Senator Joni Ernst hosted another tele-townhall with Iowans on Wednesday to discuss the COVID-19 situation.
“There is no doubt about it, we are taking an all-hands on deck approach to address this problem at all levels of government,” she said. “In the Senate, we have been working at a rapid pace across the aisle to get immediate relief for our families, our small businesses, our seniors and everyone being impacted. We are doing that in multiple, different phases.”
Phase 1 was focused on providing additional resources to federal, state and local partners and health offices.
Phase 2 provided relief for families, workers and seniors. It delivered free COVID-19 diagnostic testing, increased access to nutrition and food for kids and seniors and included emergency sick leave for workers.
Phase 3 gave support and resources for families, small businesses, healthcare workers and others.
“One other priority I’m working on is bolstering child care,” Ernst said. “Even before COVID-19, one of the most common concerns I heard from parents, especially in rural areas, was the struggle to find child care. And this pandemic has made the situation even harder.”
Phase 3 included $32 million in funding for Iowa to support access to child care, but Ernst said additional funding should be included in future assistance.
Sarah Reisetter, the deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, joined the call. She said the state is committed to fighting COVID-19 until a vaccine becomes available. She reiterated the importance of following safety guidelines despite Iowa reopening.
The first question asked was about when Iowa casinos will be allowed to open. Reisetter said that decision will be explored over the course of the next week.
Ernst discussed a proposal she offered to the Trump Administration to provide a payroll tax holiday and an income tax holiday for those who are considered essential workers.
“What we want to do is provide tax relief for all of those great folks who have been working throughout the pandemic,” she said.
It would be retroactive to the time the declaration was made through the end of the pandemic when the declaration is lifted.
“That would allow a lot of our workers to keep money in their own pockets and just reward them for being out there on those front lines,” Ernst said. “We are talking about a Phase 4 stimulus bill and what we are doing is prioritizing all of the things that our constituents have brought to us – things that we think will be possible. We, of course, want to make sure that we are supporting Iowans across the board in whatever situation they might be in.”
Reisetter answered a question about a newly discovered condition that causes a rash for children who come down with COVID-19. Reisetter said a couple potential cases emerged last Friday in eastern Iowa. Social distancing, she said, is important for children as well as adults.
The Department of Public Health is working with Gov. Kim Reynolds to increase testing for children, who up to this point have not been seriously negatively impacted.
Ernst was asked how employers can deal with workers reluctant to return for various reasons, including the fact they can make more money on unemployment than they can by returning to work.
She said she has no doubt that some folks may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from this event.
“This has been an extremely stressful time for farmers, small business owners, health care workers – just across the board,” Ernst said. “It’s just so extreme, and in Iowa, you are correct, 99 percent of our business in Iowa is small business.”
Ernst said she has talked with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin about extending the Payroll Protection Plan. The PPP helped businesses that were required to stay open, but it didn’t fit with restaurants, bars and other businesses that were forced to close.
“We’re already hitting those eight weeks,” she said. “And you are now just bringing your employees back, if you can get them back. We have asked the Treasury to go back, take a look at PPP and extend it for certain sectors of our economy, those who have not been able to reopen or stay open. I would say that the Secretary is starting to soften a little bit.”
Whatever the final product of a Phase 4 relief deal may look like, it will be important it is focused on COVID-19 related efforts.
“This is a real big concern that we do have, making sure as we’re working through Phase 4 that anything that is in this next package is focused on the pandemic,” Ernst said. “What we saw in the House was another $3 trillion of spending on many projects that were not related to the pandemic and that will go nowhere in the United States Senate.
“Our American taxpayers are not going to stomach another $3 trillion of spending for things that they have not been able to debate on public policy. So, what we want to stay focused on is pandemic recovery, making sure that we’re supporting the American worker and moving us out of this economic slump. We are putting our foot down in the Senate, we’re staying very focused on what we need to do in the future.”