Congress jumps into virus fight with food, economic relief plans
Oregon politicians took aim at the COVID-19 virus, joining other lawmakers in proposing legislation to protect upcoming elections, helping schools provide student meals and aiding employees who might not have paid time off.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Senate Democratic leaders proposed new legislation Wednesday, March 11, to provide relief for cities and people hit hard by the novel coronavirus. Their COVID-19 Economic and Community Services Proposal was introduced by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Wyden, Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Mark Warner (D-VA).
The proposal would:
• Create emergency unemployment insurance for people quarantined by the COVID-19 virus.
• Provide paid sick days.
• Provide loan payment relief.
• Provide emergency rental assistance for people in quarantine. Also provide emergency mortgage assistance.
• Giving federal funding for small-business disaster relief. That includes new SBA disaster grants.
• Provide food assistance to people in need.
• Give child care providers, schools and colleges federal funds for preparedness and safety efforts.
No action has been scheduled on the legislation.
Wyden's separate Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020 would fast-track a national vote-by-mail system to avoid large gatherings at local polling places. Under Wyden's proposal, if 25 percent of states declare a state of emergency related to COVID-19 or other natural disasters, all states would have to offer an option for voters to mail in or drop-off a hand-marked, paper ballot.
"No voter should have to choose between exercising their constitutional right and putting their health at risk," Wyden said. "When disaster strikes, the safest route for seniors, individuals with compromised immune systems or other at-risk populations is to provide every voter with a paper ballot they can return by mail or drop-off site. This is a nonpartisan, commonsense solution to the very real threat looming this November."
Oregon is one of 34 states, with the District of Columbia, offering "no excuse" absentee voting by mail. The bill also requires states to offer postage prepaid self-sealing envelopes to voters. Wyden's legislation provides $500 million to fund emergency state vote-by-mail efforts.
"Protecting the integrity of elections and the ability of all citizens to participate freely in them is central to the functioning of our republic," said Alexandra Chandler of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit working to prevent American democracy from declining to a more authoritarian form of government. "This legislation is an important step forward in safeguarding our elections and the democratic participation of all eligible voters, including those who may be most vulnerable during a crisis. That's not a partisan priority, it's an American one."
School food programs at stake
Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici joined Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky Wednesday, March 11, to introduce the COVID-19 Child Nutrition Response Act. The bill creates a nationwide waiver authority allowing school officials to distribute food in any setting for students and their families during emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic.
Bonamici, a Democrat representing Oregon's 1st Congressional District, said the bill was necessary because more than 600 schools have closed, or a scheduled to close, because of the virus outbreak, affecting more than 430,000 students and jeopardizing access to free food programs. Nearly 22 million children receive free or reduced-price lunches at their public schools, she said.
"As we continue to take necessary precautions because of the coronavirus, we must make sure that students can access nutritious meals if their schools are closed," Bonamici said.
"In the wake of rising school closures across the country aimed at preventing further spread of the coronavirus, this bill is a critical step toward ensuring that our students maintain access to the school meals they rely on for their health and well-being," Comer said.
No action has been scheduled on the bill.
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