CORONAVIRUS

Ernst wants families, small businesses prioritized in federal aid package

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks during an October 2019 fundraiser in Cedar Rapids. On Wednesday, she said Congress is working qui
Sen. Joni Ernst speaks during an October 2019 fundraiser in Cedar Rapids. On Wednesday, she said Congress is working quickly on aid packages in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Sen. Joni Ernst is calling for swift congressional action to help people cope with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Iowa Republican said she can’t say at this time if she would support proposals to send $1,000 checks to American adults to replace about two weeks of their wages.

Direct payments, similar to what the federal government did during the Great Recession of 2008, are part of the discussion, Ernst said Wednesday before the Senate approved a package to provide sick leave, unemployment benefits, free coronavirus testing, and food and medical aid to people affected by the pandemic.

That wasn’t soon enough for Iowa Democrats, who said Ernst and the GOP-led Senate should have stayed in session last weekend. The Democratic-controlled House approved the aid Saturday before going on recess. It plans to return to Washington Thursday.

“Health care providers are starved for medical tools and safety equipment, and economic relief for workers and families cannot wait on more hold-ups and delays,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Mark Smith said after the aid package was sent to the president. “Ernst must show the leadership this crisis demands, use her rank in GOP leadership to end Mitch McConnell’s legislative roadblock, and pass urgent relief for Iowans who cannot afford another delay.”

He’s on the same page as Ernst, who told reporters “we need to move swiftly to help Iowa’s families and employees through this.”

“Folks, we need to move swiftly to help Iowa’s families and employees through this,” she said in a conference call with reporters.

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“Maybe it’s the military in me,” said Ernst, a retired Iowa National Guard officer, “but I believe it’s our duty to the American people” for members of Congress to show leadership.

Ernst is looking at a three-phase response to the economic impact of the pandemic.

Phase 1 was the $8 billion in emergency funding Congress approved to provide resources for federal, state and local authorities to combat the COVID-19.

Congress is working on the second phase, which, while it “isn’t perfect, focuses on our families and our workers in times of crisis” by addressing paid sick leave, nutritional support for children and seniors, Ernst said.

Ernst repeatedly emphasized the need to support working families and small businesses, and to provide that assistance as effectively and efficiently as possible, whether that’s as direct payments or in some other form.

Asked about a bailout for industries, such as airlines, the Iowa Republican said Congress must “make sure that we are balancing critical needs of America’s workers and our families ... (which) obviously will come first. I am adamant about that.”

In any discussion, she said, “it always needs to be our American workers, our families, those small businesses, something that’s very important to Iowa, they need to come first.”

Ernst said she’s heard from ethanol producers concerned about the impact less travel will have on prices and demand for their products. She’s also heard from agriculture interests worried about news that Mexico may close consulates and stop processing visas for farmworkers.

Ernst acknowledged fears of the pandemic are causing a recession.

“I hope that we are all wrong and that we bounce right back and this virus goes away,” she said, noting that if there is a silver lining, it’s “the fact that we moved into this pandemic having a very, very strong economy.”

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Likewise, Ernst has concerns about the impact a nearly trillion-dollar stimulus package would have on the national debt and deficit.

“But you know what, we are in unprecedented times. This is uncharted territory,” she said “As I’ve said time and time again, our American families are going to come first.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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