With the coronavirus pandemic becoming more serious every day, what is Congress doing to help Americans affected by it? KVCR’s Benjamin Purper spoke with Congressman Mark Takano of Riverside.
Mark Takano says the Congressional response to coronavirus so far has been the Families First Act, which includes free coronavirus testing, expanded family and medical leave, paid emergency sick leave, unemployment benefits, and more.
Takano: “Specifically it mandates two weeks of paid sick leave, which many many Americans don't have, and expands the number of workers that can be covered by paid sick leave. It expands, it requires paid family leave which is paid at a lesser rate, that's the paid sick leave is full pay, sick leave, family leave is up to 3 months, and I think a third major component is shoring up our unemployment benefit systems. The bill expedites the speed at which laid-off workers can access unemployment. Another important thing I was reminded of is, I was just on a conference call with some of my colleagues in the California delegation. There's been the work requirement for SNAP has been removed, and that's important because people are going to need access to food. And food banks are being shored up by this legislation as well.”
Takano also has concerns about the availability of testing kits for COVID-19.
Takano: “I personally view this is as a big national embarrassment, that we are in a situation where we are unable to identify people who have the virus in a very timely manner, it makes it very difficult for public health officials to do the kinds of investigations that are necessary to contain this virus. Hence, we're having to resort to a very strict policy of public distancing. And look, we all have to step up and do what's right for the community. So given the, the bottom line is testing is scarcer than it should be. And the availability of tests are being triaged to those who need to be tested, you know, first. And that is I think an accurate statement of the state of affairs right now. It is also true that there are efforts to improve the rapidity at which testing is available and expand capacity. But the limited capacity means that all of us, all of us have to contribute to preventing the further spread of this virus, to minimizing its spread, so that our health systems do not become overwhelmed.”
Takano says small businesses are a top concern of his during this pandemic.
Takano: “The small businesses, that is of top concern as I talk to City Councilmen locally and supervisors, county supervisors. Restaurants, small businesses that often have very tight cash flows, maybe two weeks, and there was a lot of ideas that I heard my colleagues talk about on the conference call I just got off of with the California delegation. And among them, making sure that we enhance unemployment benefits. One of the things that got taken off, that got eliminated in the last Republican tax cut was a way for businesses to estimate their losses for some sort of tax credit. And we need a mechanism for small businesses to estimate their tax losses or their losses so that, there's some way in which Congress can come to their aid. You know, there's talk about the availability of low-interest loans, but I really think that businesses need more than low-interest loans, they're going to need some way to tide themselves over for what could be more than just a few months. And I think there's a strong awareness among my colleagues that we have to think big and boldly and more specifics to come, that's the best I can tell you right now, but I want to tell you that small businesses are really weighing heavily on the minds of members of both sides of the aisle.”