Wednesday night, both U.S. Senators Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, and Doug Jones, D-Alabama, praised Senate passage of HR748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
This major legislation contains $2 trillion in funding that both the Senate and White House claim would bring critical relief and provide resources to the American people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This comprehensive package will bring much-needed relief for the people of Alabama and our nation during this mounting emergency,” said Senator Shelby. “I am glad we have finally been able to advance these resources and help protect Americans throughout the country. I am confident that this legislation will pave the way for us to overcome the current economic and public health crisis we are facing, allowing us to emerge stronger on the other side.”
“Tonight, the Senate came together to pass a much stronger, bipartisan bill that will get more money to working folks, small businesses, and our health care workers on the front lines—but this won’t be our last step,” said Senator Doug Jones. “In the meantime, take care of yourselves & each other, folks.”
The CARES Ac passed by a vote of 96 to 0.
The bill provides resources for state and local governments straining from the effects of the pandemic; support for hospitals and health care workers; funding for medical equipment; support for law enforcement and first responders; funding for scientists researching treatments and vaccines; aid for small businesses; support for local schools and universities; and funding for affordable housing and homelessness assistance programs.
Shelby’s office said that he measure contains provisions, that will impact Alabama:$150 billion for State and Local Governments; $45 billion for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund; $1.5 billion for State and Local Preparedness Grants;$3.5 billion for Child Care Development Block Grants; $250 million for Hospital Preparedness; $100 billion for Reimbursements for Health Care Providers; $30.75 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund; $400 million for First Responder Grants; $10 billion for Airport Improvements Grants; $1.5 billion for Economic Development Administration Grants; $450 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program; $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program; $349 billion for Small Business Administration Loan Guarantees; $425 million for Mental and Behavioral Health Services; $265 million for Small Business Grants for Counseling, Training, and Related Assistance; $300 million for Fishery Disaster Assistance; $850 million for Byrne JAG Grants; and $23.5 billion for Support for Agricultural Producers.
The legislation also provides $339.855 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to aid Americans during the Coronavirus crisis. More than 80 percent of the total funding provided in the Coronavirus emergency supplemental appropriations division of the package will go directly to state and local governments.
This package follows two previous Coronavirus emergency relief bills passed by the Senate to provide relief for the American people during this unprecedented time. The first emergency supplemental package was passed by the Senate on March 5, 2020, which provided $8.3 billion in total resources to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the Coronavirus. The second legislative initiative – the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which passed the Senate on March 18, 2020 – provides flexibility for the Departments of Treasury and Labor to assist small businesses, establishes emergency paid family and medical leave for those affected, and increases unemployment benefits and food aid.
“The recently negotiated Senate stimulus deal will be great for Alabama,” said Trump finance committee member former State Representative Perry O. Hooper Jr. (R-Montgomery). “Adults in Alabama, making up to $75, 000 would receive payments of $1,200 and their children would see $500 dollar checks.”
“Furloughed employees will be eligible immediately for up to 4 months full pay,” Hooper added. “Small Alabama businesses will receive financial assistance they need to keep their doors open. I commend Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer who put aside their political differences to work for America. They worked around the clock with the White House team of Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and newly appointed Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in hammering out this deal. Now it is up to the House. I pray that speaker Pelosi does not play games with everyday Americans economic livelihood and leads the House in passing this bill by unanimous consent.”
The Senate has now adjourned, meaning that the CARES Act has to be passed as is by the U.S. House of Representatives. Upon passage in the House, the legislation will advance to the President’s desk for his signature.
Critics of the bill argue that it increases the national debt and there is no plan to pay for it with either new taxes or with budget cuts. The national debt is already $23.6 trillion and the deficit is $1,268 billion and this and the forced economic shutdown will only worsen the deficit further adding to the already skyrocketing national debt.
1032 Americans have died from COVID-19 as of press time, with 473 dying in the past two days alone. 21,297 people globally have died. 7,503 Italians have perished, more than any other nation. In the U.S. there are presently 67,063 active cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. 1,455 are currently in serious or critical condition; while 394 Americans have made a full recovery from their illness.
The authorities recommend that Americans shelter in place rather than going out and potentially contracting and spreading the virus.
Brooks urges COVID-19 antibody tests
Congressman Mo Brooks joined a bipartisan letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as the Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority urging that HHS rapidly deploy COVID-19 antibody testing.
