Source: United States House of Representatives – Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02)
Honolulu, HI—Today, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) hosted her weekly tele-town hall meeting to update Hawai‘i residents about COVID-19. Darin Leong, an unemployment attorney who has worked with Hawai‘i community leaders to raise awareness about relief programs available to employers and employees, as well as Hilton Raethel, the President and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i joined the Congresswoman on the call. Together, they discussed relief and response efforts as well as answered questions from constituents.
This was the eleventh of a weekly coronavirus-related live telephone town hall series Rep. Gabbard has hosted since the pandemic began to impact Hawai’i.
“Week after week we hear from residents across the state about how they are impacted by this pandemic. This town hall helps people get direct answers to the questions and concerns they have,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “As many experts warn of a possible second wave outbreak, we have to remember that this outcome is not inevitable. Let’s make sure we’re taking the necessary precautions and continue to improve our testing capacity to prevent any second wave from occurring. I want to thank Hilton and Darin for sharing their expertise and helping Hawai‘i’s residents navigate this crisis.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard began the call with an update on an expected vote on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) extension bill in the House tomorrow. It would provide businesses more time and flexibility to make qualifying expenditures for loan forgiveness, extending the time businesses have to use the funds, and eliminating the limit on using funds for non-payroll expenses — a concern a number of residents have raised in previous town halls. The bill would also allow businesses with forgiven loans to defer payroll taxes.
She also noted that even though the legislation before Congress tomorrow will help address some of the concerns around the PPP program, there are a number of other challenges with federal relief efforts that need attention. She reiterated her call for an emergency monthly non-taxable Universal Basic Payment to all adult Americans until COVID-19 no longer presents a public health emergency. Rep. Gabbard was the earliest Member of Congress to introduce legislation for a Universal Basic Income-like payment as a temporary economic stimulus package to directly and immediately help Americans as they weather this crisis.
Darin Leong reiterated the importance of tomorrow’s vote on improvements to the PPP program. Having a broad understanding of the different challenges faced by the full range of employees and employers in the state, he helped callers better understand the relief programs available to them.
Hilton Raethel noted that Hawai‘i has the second lowest COVID-19 death and lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the country. He discussed the impact that the pandemic has had on the healthcare system in general, and emphasized the importance of preventive care measures as Hawai‘i opens back up. He also noted that Hawai‘i will be dealing with this pandemic for several more months, and the continued role that safety measures — including social distancing, mask wearing, and sanitation — will play in preventing a resurgence of infections.
Rep. Gabbard and her guests answered questions during the call on issues ranging from testing, to help for renters, to qualifications for unemployment insurance, and the challenges ahead as the state reopens — particularly making sure the state has sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing capacity to prevent a new wave of infections. Hitlon Raethel also noted that Hawai‘i has increased its PPE supply, noting the Congresswoman’s leadership on this front and Congressional support to secure needed medical supplies.
Protecting and Providing for Americans During the Crisis
In March, working with Hawai‘i’s Congressional Delegation, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard sent two letters calling on President Trump to support Hawai‘i’s request for medical equipment, supplies and resources for the state.
Securing Emergency Funding
The HEROES Act would also fund personal protective equipment (PPE) purchases for frontline workers as well as hazard pay to essential and frontline workers. The bill would ensure smaller businesses get relief resources, extends the $600/week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation as well as the Pandemic Extended Unemployment Compensation for gig economy employees. Finally, it included Native Hawaiians in funding provisions for education, employment as contact tracers, mortgage payment assistance, and housing block grants.
To date, Congress has passed 4 emergency funding bills that have been signed into law:
H.R.6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (on March 4)
H.R.6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (on March 14)
H.R.748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (on March 27)
H.R.266, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (on April 23)
Calls for Preventative Measures
In early April, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called for the resignation of Hawai‘i Department of Health officials Bruce Anderson and Dr. Sarah Park because of their repeated failures that put the health, lives and well-being of the people of Hawai‘i at risk. She added that should they refuse to step down, Governor Ige should fire them.
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