The House of Representatives on Friday passed a package of legislation to respond to the coronvavirus.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, voted in favor of the legislation. Provisions include:
- Eliminating cost barriers by providing free COVID-19 testing;
- Providing paid leave for working Americans who are ill, quarantined, or caring for others due to coronavirus through a tax credit to employers;
- Protecting student access to meals during school closures related to COVID-19 by allowing school officials and child care centers to distribute food in alternate settings;
- Bolstering state unemployment compensation systems and directing states to make payments more accessible for individuals whose employment has been disrupted by the coronavirus;
- Expanding access to food assistance programs and provides $250 million in additional funding for key Older Americans Act nutrition programs, including Home-Delivered and Congregate meals for seniors.
- Temporarily increases the federal share of Medicaid payments (FMAP) by 6.2%, reducing the percentage that must be paid by New York counties, which will free up local resources to respond to this crisis. Importantly, states will be prevented from increasing the percentage of Medicaid payments that counties must pay while the temporary FMAP increase is in place.
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Stefanik said she is grateful that legislation that she co-sponsored to maintain student access to school meals during closures was included in the final package.
“I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress on legislation to combat this pandemic and to provide my constituents with up-to-date information. I want to thank our local and state public health departments, hospitals, and officials for their excellent work and diligence. Constituents should not hesitate to reach out to my offices with any questions and should continue to follow CDC guidance to keep themselves protected.”
In a phone interview with the Press-Republican on Friday before the vote, she said that she anticipated this would be the first of numerous COVID-19 emergency relief packages, Congress was negotiating appropriations to fund senior nutrition programs, WIC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s emergency food program and SNAP availability.
Representatives were additionally focused on making sure the U.S. Department of Defense, the VA and the Indian Health Service within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had necessary funding to purchase additional coronavirus testing supplies, Stefanik said.
She added that other packages will focus on economic stimulus for small businesses and individuals, along with industry-specific legislative proposals.
“My goal is to make sure that this is not a political battle of brinkmanship, that we come together on a bipartisan basis and it’s consensus-driven with both Democrats and Republicans having a seat at the table to negotiate a package on behalf of the American people.”
Taking it seriously
Stefanik urged people to take COVID-19 very seriously. She advised them to follow guidance put forth on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website and by county public health officials.
“Please take the time to look out for loved ones, especially our seniors who are the most vulnerable,” Stefanik said.
“We are taking a lot of calls from seniors and we want to make sure that if there are any concerns, their family members are helping them get access to the information that they need.”
Simple steps that align with officials’ guidance include good hygiene practices like hand-washing, not touching your face and social distancing, Stefanik said.
“Those small steps can have very positive consequences over the long-term to stem the growth ... of this pandemic,” she said.
The congresswoman would also urge people who think they have symptoms to call resources designated by county public health officials.
She said her office has been in touch with such officials in all 12 of the district’s counties as well as many of the hospitals.
Private labs allowed
Stefanik said she was proud that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced New York state can now run COVID-19 tests in private labs, calling it a positive move in the right direction.
“That has been one of the issues that has slowed down the test numbers,” she said.
She also commended county public health officials for educating the public, adding that her office is continuing to stay available to answer constituents’ questions.
Stefanik said all COVID-19 testing needs to be covered full-stop.
“We need to ensure that the message to every American is that if you are concerned, you should reach out to your health care official and not be concerned of that cost.”
The congresswoman said she supports measures to cover all testing for people who are insured or uninsured, or covered by Medicare, Medicaid or U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.
Asked if the country is prepared for COVID-19, Stefanik again praised county public health officials, calling them star leaders.
“I just want to commend all the county public health officials, all of the hospitals for their professionalism and how much they’ve focused on informing the public.”
She said her office took COVID-19 very seriously, pointing to how earlier this week it instituted guidance for tours and large groups.
“Everyone is still working. We are still constantly making sure that we’re addressing any concerns, but I think this needs to be taken seriously. You need to lead by example as an elected official,” she said.
Post-Star reporter Michael Goot contributed to this report.
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