“Americans must work for the good of their families, our economy, and our country,” Brooks said. “At the same time, America must minimize or eliminate COVID-19 health risks. Many Americans have beat COVID-19 with minimal or no adverse health effects. They did so with their own COVID-19 antibodies. COVID-19 antibody testing, followed by harvesting of COVID-19 antibodies and injection of them into sick patients, is a very promising, potential COVID-19 treatment and cure. As such, I encourage Secretary Azar and Director Bright to deploy these antibody tests rapidly and widely to help America’s medical profession acquire another weapon in the fight against COVID-19.”
Brooks joined Congressman Bill Foster, D-Illinois, and Congressman Ami Bera, D-California, in leading the bipartisan letter in support of their efforts to encourage innovation in COVID-19 testing, and urging them to rapidly deploy COVID-19 antibody tests that have met accuracy and safety standards as rapidly and widely as possible.
Simple antibody tests have been developed by U.S. companies and have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These serological tests detect the immune system’s response to viral infections, including COVID-19.
These tests can identify people who have already acquired immunity to COVID-19, and who can safely re-enter the workforce, travel and return to normal life.
“It is imperative that the United States does not continue to be behind the curve on COVID-19 testing, including on the antibody testing that will be vital as we eventually restart the economy and which will take place only after a large fraction of the population is confident that they are immune to infection so that it is safe to work, travel, and return to normal life,” Foster said. “It will be an unnecessary economic tragedy if our citizens remain cowering at home because we failed to provide them with the simple, inexpensive means of proving their immunity – the tests should be deployed as rapidly and widely as possible. This must be followed by the ability for individuals to reliably certify that they are immune to COVID-19 so that they can return to normal life – especially for workers in critical industries like healthcare and food.”
“The reality of COVID-19 is that many Americans, especially the younger population, will have gotten the virus without them knowing because either their symptoms were too mild or because tests were not available at the time they got sick,” said Congressman Bera, M.D. “Serological testing is an easy and quick method to check if Americans have acquired COVID-19 immunity. As a doctor and Member of Congress, I strongly urge the Administration to deploy these tests as rapidly and widely as possibly. Serological testing would allow for many Americans to safely re-enter the workforce, providing a boost to our economy.”
The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of 113 Members of Congress.
“Restarting the economy after the coronavirus pandemic will take place only after a large fraction of the population is confident that they are immune to infection so that it is safe to work, travel, and return to normal life,” the letter read. “This will happen when a proven vaccine is widely deployed, but this is likely more than a year away. In the meantime, much of our population, especially the young and minimally symptomatic, will have already acquired immunity to COVID-19, not through vaccination, but by getting infected and recovering. Most of those who recover will not be certain they had COVID-19, either because the symptoms were too mild, or because tests for the virus were unavailable at the time they were infected.”
“Fortunately, a so-called serological test that detect the immune system’s response to a viral infection, including to COVID-19, could provide such a reasonable assurance,” the letter continued. “The simplest serological tests involve a finger-prick to deliver drops of blood to a disposable cartridge which can deliver an answer within minutes. No special equipment is needed, and tests like this could be readily obtained at doctor’s offices or drive-thru test centers. It is imperative that serological tests be rapidly deployed to all Americans, so that the people who have acquired COVID-19 immunity can re-enter the work force and restart the economy.”
“We applaud the FDA for acting rapidly in granting provisional approval of the first of these tests, and BARDA for providing a funding opportunity for ramping up manufacture,” the Congressmen went on. “It is now vital that the U.S. does not drop the ball on coronavirus antibody testing since it tells us who can safely return to work. It will be an unnecessary economic tragedy if our citizens remain cowering at home because we failed to provide them with the simple, inexpensive means of proving their immunity. Each one of these inexpensive test kits can add many thousands of dollars to GDP by allowing someone who has recovered from COVID-19 to return to the productive economy.”
As of press time, 9,620 Americans have died from COVID-19. 336,851 Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, which is caused by a strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Only 17,977 of these have fully recovered. Of those suffering, 8,206 are in serious or critical condition. In Alabama, 1,841 have contracted the illness and 45 have died; while another 231 are hospitalized. 20 Alabamians have recovered from the illness.
Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District.
Alabama may need 2,500 more ventilators. It’s having to compete to get them
Alabama may need 2,000 more ventilators than it has, and it’s being forced to compete with other states to get them on the private market.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday that the Alabama Department of Public Health is attempting to source its own ventilators as a number of hospitals in the state are already struggling and asking for more.
The state requested 500 ventilators from the federal government through the Department of Health and Human Services and the national strategic stockpile. It asked for 200 of them to be delivered urgently.
