On Senate Floor, Portman Highlights Benefits of CARES Act to Address Coronavirus Impact on American Families, Workers, and Employers
WASHINGTON, DC – This evening on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks highlighting the benefits of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which will help American families, workers, and employers large and small around the nation weather the enormous impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Portman voted in support of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave, small business aid, and additional help for individuals and families in Ohio and across the nation. The measure has already been signed into law by the president. Portman also hosted a number of conference calls with outside stakeholders, such as employers, hospitals and health care providers, small business owners, workers and more to help inform his discussions with his colleagues in the Senate as well as the Trump Administration as they work to finalize the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Mr. President, we not only can and we should, we must. We must pass this legislation. I was very disappointed to see that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle chose to vote no on even the ability to move forward with debating this legislation tonight. And to my colleague, the Democratic Leader, who said this is a highly partisan bill, that’s just not the case. Let’s put the partisanship aside. Let’s do what’s best for the American people. I will tell you that over the past several days, through a bipartisan process, we sat down, Democrat and Republican, in four different task forces and we put together the elements of this legislation. As a result, the bill before you tonight, the one we’re talking about, reflects Republican priorities and Democratic priorities. And I’m going to take the time to walk through it and to talk about some of those so people understand what’s in this legislation. I was pleased to see the Democratic Leader say at the end he believes we can figure this out over the next several hours. He said 24 hours. I hope it’s not 24 hours. We can’t wait that long. We need to move and move quickly. We see what the markets are doing globally. We know what the markets are going to do here. We’ve seen what the futures are. More importantly, we see the impact in our states, among our citizens.
“The Democratic Leader said more money needs to be put against hospitals, and states and workers. There is an unprecedented amount of money for all three of those in this legislation, unprecedented and necessary, by the way, because we are in a crisis. But to say there’s nothing here that helps hospitals, oh my gosh. I’m going to talk about this with specificity, but $100 billion -- $100 billion? Pretty good start, $75 billion of which goes to hospitals. To say there’s nothing for workers? The unemployment insurance provisions in here come from the Democratic side of the aisle. It’s the most generous unemployment insurance plus up by far ever in the history of our country. It actually adds more money to unemployment insurance than the current system has. By the way, it adds eight times more funding into the unemployment system for the rest of this year than is currently being spent. Think about that. That’s not generous? And, by the way, we Republicans also agree that those who lose their job through no fault of their own should be able to get a generous unemployment check while we work through this coronavirus and get our economy back up and going again.
“So let me walk through some of this. This coronavirus is something that is urgent for us to address. It’s closed businesses, it’s closed schools, it’s changed every aspect of our daily lives. It’s left us uncertain and for many Americans, it’s left them isolated, literally self-isolated. It’s put tremendous strain on our health care system, and that’s why this legislation addresses that. Our amazing first responders, our EMS, our police officers are doing their part, as well as our physicians, our nurses, other medical professionals on the front lines combating this disease. God bless them. It has also done great damage to what was a strong and growing economy. Only a few weeks ago we had unemployment numbers that were a 50-year low. We had 19 straight months, as of last month, of employment increases and over 3 percent wage growth every month. But now we see businesses shuttering. We see thousands, and now millions, of Americans unemployed through no fault of their own. The purpose of this legislation is to allow people to get back on their feet, to allow us to get back to normalcy.
“Extraordinary times like this requires us to unify as a country. And I see it in my state of Ohio and around the country. Everybody has a role to play. Everybody needs to be practicing social distancing, as they call it. Being safe, washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer. Part of the strategy of flattening the curve as you’ve seen when you see Dr. Fauci and others make presentations is we need to reduce our overall risk for exposure so we don’t overwhelm our nation’s public health system. We can all play a role in this. And in the end that will help save lives of our family members, of our neighbors, of our friends, of people we may never meet but we come in contact with, and the most vulnerable in our society if we follow the guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC guidelines, we’re going to be safer. We’re going to save lives. It all depends on us. All of us doing that.
“But it also depends on what we do here in the United States Congress, both in slowing the spread through the legislative efforts I’ll talk about tonight, but also in getting this economy back on its feet so people can get back to work and get a paycheck and begin to make ends meet. In Ohio we’ve been taking the lead on this. We have been pretty aggressive at saying people need to social distance, that restaurants and bars needed to close. We were one of the first couple of states to say that. Schools needed to be closed. Governor Mike DeWine, our Ohio Department of Health, Dr. Amy Acton is the director, I think they’ve done a good job in responding to this unprecedented crisis.
