Government

Lack of movement on COVID-19 relief 'unfortunate,' Ernst says

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on the nomination of Judge Just
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on the nomination of Judge Justin Walker to be a U.S. Circuit Court judge for the District of Columbia Circuit on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Caroline Brehman/Pool Photo via AP)

CEDAR RAPIDS — As congressional leaders continued to exchange public broadsides Thursday, Sen. Joni Ernst called for swift action to help Americans hit by the public health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our Iowa farmers, our families, our health care systems, our child care centers — you name it, we need relief,” Ernst said during a call with reporters. “We’ve got families out there that we know need assistance, and we would love to deliver on that assistance.”

The White House and congressional leaders had set a goal of reaching an agreement on another round of COVID-19 relief, but there’s been few signs of progress. Senate Republicans are offering a $1 trillion package while Democrats are holding fast to a $3 trillion House-passed package of benefits, which Ernst said included at least $1 trillion in spending unrelated to the pandemic.

A key sticking point is the extension of the $600-a-week federal unemployment benefit that expired at the end of July. Unable to reach agreement, Senate Republicans offered a one-week extension while negotiations continued. Democrats rejected that.

Ernst called it “unfortunate” there has been little movement toward an agreement.

“Republicans are standing by. We’re ready to negotiate, we’re ready to move on the package,” she said. “We just have to have a signal from the Democrats that they’re willing to work with us on this.”

Until Democrats make a counter-offer, she said, it’s hard to say what (Republicans) are willing to give. We want to know what’s important to them.”

Additional funding for organizations serving victims of domestic violence is one of the important points in the next coronavirus relief package, Ernst said. Those groups have seen a sharp increase in the need for service during the pandemic, she said.

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One of her priorities is more funding on top of the $2 million for the national domestic violence hotline that was included in an earlier round of coronavirus relief.

“These folks are facing funding and staffing challenges related to the pandemic,” Ernst said. There’s an increased need for crisis intervention, shelter and transitional housing, and legal assistance. “Folks in Iowa have also made it clear that our rape crisis centers need additional support to shift their services from in-person to virtual and meet the emergency needs of survivors.”

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

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