As you may have heard, yesterday, the House of Representatives debated and passed The Heroes Act, new legislation to address the continued public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill had more dissent than the four bills we previously passed to address this crisis. In the end, it had bipartisan support as well as dissent. I want to share my thoughts with you about the bill and why I voted for it.
The magnitude of this crisis and the profound impacts across our communities requires the Congress to do all we can to bring thoughtful, targeted legislation to protect the lives and livelihoods of Americans. We have the opportunity and responsibility to take action and respond to the needs of our districts and to support those who are putting their lives on the line for all of us each day.
Over the past several weeks as we have addressed COVID-19 in our community, I have been talking with our elected officials, public health officials, business and community leaders, health care providers, small business owners, and so many individuals about how they have been affected by this pandemic—and how I can help.
The Heroes Act addresses so many of those needs. It provides critical funding directly to local governments—to Harris County, the City of Houston, Bellaire, West U, Southside Place, the Memorial Villages, Jersey Village and Katy—by a formula to pay for increased COIVD-19 expenses and to make up for lost revenue. It also provides greater flexibility for the use of the funds, which is something leaders in our area have specifically requested from Congress. What does that mean for us? It means funding to prevent furloughs or layoffs of city or county employees – law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMTs, sanitation workers, and the many others who provide essential services in our community that we rely on. It means funding for health care services, and for the extension of those services – like the 300 contact tracers Harris County is hiring to help contain and manage the virus. And so much more. The total amount of funding has drawn criticism from some, but leaders in our area have told me how important this funding is to manage this crisis. In total, more than $4 billion would be directed to our area over the next two years, when experts predict we will continue to see major economic impacts.
The Heroes Act also supports our small businesses and makes critical improvements to the Small Business Administration loan programs (PPP and EIDL) that many constituents have asked me to help enact, extending the repayment period from two years to five years and extending the time period to use the funds. The bill also gets additional financial assistance directly to families. My office has received many calls from neighbors who have lost their jobs and need help with unemployment are and concerned about losing their health care. This bill expands COBRA benefits to address the urgent need. With unemployment at nearly 15% across the country, and the devastating decrease in demand for energy that we see each day here at home, this economic assistance to our neighbors and businesses is much needed.
Importantly, The Heroes Act ensures that we can begin to re-engage and re-open our businesses and public places by providing funding and a program to test, trace, isolate, and treat this virus, which our medical professionals and public health officials have explained to me is absolutely essential to containing and mitigating the spread of the virus. We all want to move forward, and we have to take the steps that will enable us to do so.
Here is a summary of what The Heroes Act will do. (If you would like to see a more detailed summary, you can see one here and more here):
- Commit $75 billion for the testing, tracing, and treatment of COVID-19 to implement a science-based path to safely reopen our country and helping ensure that every American can access free coronavirus treatment.
- Provide critical funding for state and local governments to pay for the increased expenses of COVID-19 and to make up for the revenue shortfalls that are a result of the pandemic – funding pay the health care workers, police, fire, emergency medical personnel, sanitation workers, teachers and other vital workers who are keeping us safe and keeping our community running. The Heroes Act will also establish a $200 billion Heroes’ fund to ensure that essential workers receive hazard pay.
- Put money in the pockets of families with a second round of direct payments of up to $6,000 per household (including additional dependents), new payroll protection measures, and extending weekly $600 federal unemployment payments through next January.
- Support small businesses by strengthening the Paycheck Protection Program, extending relevant deadlines for use of the funds and repayment of the loans, reaching underserved communities and including nonprofit organizations of all sizes and types, and adding grant funding to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
- Provide common-sense protections for Americans, including for:
- Health security — with COBRA subsidies and a special enrollment period in the ACA exchanges for those without insurance
- Housing security – with $175 billion in new supports to assist renters and homeowners make monthly rent, mortgage and utility payments, and other housing-related costs.
- Food security – with a 15 percent increase to the maximum SNAP benefit and additional funding for nutrition programs that help families put food on the table.
- Workplace security – requiring OSHA to ensure that workplaces develop science-based infection control plans and protect those who report problems.
- Provide new resources to ensure safe elections, an accurate Census, and preserve the Postal Service.
I am also glad that two of my bills to bring relief to our district and to people across the country were included in The Heroes Act: one to protect hospitals from Medicaid cuts and one to ensure small businesses that take out PPP loans can deduct expenses on their tax returns.
The bill passed the House (208-199), and now it will go to the Senate for consideration. I am hopeful that the Senate will take it up, or will respond with an alternative proposal. That is how the Congressional appropriations process typically works each year. I am hopeful that our community’s critical needs will be reflected in a final, bipartisan bill soon so we can move forward with this important work.
It is an honor and a privilege to represent you in Congress. As we continue facing this challenge together, I will continue to partner with our community and bring our ideas to Washington. My team and I are here to help in any way we can—so please do not hesitate to call to my office to share your thoughts or get help. That is what we are here for.