Emergency responses 'to keep families safe'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., right, bump elbows as they attend a lunch with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Kolby KickingWoman

Lawmakers press ahead with legislative action related to COVID-19

As the United States and the world continue to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, the executive branch and both bodies of Congress have both begun to put forward legislative proposals to stymie the fallout of the coronavirus.

Late Wednesday evening, President Donald J. Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office and said the United States has had an unprecedented, aggressive and comprehensive response. In time, he said, he’s confident the coronavirus will be defeated.

“From the beginning of time, nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges, including large-scale and very dangerous health threats,” Trump said. “This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond, and we are responding with great speed and professionalism.”

As part of his proposals, President Trump is suspending most travel for the next 30 days from Europe starting Friday, March 13 at midnight. He added there will be exemptions for American citizens that undergo “appropriate screenings” and it does not apply to trade and cargo.

Last week, President Trump signed an $8.3 billion bill to help fund the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies. He called for nursing homes to suspend medically unnecessary visits and advised for the reduction of large gatherings and social distancing.

Additionally, President Trump directed the Small Business Administration to provide low-interest loans to small businesses in affected areas and asked Congress to increase funding for the program by $50 billion.

Trump also called on Congress to pass legislation on payroll tax relief.

Lastly, he advised the public to take part in common-sense approaches to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.

“For all Americans, it is essential that everyone take extra precautions and practice good hygiene. Each of us has a role to play in defeating this virus,” Trump said. “Wash your hands, clean often-used surfaces, cover your face and mouth if you sneeze or cough, and most of all, if you are sick or not feeling well, stay home.”

In ending his address, President Trump sought to unite the country and encourage a bipartisan effort from the nation’s capital.

“We are all in this together,” Trump said. “We must put politics aside, stop the partisanship, and unify together as one nation and one family.”

As for the lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico, along with other Democrat members of the House, introduced an emergency food security bill that would boost SNAP benefits and delay the work requirement rule the Trump Administration had planned to implement.

“No family should have to worry about getting food because they’re sick and can’t go to work, but right now workers in our country are struggling to make ends meet because coronavirus is impacting work schedules and incomes,” Haaland said. “That’s why we’re introducing an emergency bill to make sure folks can feed their families during this public health crisis and prevent further unnecessary food insecurity.”

She also released a statement on recent confirmed cases in her home state, saying her team is in contact with health agencies at every level of government to keep people updated and safe.

“New Mexico should feel secure that we’re doing everything we can to address this public health emergency,” Haaland said in the statement. “The House passed a bipartisan funding bill that will help keep families safe and healthy, we are supporting paid sick leave and expanding food assistance for those who are struggling to make ends meet because coronavirus is impacting work schedules and incomes.”

During the second day of a Coronavirus Preparedness and Response hearing Thursday morning, Rep. Haaland questioned Dr. Ray Redfield, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about the capacity for adequate testing for COVID-19.

Haaland was seeking more information on testing after it was revealed a couple in Socorro, New Mexico tested positive for coronavirus after being on a cruise ship where the disease was known to be found.

Haaland said they were “doing their normal, everyday life for 10 entire days” before the state was alerted to have them tested.

“This adequate testing, I have to believe that it will reveal an exponential number of cases throughout the country and what is the responsibility to just make sure we are getting this information out to people?,” Haaland asked.

Dr. Redfield responded that tracking down people from cruises and planes is a complicated issue, with accurate contact information being a big key in finding these people.

“In the past, maybe 20 to 30 percent of the information we would get would be actually actionable. I’m happy to say now, we’re probably over 90 percent,” Dr. Redfield said. “We’re getting the manifests from cruise ships and working with local health departments to try to track these individuals when we do have a confirmed case.”

Representative Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, D-Kansas, also suggested a number of measures that Congress should take in order to mitigate the fallout of the coronavirus. Among the suggestions include: Medicaid expansion, paid sick leave and small business tax credits, tax relief and food security.

In a statement on March 11, Rep. Davids said members of congress have a responsibility to address the impact coronavirus has on public health and safety and financial security of families and workers.

“There are many more legislative actions Congress can and should take to mitigate the effects of coronavirus on our families and economy, all of which should focus on protecting the middle class and vulnerable communities,” Davids said. “As we move forward, I’m committed to working with members of Congress in both parties, as well as the President, to provide relief to families, support workers and businesses, and ease economic fallout.”

As for the other Native members of the House across the aisle, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee Nation, R-Oklahoma, has been active on Twitter advising people to check the Center for Disease Control’s website for updates on the latest information.

Through his Twitter account, he also said that the Oklahoma Department of Health has opened a hotline for Coronavirus inquiries.

The potential for an outbreak was something Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, R-Oklahoma, warned about back in 2017. At the time Cole expressed, “I promise you the president is much more likely in his term to have a deal with a pandemic than an act of terrorism. I hope he doesn’t have to deal with either one, but you have to be ready to deal with both.”

Rep. Cole said this in response to the Trump Administration who proposed cuts to programs that handle disease outbreaks like the one the world is going through now.

Also, in a Jan. 31 op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, Cole wrote the American public should take some comfort in the fact Congress learned lessons in the past from disease outbreaks like Ebola and Zika virus.

“Thanks to the bipartisan foresight of Congress and lessons learned in the past five years, the U.S. is in better shape today than at any other time in recent memory to confront a major public-health crisis,” Cole wrote.

In a more recent column on his official website, Cole wrote that the prior establishment of the Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund was a “lifeline” with more than $100 million immediately available that helped from the outset.

On the Senate side, a few senators have closed their offices in an effort to keep the virus from spreading on the hill. This comes after Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, had a member of her staff test positive for COVID-19.

Additionally, tours of the White House and Capitol building have been suspended until further notice.

Another proposal in Congress is to improve health resources along the border.

“People in New Mexico’s border communities deserve to feel confident that public health experts on the ground have the necessary resources to protect them and their families from public health risks and dangerous diseases. Especially at a time that communities across America are bracing for novel coronavirus, the availability of quality public health services and infrastructure should not be determined by your zip code,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico. “We know that this epidemic threat will not be the last, and by catching warning signs of diseases early, we can better protect not only border communities but our nation as a whole. This bill builds on existing partnerships with Mexico and Canada to address the unique health challenges in border areas, we can help ensure that residents have access to high-quality public health services.”

Continue to check back to IndianCountryToday.com and cdc.gov for the latest updates regarding COVID-19.

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/Gros Ventre is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

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