“As of this morning we have 247 confirmed cases and three deaths. By the way the first person to die in Ohio was a man I know. I knew him and I respected him. His name was Mark Wagoner, Sr. from Toledo, Ohio. He contracted this disease and succumbed to it. Unfortunately, we’re going to see more cases, we’re going to see more deaths, but we’re doing the things to begin to contain this, to begin to slow the spread and that needs to happen at every level, including here and that’s why this legislation is so important to pass tonight. Two weeks ago Congress started this effort by passing the first major relief effort called Phase One which was $8.3 billion to address the health care needs associated with this pandemic. Ohio has already received $15.6 million, by the way, from that first Phase One legislation. But, of course, much more needed to be done.
“By the way, one way we can find out what needs to be done is to listen to the people who are most affected by it and we’ve been doing that. I was joined by an infectious disease expert from the University of Cincinnati, Dr. George Smulian on a Facebook live town hall last week so that we could answer questions from Ohioans about this crisis. He told us what the health care system needs. We know what it needs and we’re responding in this legislation. Last week, I hosted conference calls while I was here in Washington with a number of heavily impacted groups, including the hospitals back in Ohio and other people in health care -- health care providers, with our food banks, with our small business owners, with workers, with nonprofits from all around the state, the charities who are out there on the front lines doing all they can to help. We spoke to employers of all sizes, we had conference calls with hotels, with restaurants and more.
“Hearing directly from these stakeholders helped us to understand what the needs are, and this legislation reflects what the needs are in our communities. We’ve got to continue to listen to people because things are changing and as there is an evolving threat out there, Congress needs to be evolving as well. So last week, we passed the second major bill called the Phase Two package, which provides federal funds so individuals exposed to the virus can get healthy. As an example, if you want to get tested for the virus, that is now free.
“Our hospitals needed more resources to combat the health crisis so we provided more care, more funding for our health care network. I’m glad the president signed that bill immediately into law. We also provided additional resources to state Medicaid programs to shore up hospitals concerned about losing revenue with no elective surgeries anymore and concerned about being overwhelmed by an influx of individuals suffering from the virus. Phase Two also provided needed help in terms of more masks, more gowns, other protective gear, and more funding for the antiviral therapies that are coming. That’s incredibly important that people know if they get this virus they can have something like Tamiflu for the regular flu, that gives them a lot of reassurance and comfort and is necessary to protect the health of our citizens.
“That Phase Two legislation also puts more money into getting the vaccine going as quickly as possible. It’s not going to be here soon. It takes a while to get a vaccine going. But it will be done at an unprecedented speed because of the funding we’re putting into it. It also provides for an expansion of emergency food assistance, including for children who relied on free or reduced lunch from their school cafeteria, and no longer have access to those meals. It also provided paid sick leave and family leave benefits so someone who has to leave work because of the coronavirus, now knows they can still pay the bill. Most importantly, this paid leave is provided 100 percent from the federal government dollar-for-dollar, not on the small businesses. That’s really important. Larger businesses tend to have paid leave, but now we have a way for everybody under 500 employees to be able to get that paid leave through the federal government reimbursement.
“It’s good we acted on Phase One and Phase Two, as I’ve talked about, but it’s clearly not enough. Things have not gotten better in the meantime in the last few days. They’ve gotten worse. A lot more has to be done to contain this virus to help people weather the storm in the meantime. The crisis is unprecedented. In the best interest of public health we have effectively chosen to pump the brakes on our economy. We decided to do that as a country because it is in the best interest of our public health, but unfortunately that means that businesses of all sizes -- small, medium, large -- are having to either shutter their doors or slow down their production letting people go. So many parts of our economy now are feeling the pain of this rapid slowdown. Applications for unemployment in Ohio this week as compared to last week increased 20 fold. That means there was a 2,000 percent increase in Ohio on claims for unemployment. Obviously, that’s overwhelming the system. I’ve worked with my colleagues nonstop over the past three days to put together this Phase Three package that will provide some relief to the millions of American workers and small businesses who have made our country and our economy the strongest in the world.
“Our goals are simple. First, slow the spread of the virus. Again, if that doesn’t happen, people’s health is at risk, and the negative economic impact that is hurting so many families will continue. So slowing the spread of the virus is not just about the virus, it’s also about our economy. Second, we need to help employers to continue paying their employees through this crisis. Our objective should be to keep people at work, keep them connected to their employer as much as possible. That’s where they get their health care. That’s where they get their retirement for the most part. That enables us to be able to ensure that as we ramp up our economy, it can ramp up more quickly because people will be there at work. There won’t be the process of hiring and retraining.
“So one of our objectives in this legislation is not just to slow the spread of the virus but also keep people at work to the extent possible. And third, recognizing that not every employer is going to be able to keep employees, even those who have some business going don’t have enough business. We want to be sure we’re providing the resources to help those individuals. These are the people who are falling between the cracks. They can’t stay at work because their work no longer has any revenue. We need to assist those people. Again, as we have talked about, Ohio’s unemployment claims have skyrocketed, but so have unemployment office claims all around the country.
