Weekly Column

In a matter of just a few weeks, the outbreak of COVID-19 has upended how Nebraskans and all Americans are living their lives. Schools have closed their doors, bars and restaurants have shut down, and nearly all public events have been put on hold to slow the disease’s spread.

As uncertain and stressful as this time of crisis is, I have seen so many wonderful stories of Nebraskans helping one another. Brickway Brewery & Distillery in Omaha is using its distillers to produce hand sanitizer for fellow Nebraskans in response to shortages. Green Plains, an ethanol producer in York, is donating industrial ethanol to help make hand sanitizer as well. School districts including Norfolk Public Schools, which is working in tandem with foodservice company Lunchtime Solutions, are providing free “grab and go” breakfasts and lunches to children and parents in need.

On top of caring for one another at the community level, a national crisis also requires a national response. That’s why I am proud that last week, the Senate came together to unanimously pass the CARES Act, a major coronavirus relief package. This package includes relief for individuals, families, businesses, ag producers and hospitals to keep our people healthy and assist them on the road to recovery.

For small- and medium-sized business, this package ensures that they can keep employees on payroll so they can continue providing for their families. It makes funds available through the Small Business Administration (SBA) to grant forgivable loans to businesses with 500 or fewer employees who keep their employees on payroll. Businesses can use these funds to cover costs related to payroll, including interest payments on a mortgage, rent, utilities, health care or retirement benefits.

I worked with my Midwest colleagues to make sure ag was included in this legislation. It provides $9.5 billion in emergency COVID-19 response funding for livestock producers, including cow/calf producers and feeders who are facing depressed prices and a volatile futures market. It also helps safeguard the supply chain as these producers work to meet significantly higher demand by providing funding for critical elements of oversight in that chain. Nebraska ag producers are working to keep food on America’s dinner tables and grocery store shelves during this pandemic, and this relief is so important to help them continue doing so.

This relief package also includes important provisions to protect our health care work force and first responders as they battle this disease. It contains my bipartisan legislation with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to amend the PREP Act and ensure a sufficient supply of respirator masks. That legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Bacon (R-Neb.) in the House of Representatives, would grant respirators the same federal liability protections already available to other medical products, vaccines, and drugs. Our health care workers and those on the front lines of battling this disease deserve to stay safe as they work to keep all of us healthy.

In addition, the CARES Act ensures that our Critical Access Hospitals maintain a reliable and stable cash flow during this COVID-19 pandemic. The bill provides $100 billion so that healthcare providers continue to receive the support they need for COVID-19 related expenses and lost revenue. It also expands services for rural hospitals and telehealth measures so that Nebraskans in all parts of our state have ready access to care.

Individuals will also benefit from this relief legislation. It provides recovery checks of $1,200 for individuals with adjusted gross income up to $75,000, as well as $500 per child.

Importantly, this legislation provides autonomy for local communities across our state to respond to the virus. The package creates a new coronavirus relief fund with $150 billion for state and local governments to help them address this pandemic. The funding, which is allocated by population size, includes a minimum of $1.25 billion for states with smaller populations.

The outbreak of COVID-19 poses a major challenge for Nebraska and our nation. Be assured, I am committed to providing relief to our people as we battle this virus and work to get our economy stabilized once again. While there is still much more work to be done, this package represents a significant step forward.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you next week.