“HHS has indicated that they’re not going to fulfill that anytime soon because they’re still taking care of places like New York City,” Harris said in an interview with APR.
When Alabama nears an expected surge — say 72 hours before hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed with patients requiring life support — they may be able to make the extra ventilators available.
So Alabama, like a number of states, is being forced to try to source ventilators on its own through the private market, where hundreds of hospitals, all the other states and other countries are trying to do the same.
Harris said he signed a purchase order Thursday for 250 more ventilators.
“We’re waiting to see, and then there are others that we’re waiting to hear from,” Harris told APR. “We’re doing our best to try to source these in any way that we can.”
“We’re attempting to source those ourselves, but as you know, all the states are looking to source their own and in some measure competing with each other,” he said a press conference Friday evening when Gov. Kay Ivey announced a shelter in place order.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said Thursday that Alabama will likely make additional requests, but there are only 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile and in the U.S. Department of Defense surplus. And with every other state in the country also requesting these supplies, the federal government has said that states should not rely on the national stockpile to bolster their ventilator capacity.
By Friday, nearly 1,500 people were confirmed positive with the virus. At least 38 have died. Dire models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — models that influenced the state’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order — project that by mid-April, Alabama could have a massive shortage of ventilators and hospital beds.
“The timeline I think makes sense and the time when we’re expected to have a surge is the part that was most useful to us,” Harris said. “We’ve been trying very hard to get an order in place with regards to this surge that we expect to happen.”
The model estimates that Alabama could have a shortage of 20,000 hospital beds, 3,900 intensive care beds and more than 2,000 ventilators.
At least 3,500 ventilators would be needed at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-April, according to the IHME model. Last month, Alabama Hospital Association President Donald Williamson said the state has a surge capacity of about 800.
The same model projects that about 5,500 people could die from COVID-19 in Alabama by August. However, the model is live and is regularly adjusted. Earlier this week, it suggested that 7,000 people could die by August.
Harris said the state, over the past couple of weeks, has added a few hundred additional ventilators to its capacity by converting anesthesia machines and veterinary ventilators for use on those infected with the coronavirus.
“Yet, even with adding all of those ventilators, going up by a few hundred units, which means to tell you that we’re still using around the same percent of all of our ventilators even though the number [of ventilators] is going up,” Harris said. “So we know that there are more patients on ventilators.”
The state health officer said some hospitals in the state are already struggling but others are cooperating to share resources.
“They are really working hard to make sure that they have what they need, and we’re trying very hard, along with the governor’s office, to make sure that Alabama has enough inventory,” Harris said.
Alabama municipalities may be left out of $2 trillion stimulus package
As the largest economic stimulus in American history flows to states and municipalities around the nation, stipulations in the two-trillion dollar emergency fund may leave Alabama cities out altogether.
As enacted, the third stimulus bill, the CARE Act, directs funding for states, and local governments, the catch is that the act only allocates funds for municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more.
No city in Alabama has a population of 500,000, leaving an unanswered question as to who gets what and who gets nothing?
The state has 463 municipalities spread out over 67 counties. Not one has a population nearing half a million yet each one is experiencing the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are working with Treasury and the Governor’s office to understand what municipalities can expect,” said Greg Cochran, deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities.
Alabama will receive $1.9 billion from the stimulus package, as a block grant, which could be allocated in a 55-45 split, according to the League’s estimation with around $1.04 billion to the state and $856 million going to local governments.
“Currently, there is little guidance on how those shared resources are to be distributed to local governments,” said Cochran. “Nor is there clear directive that those resources are to be shared with local governments with less than 500,000 populations.”
The National League of Cities is also seeking clarification from Treasury Department on these questions and guidelines to ensure funds are shared with local governments.
“Congress is working on a fourth stimulus bill, and we are working diligently with our Congressional delegation, NLC and other stakeholders to have all cities and towns are recognized for federal funding assistance,” Cochran said.
However, on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt on a fourth package, saying that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s needed to “stand down” on passing another rescue bill. “She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis,” as reported by The Washington Post.
Alabama’s biggest cites, Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, are already facing strain under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak.
But so are smaller cities like Auburn, Hoover, Madison, Opelika and others. Lee County and Chambers County have far more cases of the virus per capita than the state’s more populous counties.
“I was not really happy with the way that they limited the money,” Jones said, adding that the money could go to counties with 500,000 or above. Jefferson County would qualify for that.
