroactive, but the first checks may not arrive by the time monthly bills are due. These tenants are still responsible for their rent payments, and landlords still need rent revenues to maintain housing units and pay their mortgages. In March, I introduced a bill that would provide $100 billion in emergency rental assistance, and I’m pressing the Speaker of the House to include this provision in the next stimulus bill. 

In addition to renters, I also believe the next stimulus bill must include relief for homeowners. This means clarification of forbearance policies, relief for mortgage servicers, and a study on impact to the mortgage markets. Our response must protect those in danger of losing their homes. I also have been a staunch advocate for funding for tribal housing in any future COVID-19 response package, as well as a significant increase in funding for existing homelessness programs and housing counseling agencies. We cannot afford to ignore those who need this support the most. 

We know all too well that dysfunction and defaults in the housing market can endanger the global financial system and further jeopardize our already precarious economy. Congress must act swiftly and aggressively to ensure that this does not happen. 

4. Sustaining our small businesses

Small businesses are the engine of our economy. Every small business that we can keep intact is one that doesn’t need to be rebuilt from scratch after the crisis. Every worker that we can keep on payroll is one that can avoid the disruption and pain of unemployment. The CARES Act created programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help and encourage small businesses to maintain payroll and pay their bills. Lenders and the Small Business Administration have seen an influx of applications, and Congress needs to empower them with the resources needed to ensure this program is working efficiently and small businesses can access this assistance smoothly. As the crisis continues, Congress must continue funding these programs, help agencies administer these benefits quickly, and provide additional, targeted assistance so small businesses hit hardest by this crisis can stay afloat. 

Did you miss my town hall on CARES Act assistance available to small businesses with Kerrie Hurd and Jeremy Field of the Small Business Administration? I encourage you to watch it on my Facebook page

What are the priorities you’d like to see included in the next stimulus package? Let me know. I’m grateful for your input as we tackle this challenge together. 

It is an honor to represent you in Congress. 

Sincerly,

Denny Heck