Over the last few weeks, Iowans from every corner and county of our state — our families, health care workers, local store owners, farmers, seniors, and so many more — have faced unforeseen challenges and hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having served our nation in uniform in times of crisis — in floods, in hurricanes, and in war — there’s no doubt our country faces one now. But it’s often in these challenging times when the American people band together and rise to the occasion, and this pandemic is no different.
We’re seeing it all across our state. Iowans are stepping up to help Iowans.
Take Ann Kingery and Megan Hoehns for example, two teachers at Knoxville Community School District. These two Iowans noticed that some of the residents at the West Ridge Specialty Care Center might need some additional entertainment due to social distancing. So, they started an Amazon “wish list” and were able to provide games and other fun items for the residents to use during the day.
Then there’s the Dubuque Mattress Factory, whose workers are making barrier masks from mattress materials. There are the folks at the Iowa Motor Truck Association who are helping provide meals to our truck drivers all up and down I-80. And, of course, there are the men and women of the Iowa National Guard who are working around the clock to deliver medical supplies and materials across the state.
Folks, this is Iowa: individuals helping one another out in a time of need.
These stories of “Iowa nice” inspire me to fight all the more at the federal level to get Iowans the economic relief they need as quickly as possible. While our Gov. Kim Reynolds has continued to be a steady hand for our state through these tough times, at the federal level Sen. Chuck Grassley and I have been working at a rapid pace, and across the aisle, to get immediate aid for our state’s workers and families, our small businesses, our seniors, and all those in our health care community who are on the front lines of battling COVID-19. We’ve delivered relief in three different phases.
Earlier this month, we helped pass a major piece of bipartisan legislation, “Phase 1.” This bill provided additional resources to our federal, state, and local partners and health officials right here in Iowa. The bill moved through the House and the Senate and was quickly signed into law.
And then, just a couple weeks ago, we finished and passed “Phase 2.” This was another comprehensive, bipartisan package which delivered relief specifically for Iowa’s families, workers, and seniors. It provides for free COVID-19 diagnostic testing, increases access to vital nutrition and food for our children and seniors, and provides emergency paid sick leave for workers and moms and dads across the state. And, just like with Phase 1, the president swiftly signed this into law.
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Just last week, we unanimously passed the bipartisan “Phase 3” package. In this third relief bill, we are coming to the aid of Iowa’s workforce and those in our health care system on the front lines of this pandemic.
Iowans in every part of our state — moms and dads, nurses and doctors, small business employers and employees, seniors and students, veterans and farmers — will get support from these relief packages. Here’s how …
First and foremost, Iowans will receive direct cash assistance — including our seniors. Those who earn $75,000 or less will get $1,200 each, and married couples earning up to $150,000 will receive $2,400, plus an additional $500 per child. Importantly, our seniors are included in these direct cash payments, even if they are receiving Social Security and are retired.
In addition, for our seniors, we’ve expanded Medicare’s telehealth services, which will help ensure folks can continue to access the health services they need from the comfort and safety of their homes. We’ve ensured traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage will cover COVID-19 tests and diagnosis at no cost to the beneficiary. We’ve also provided additional funding for aging and disability service programs that provide critical resources, such as home-delivered meals, which many of our elderly rely upon.
One of the most critical parts of this package — one that I made a top priority — was getting our health care workers and hospitals, those folks on the front lines of this crisis, the financial assistance and the equipment they need.
We provided direct financial support for Iowa’s hospitals and health care providers — including those in our rural communities — to help cover expenses and lost revenue due to COVID-19. We also significantly bolstered funding to our Strategic National Stockpile to increase the supply of face masks, gloves, and other critical personal protection equipment (PPE). In addition, after hearing from many of our Community Health Centers, I fought hard to include over $1 billion for these critical health care facilities that serve countless Iowans across our state.
As a member of the Small Business Committee, I’ve also made our small business community, which has been so deeply impacted by this crisis, a major focus. We expanded access to small business loans for all companies with fewer than 500 employees — including those who are self-employed, nonprofits, and child care providers. And these loans will be handled locally — something I worked to ensure. By having our local banks and credit unions make and approve these federally-backed loans for small businesses, we take the middleman out of the process and will more quickly deliver the aid to Iowa small business owners.
We also expanded the use of these loans. Small business owners will be able to use them for payroll support, including paid leave, mortgage interest, utilities, and other debt obligations. And, if they keep their employees on the payroll or rehire workers they already let go, these loans will be forgiven. This will be critical to helping Iowans keep their jobs so they can continue to collect a paycheck during this pandemic.
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We also bolstered unemployment insurance; made sure our farmers and producers get direct assistance and increased commodity purchases; eliminated the excise tax for alcohol used to produce hand sanitizer; waived student loan payments, principal, and interest for six months; improved access to care for veterans through additional medical services and telehealth; and so much more.
Finally, as a survivor of domestic violence myself, I’m pleased we are also providing for the women, men and children who are at a heightened risk during this crisis. We are sending support to our state’s domestic violence shelters and domestic violence coalitions — such as the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) — and nearly $2 million to bolster the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
This is an extraordinary situation, and it requires an extraordinary response. It’s all-hands-deck. I’ll continue to partner with our Gov. Kim Reynolds and folks at the state and local levels to make sure we get our families, small businesses, and health care workers on the front lines through this crisis.
These are tough times, but us Iowans will get through it — together. Stay safe and stay strong.
Joni Ernst represents Iowa in the United States Senate.