Jones also said he would like to see more money for city and county expenses not directly related to COVID-19 like fire and police. “We’re going to have to do what I think we can to backfill some of the expenses,” Jones said.
In addition to health and welfare concerns for residents during the COVID-19 calamity, cites are dealing with what is certain to be a downward spiral on tax revenue and other sources of income and a subsequent rise in costs. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that at least 90,000 people have applied for unemployment compensation in the state over the last two weeks.
“Knowing that our municipalities will experience a loss in revenue because they rely on sales, motor fuel and lodgings taxes, we are urging our state Legislature to be mindful of actions they take when they return regarding unfunded mandates/preemptions,” said Cochran. “Additionally, we are concerned about the adverse impact this could have on 2021 business licenses, which are based on sales from 2020.”
The combined population of the state’s two biggest cities, Birmingham and Montgomery, do not equal 500,000, the threshold for receiving funds under the Care Act.
Cochran says that the League is working tirelessly to find answers as to how local governments can participate in Congress’s emergency funding.
Brooks releases road map for completing defense appropriations bill despite coronavirus crisis
Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, on Wednesday released the House Armed Services Committee road map for completing the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“National defense is the #1 priority of the federal government. Despite the once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic, the House Armed Services Committee stands fully committed to passing the annual National Defense Authorization Act,” Brooks said. “The NDAA has passed Congress 59 consecutive years. I will work to ensure FY 2021 is no different. I thank Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Thornberry for their leadership and commitment to passing the FY21 NDAA in the face of COVID-19 challenges. While the process will be different, I am confident the final House Armed Services Committee product will be no less effective at securing America.”
Committee Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry’s attached the March 31, 2020 letter providing HASC’s plan to have the NDAA ready for committee debate by May 1st.
The letter was addressed to Members of the Committee on Armed Services, including Brooks.
“We want to update HASC members and staff on plans for our committee during the month of April, given the nationwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith and Thornberry wrote. “One challenge is deciding how to handle meetings of the committee and subcommittees since all such meetings for April will have to be held by conference call or video conference.”
“We must continue to exercise our oversight responsibilities and prepare to pass the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) out of committee and off the House floor,” the letter continued. “Our goal is to have the bill ready to go by May 1st, and we will schedule the date of the mark up once the House schedule for the next few months becomes clear.”
“First, we want you all to understand that because of House rules we cannot hold public hearings or classified briefings in the formal sense like in normal circumstances,” they explained. “We will have to do what can best be called, informal events.”
“Public hearings are required to be open to the public,” the leaders of the HASC committee wrote. “They also require a quorum, involving the physical presence of members. Neither of these things are possible to achieve in conference calls or video conferences. Obviously, we also cannot have classified briefings over the phone or on video. There is no way to set up secure connections amongst the number of people that would have to be involved.”
“Informal events, therefore, would take the form of the full committee or the subcommittees doing video or phone conferences and linking up the necessary members, staff, and witnesses,” the letter continued. “We have one such informal event, set for April 1st with Department of Defense officials to discuss their response to the pandemic. This will be a conference call.”
“We believe that future informal events like this for the month of April make sense, and welcome any suggestions from members on appropriate topics and witnesses,” Smith and Thornberry continued. “But, we hope members will keep in mind some of the responsibilities that will need to be balanced in deciding when to pull together such informal events. We face three significant limitations during the month of April when it comes to setting up these informal events. First, HASC staff and members, as they always are in the month leading up to finalizing full and subcommittee marks, are spending an enormous amount of time doing the work necessary to get the mark done. In fact, we did not plan on having a significant number of public hearings or briefings in April even before the shutdown happened due to this staff workload. Second, these are not normal times. As we’re sure all of you have been doing, we and the HASC staff and everyone at the Department have been fully engaged on managing the pandemic crisis. It is a complex problem and the Department plays a crucial role. We are all working countless angles to address the crisis and that crucial work must be given priority. Finally, efforts to prevent the spread of the virus among Department personnel and others will without question limit the ability of the Department and other witnesses to be available at times in the coming month.”
Smith and Thornberry wrote that these informal events are needed for to get the bill done, while exercising the necessary oversight of the Department.
The informal events are meant to substitute for normal public hearings and briefings and are not the only or even the main thing that the committee is doing.
Social distancing and the prohibition on meeting with more than ten present has made it difficult for Congress to fulfill many of its duties.
Congressman Mo Brooks is serving in his fifth term representing Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Brooks recently won the Republican primary. Since he has no Democratic opponent this means that Brooks has been effectively re-elected to his sixth term in Congress.
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