“The bottom line is that our country is not going to be able to come back until we slow the spread of this virus. I’m pleased to say that the Phase Three package we have negotiated, by the way, accomplishes all three of those objectives, all three. We do it through four major policy areas. We do it now, right away, to bring relief to the people we’re representing, which is why we’ve got to pass this legislation and pass it now. First in terms of helping people, this Phase Three package provides direct payments. These are direct payments, checks to individuals. $1,200 per person. If you’re a couple, it’s $2,400. And then it’s $500 per child. That check getting out to people will give people some extra dollars to make the difference in being able to pay bills, paying a car payment, paying rent, being able to put food on the table. It will give people some comfort to know there is at least a little help coming directly and quickly.
“For those who are out of work, these checks also serve as a bridge to getting into the new unemployment insurance system I’ll talk about now. Because the checks are going to be necessary in that in most states, it’s going to take a couple of weeks, a few weeks, in some states several weeks to set up this new system. In Ohio, they say two weeks. This is the most significant expansion of our unemployment insurance system in history, by far. It’s going to significantly expand the number of individuals who are eligible to receive benefits, particularly the self-employed, so it broadens those who qualify for unemployment insurance. These folks, by the way, have never been covered by unemployment insurance before. What’s more, it provides a flat increase of $600 per week per person in the unemployment insurance system. This means that for low and low-medium income folks, let’s say $40,000 to $50,000 a year, they will essentially have wage replacement now through unemployment insurance. This is a big difference. In Ohio, unemployment insurance is one-third of your wages for those same individuals. Now it will be topped up. So to the point earlier that this is a highly partisan bill, I’m sorry -- this legislation reflects the priorities of Democrats and Republicans, and this is an example of that. And we have to acknowledge it.
“Is the bill perfect? No, no bill is perfect, certainly not when we’re trying to respond to a crisis like this and we’re pumping out more of our federal tax dollars and borrowed federal treasury dollars than ever in the history of our country through this process when you add up this Phase One, Phase Two, Phase Three, but this is a bill that represents ideas from both sides of the aisle. Are there some things that might need to be adjusted by the Democrats in order to support it? I guess so, because that’s what we heard tonight from the Democratic Leader, but we cannot start over, folks. This legislation does exactly what so many Democrats have called for, and Republicans, to be able to help people, to have the financial security to pay their bills and to stay afloat. By the way, we also provide funding to the state employment offices so that they can have federal funding to deal with their administrative costs as they shift to this dramatically new system that’s being provided through this legislation. So that’s for people, directly.
“Second, the stimulus package is going to provide relief for small businesses that are trying to stay afloat by ensuring they are going to have access to credit and liquidity needed to adapt and retool their businesses to weather this storm. We’re going to accomplish this in a couple of ways. One is through a major expansion of what’s called the Small Business Administration 7(a) loan program. This is going to go through businesses that are currently providing funding to small businesses, so it’s a community bank. It’s the savings and loan. It’s the credit union. It’s the regional bank. Wherever people are banking, they will be able to get these loans directly. Specifically, we’re providing hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to small and medium-sized businesses they can use for a variety of expenses, including payroll. Including paying rent, paying mortgages. By the way, if they use it for that, the loan is forgiven. It really converts into a grant. If they use it for payroll -- again, let me repeat -- to keep workers, because that’s one of the objectives here, if they use it for rent, if they use it for mortgage payments, the loan is written off entirely. It essentially is a grant to those small businesses. This is why the small business community is excited about this because they want to keep their employees. They want to keep their doors open, but they are waiting, and they are waiting. They are on the edge of their seats seeing what we do tonight and tomorrow. I’ve talked to many businesses back home who are saying, ‘I can wait until Monday, but I can’t wait any longer. I’m bleeding cash. I have no revenue. I want to keep my people. I want to try to keep the doors open. You’ve got to give us some help.’ As I said before, the best way to protect workers and get our economy back up and running is to enable employers to keep paying their employees. This new program for small and medium-sized businesses does just that.
“For businesses that might not be eligible for these SBA loans, Phase Three stimulus helps provide immediate liquidity through a number of different ways. These are larger businesses, say over 500 employees. One is through the tax code, specifically our bill includes provisions that allow businesses to put cash in the hands of companies so they can keep their workers employed and be ready to get back and running when the crisis is over. By the way, these tax incentives are things like not having to pay the employer side of the payroll tax, a 6.2 percent FICA tax. That’s incredibly important to these businesses. They've told us that -- ‘Give us a break on that for this year, 2020, and we can keep more people, and we can keep our doors open.’ That is probably the biggest single one here. But guess what? In 2021 and 2022, they have to pay that back. So the best part of these tax incentives is that a large majority of them are simply timing changes meaning that while there are direct reductions in taxes now in 2020 when they need it, much of that reduction is going to be paid back in coming years. Based on the rough estimates we’ve seen, these tax provisions could provide up to $500 billion in immediate cash flow increases, again with more than half of that paid back to the federal government during the budget window.
