*ICYMI* Rep. Huffman Joins Telephone Town Hall to Engage with Aging Americans on COVID-19 Federal Response
San Rafael, CA – In honor of Older Americans Month this May, Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) joined AARP for a telephone town hall to discuss the government’s response to the enormous challenges that the coronavirus crisis poses for the nation’s aging population. During the event, Rep. Huffman answered live questions from constituents on topics ranging from safety in nursing home operations to concerns over religious institutions reopening. The event took place on Friday, May 29, 2020.
Discussion themes included voting procedures for the upcoming election, whether social security benefits will be reduced, how vulnerable populations (such as those with Alzheimer’s or developmental disabilities) are being protected, what to expect from additional stimulus packages, and oversight to ensure true small businesses have access to assistance.
Excerpts from the event can be found below, and an audio file of the full event can be accessed here.
Federal Response to COVID-19
“As your Representative of Congress I consider it my job to make sure the federal government does its part to support seniors and other vulnerable Americans. The COVID-19 crisis is on all our minds, let’s just take a moment to have a brief overview of the federal response so far and what I’m doing beyond that. Since the pandemic began, Congress has taken significant and historic action. That includes legislation such as the CARES Act, The Family First Coronavirus Response Act, a number of large, bi-partisan pieces of legislation that had been enacted into law. Most of that has focused on the immediate impacts, a triage for consequences of the pandemic that came upon us very quickly. We pushed billions of dollars out to the National Institute of Health, CDC, our Public Health infrastructure on a Federal level so they could get to work on testing and stockpile challenges we knew were coming our way.”
Federal Resources for Communities
“Whatever issues we had with testing and protective equipment stockpiles have not been for lack of resources on a federal level, early on we made $8.3 billion dollars of funding available and we’ve added onto that. We’ve made major appropriations for hospitals and clinics who we knew would right away have to make changes to their facilities and their staffing and operations, and so we wanted to mitigate against those impacts. Major, historical amounts of funding for tribes and local governments to deal with the immediate impacts of this pandemic.”
Conditions in Nursing Homes and Care Facilities
“How is Congress addressing challenges in nursing homes and other care facilities. In a recent AARP poll, 9 out of 10 Americans each 50 and older would support federal action to assist nursing homes and other care facilities. A substantial majority of older American adults are in favor of the legislation Congress is considering, including helping public health workers PPE, require nursing homes and care facilities to disclose the active number of Coronavirus cases they have and require facilities to make video visitation available for residents and family members. Would you share your thoughts on those bills and specific actions?”
Rep. Huffman’s Response:
“I couldn’t agree more, we need to include specific provisions for nursing homes. We’ve seen a concentration of coronavirus outbreaks, my own mother-in-law is in a nursing facility in Texas and she contracted the coronavirus in that facility. Thankfully she is recovering, but we’ve experienced these concerns and also the frustration of not even being able to visit or tele-visit at this time. You outlined a few meaningful provisions of the HEROES Act that will help, let me specifically mention one other that the centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, CMS, would be required to create a nursing strike team under this law. This would provide $150 million for states to establish and implement these strike teams into skilled nursing facilities within 72 hours of any situation where three residents or employees were diagnosed with or suspected of having the COVID-19 virus. We need this, and in some cases it’s already happening that way at the local level. Here in Marin county, that’s the type of strike team response we have seen in local outbreaks. We think this should be a national standard and we want to provide the resources to make it happen. And we also mandate tele-visition, which is the least we can do to enable families to keep in touch and have meaningful visits during this public health emergency.”
Federal Action on COVID-19 Testing & Treatment
“We made sure all COVID-19 testing would be free to everyone, regardless of whether or not you have insurance or your immigration status. In a public health emergency like this, those questions should never hold anyone back from getting tested so we can deal with the public health threat. And mandatory coverage in private plans of treatment, for those who test positive for coronavirus with no co-pay, deductibles, and so on. Now we’re working to extend that same requirement to Medicaid and Medicare, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Relief for Families and Small Businesses
“We passed bi-partisan legislation to mandate family medical leave for most Americans that may be affected by this pandemic. There’s been unprecedented support for unemployment benefits and new grants, forgiving loans for small businesses and nonprofits so that we could minimize the need for lay-offs and the dislocation we knew would be coming. By trying to keep the economy as intact as possible that will help us on the road to recovery.”
The HEROES Act
“There’s a lot more that we need to do. Our latest effort to build on bi-partisan work we’ve done so far and push forward to our next action, the HEROES Act. Our seniors in District two will be pleased to see a major investment in nutrition and food security: $100 million for food services, such as home delivered and pre-packaged meals to support services for seniors, disabled folks and caregivers. A 50% increase to the maximum SNAP benefit as well as additional funding for nutrition programs that help families put food on the table. The Emergency Food Assistance Program is very important to us so we have proposed $150 million dollars more to help local Food Banks who are really struggling to meet the unprecedented demands they are seeing.”
“The other critical nutrition support will be $25 million for farm to Food Bank programs, we’ve seen how the disruption in distribution centers and restaurant no longer being open has caused havoc in the way we take food from farm to table and we’ve seen food wasting in the fields and we want to do our part to change that.”
Federal Leadership and the HEROES Act
“On Testing and PPE, we’re calling for a national testing plan in the HEROES Act, currently this is chaos right now: states, local governments and their federal partners really don’t have a sense of who's in charge and it is frustrating progress for the last three months. The HEROES Act calls for a national testing plan, it requires CDC to work with state, local, and tribal health departments as well as put together a national, evidence based system not just for testing, but for contact tracing, containment and mitigation to better deal with folks who test positive so that we isolating and quarantining where necessary to prevent further spread of the virus.”
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