Congressman Sires’ March 21, 2020 Coronavirus Update
Congress continues to work daily in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and to protect all of our family, friends, and loved ones. The consequences of this public health emergency are far-reaching, varied, and evolving and I am committed to addressing all of its aspects.
Members of Congress have jointly sent letters to Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, heads of federal agencies, executives of major industries, and more to hold them accountable and directly shape policy moving forward. I wanted to share with you the efforts I have joined to include the voices of our community in COVID-19 related legislation.
Yesterday, I led a letter with other members of the New Jersey House delegation to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McCarthy urging them to include relief for public transit agencies like NJ Transit. These agencies will need assistance as demand virtually disappears in order to avoid layoffs and ensure that they are ready to return to normal operations once this crisis is over. I also sent an individual letter pushing House leadership to put American workers first when they are considering financial assistance to airlines. The airline industry has spent millions in stock buybacks over the last few years so Congress must include strong worker protection guidelines and corporate abuse prohibitions to prevent buybacks and executive bonuses.
On March 16th, I joined my colleagues from the New Jersey delegation to demand answers from the Department of Health and Human Services on why New Jersey received less than the needed medical supply from the strategic national stockpile (SNS), covering antiviral drugs, respiratory supplies, and ventilators. We also demanded a timeline both for providing New Jersey health workers with the equipment they need and when the SNS is being replenished. Later in the week, I wrote to the United States Trade Representative and the Department of Defense demanding that they prioritize finding the desperately needed personal protective equipment (PPE) that our health workers need.
The next day, I signed a letter that seeks to reauthorize and increase funding levels for Community Health Centers (CHCs) across the nation. CHCs are on the front lines of the COVID-19 response especially in vulnerable communities. That day I also joined a letter asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services to institute a special enrollment period so more people can find health insurance coverage.
On March 17th, I joined a letter compelling the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), and other federal agencies to issue a nationwide moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for all individuals in federally-assisted housing unable to make rent due to the public health emergency. I also requested that Wells Fargo, Quicken Loans, JP Morgan, and major financial institutions halt all foreclosure proceedings until the public health emergency has passed. This letter also asked Equifax, Experian, and Transunion to cease reporting missed payments, including hospital bills, mortgage payments, and credit card debt, incurred during the effects of the public health emergency.
This emergency will not just impact our nation’s health, it will also impact workers and the economy. Along with over 100 of my colleagues in the House, I demanded that working families be prioritized over wealthy executives and shareholders in any COVID-19 stimulus legislation. I also requested that the House Ways and Means Committee include freelancers, gig workers, and other non-typical employees in any unemployment relief efforts as many of them won’t qualify for traditional unemployment assistance.
As Congress continues to negotiate a third COVID-19 emergency response and stimulus package, I will keep pushing for the final package to prioritize those who need our assistance the most including health care workers, first responders, and employees in hard hit industries. I will be updating this website, along with my social media accounts, so that you can stay informed of national efforts to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. If you have any questions or need assistance please call my Washington, D.C. office at (202)225-7919 or send an email to NJ8inquiries@mail.house.gov. Together we can get through this.