“Third, the Phase Three package takes precise and targeted measures to relieve particularly distressed industries that are at risk of hemorrhaging jobs and closing down if we don’t. I know the Democratic Leader said he doesn’t think help should go to businesses. I understand the Democrats actually want to give more help to some businesses, so I guess they will pick and choose the businesses, but in this case, these are the businesses we all know are unfortunately facing the possibility of shutting down unless we do something. Think of the airline industries. Think of the airlines that right now have seen their passengers be reduced by 80 percent, some say 90 percent. Think of the airports that are closing. Think of the hotel businesses. Think of the other travel and tourism businesses, entertainment businesses. So these folks will be able to access what’s called the Exchange Stabilization Fund to be able to get a loan. And by the way, they will have to pay back that loan, but it is the federal government stepping in and providing a backup so that they can get that loan and be able to stay in business.
“So that’s the three aspects that help workers, that help small businesses, that help with regard to all businesses, and then finally and I think most importantly perhaps in this legislation is funding and policy changes to slow the spread of the virus. Frankly, as I view this, this is to buy time. It’s to buy time for us to be able to increase the capacity of our health care system. This Phase Three package ensures that the men and women who are on the front lines of this epidemic every day get more support. It increases funding, which we have already increased once, but an additional $4.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control. That $4.5 billion, $1.5 billion of it has to go to the states. This is going to ensure we can continue to monitor and respond to this virus as this pandemic continues. I think this is incredibly important.
“It also sends more money out to ensure that we can get these antiviral therapies going. Think of Tamiflu for influenza, something that is key to dealing with this crisis as we begin to turn things around is going to be having an ability to keep people healthier, should they contract the virus. To me, maybe the most important parts of this legislation, because I believe in order to get our great country back on track and get people back to work, we need to have some sort of metrics in place. So maybe the most important part is to get better data on the true public health risk that’s out there, and this legislation does that. It enables us to know, now that we have more and faster testing out there finally and we needed more testing earlier, but now that we have that, how many new infections are there? That’s probably the best measurement we have out there. How many new cases are there?
“This legislation provides the funding and provides the direction to support the public health officials at every level to get better and more acceptable results every day, report it to the CDC. From your local health authority, from your state Department of Health. Those should be reported publicly every single day, but also all that data needs to come to the National Centers for Disease Control every day so that we can know truly what’s going on out there because we don’t have that data now. And to have that data is going to give us a better understanding to be able to measure both the crisis as it stands and the health care risk we all face but also measure success as it starts to happen, because we need to be able to measure that success to get people back to work, to get people back to their families, to get people back on track in their lives.
“So this bill provides an increase in funding for health care, a major increase in addition to what I just talked about. About $100 billion for hospitals and all health care providers, with $75 billion being appropriated to HHS in order to be able to support our health care systems in a more flexible manner. About $30 billion in Medicare payment increases for hospitals that are directly treating patients with coronavirus. This is what they’re asking for. Finally, we have a couple key proposals that we have championed over the years to support people with disabilities, particularly in institutional settings, that are at increased risk of contracting the virus. That’s in this legislation. We have the Money Follows the Person program which supports transitioning Medicaid beneficiaries from dangerous settings, which some of them are in, where there is a lot of activity, into home-based long-term care. That’s important, too.
“As I said earlier, these are exceptional times. Not since the influenza epidemic of 1918, 102 years ago, has the United States of America been so swept up by a health care crisis like this. I’m pleased with some of the steps we have taken so far at the federal level to respond to this pandemic. We talked about them tonight. Phase One -- $8.3 billion push focused on health care. Phase Two -- beginning the process of helping workers and helping people get back to work and helping health care more. Now Phase Three, which is an unprecedented amount of support from American taxpayers to ensure we can get people through this, help them weather the storm. And again, these are Republican ideas and Democratic ideas through a process where we had four task forces that were bipartisan, we worked long hours. I was part of one of those task forces. Now we need to get this legislation passed. The American people deserve it. They deserve a Congress that does everything in its power to minimize the damage caused by the coronavirus. So let’s put the partisanship aside, let’s get to a vote on this package as soon as possible. Not 24 hours. Let’s do it now. Let’s do it now. We owe that to the people we represent.”