Written by Aaron Cerbone in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise on March 20, 2020

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik said Wednesday that money coming from the federal government to help small businesses and people cope with the economic impacts of coronavirus should be focused on the people who need it most.

She also said the United States should have started seriously testing for the virus sooner than it did, said hospitals will need cash from the government to successfully fight COVID-19 and is asking constituents to follow the professionals health recommendations.

A coronavirus bill package passed this week ensures that anyone — whether they are covered by private insurance, medicare, medicaid or if they are uninsured — can get free coronavirus tests at a doctor’s office or emergency room. Stefanik said the main problem is that hospitals are short on testing supplies.

She said she supported bills that allow private labs to test swabs. She also said rural hospitals will need more support.

“Hospitals are going to bear the brunt of this cost, particularly if these numbers continue to go up, which they likely will,” Stefanik said.

She said the next focus of Congress will be to infuse hospitals with capital.

Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said she has spent the recent days in Saratoga County, working the phones with Homeland Security, county emergency services task forces and school districts, addressing constituent issues as coronavirus spreads through New York’s 21st district and alters nearly every aspect of daily life.

Stefanik said she appreciates the drastic measures the state of New York has put in place to respond to this “unprecedented” situation.

“It’s tough for businesses to face these mandates coming from the state, but they are important steps in order to stem the growth of (coronavirus),” Stefanik said. “I do think the sooner we focus on the public health aspect, the faster we’ll be able to get back to businesses continuing business as usual.

“It’s important to stay vigilant and follow public health recommendations,” Stefanik added. “I think it’s going to be a challenge as we continue to potentially see the numbers increase.”

Stefanik said she supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request for President Donald Trump to declare a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) declaration over New York. Stefanik said this is important because it helps small businesses recover and get through the hard time as soon as possible.

“We need to set aside partisanship right now and really just come together to get through this difficult time,” Stefanik said.

Asked about the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19, Stefanik said it was quick to block travel to hot-spots around the globe, which she supported.

“If you remember, the president took criticism from the left on that decision,” Stefanik said. “I think looking back, that was a really important decision to make.”

She said that the country should have ramped up testing capabilities sooner, opening it up to private labs.

Asked if the administration downplayed the seriousness of coronavirus initially, Stefanik said the country, as well as countries around the world, were not prepared for the virus. She said there will be plenty of time to look back at lessons learned after the crisis is over, and for now wants to focus on the future.

On Jan. 22, when asked if he was worried about a pandemic, Trump said the U.S. had coronavirus “totally under control.” On Feb. 26 he claimed the number of infected individuals was going to drop to “close to zero.”

“It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle. It will disappear,” Trump said on Feb. 27.

Stefanik talked about “cash infusions” — stimulus money for restaurants, hospitals and individuals coming on hard times during the general shutdown of society.

She said that low interest business loans have been proposed in the next legislative package to help restaurants and hotels pay their bills, but supported even stronger measures.

“I think that low interest loans are not strong enough. I think there need to be zero-interest loans from the small business administration without the bureaucratic red tape,” Stefanik said. “These are small businesses that haven’t closed since they’ve opened, for decades. They didn’t even close on 9/11. This is really unprecedented territory.”

On Wednesday a bill package expanding paid sick and leave days for many employers passed the House and was signed into law. There are limitations in this bill, excluding companies with 500 or more employees.

Stefanik said that companies that big can provide their own pay leave packages and that small businesses need the relief more.

Stefanik also said that people who have been laid off or are not earning their usual hourly wages,“need an immediate infusion of capital to get through this tough time.”

“I think it has to be focused on the people that need it,” Stefanik said. “Obviously, for higher-income individuals who have their jobs, they do not need it at this moment.”

Stefanik said the government needs to give financial support to workforce training programs, especially in the child care, health care, senior care and manufacturing fields, as their services are becoming more needed.

She mentioned supporting Mold-Rite Plastics in Plattsburgh, which produces caps for pill and hand sanitizer bottles.

Stefanik said China cannot be trusted anymore to manufacture pharmaceutical products for the U.S.

“China needs to be held accountable for the misinformation and their refusal to share accurate information with other countries around the world, which would have allowed us to stem the growth of this virus,” she said.

While she is not sure what those consequences would look like, on Thursday she cosponsored the Protecting our Pharmaceutical Supply Chain from China Act, which prohibits several federal departments from purchasing Chinese-made goods.

“We have become far too dependent on China, and it is time that we equip our domestic pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to be able to efficiently produce these items here in the United States,” Stefanik wrote in a press release.

On Thursday Stefanik became an original cosponsor of the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act, which protects healthcare professionals from lawsuits when they volunteer during a federally-declared disaster.

“Ensuring those who volunteer their time and expertise are adequately protected is a top priority,” Stefanik wrote in a press release.

She also led a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging them to proactively waive all federal testing, accountability, and fiscal requirements for elementary and secondary schools.

“With schools focused on ensuring students have access to meals and finding ways to continue learning during closures, the federal government needs to provide more certainty and relief,” Stefanik wrote in a press release. “Teachers and school leaders have enough on their plates – it is time for a one-year pause on all federal testing requirements. Secretary DeVos has taken steps in her power to allow states and districts to pursue testing waivers because of the COVID-19 crisis. However, these steps do not eliminate burdensome paperwork and uncertainty for local school districts. A blanket waiver will require congressional action, and I urge my colleagues in the House to come together to ease the burden on teachers and school districts.”

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