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April 25, 2020

Trone, Raskin discuss federal COVID-19 response

Credit: The Frederick News-Post, Steve Bohnel

As the U.S. House of Representatives rushed to pass another bill allocating $484 billion to address issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, both of Frederick County’s congressmen said oversight of that funding is key, and re-opening the state should be driven by science.

The bill, which heads to President Donald Trump’s desk, allocates funding to multiple areas, including $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, $60 billion for small business disaster relief loans, $75 billion for medical facilities and hospitals and $25 billion for coronavirus testing.

Congressman David Trone (D-Md.) said there were issues with the initial rollout of the overall CARES Act, which led to businesses like Shake Shack and institutions like Harvard University receiving millions of dollars in aid. 

Legislation that passed Thursday added stronger oversight provisions that ensure the money goes to small businesses and not large companies, he said.

“What happened with the Paycheck Protection Program is the banks simply went to their existing customers, and their existing customers were the larger companies so the real entrepreneurs in America and Maryland got left out,” Trone said of the initial disbursement of funds through the PPP, which allocates money to businesses as long as they keep employees on payroll and also pay for utility costs.

Trone and Congressman Jamie Raskin both said Congress acted quickly to get the initial CARES act out, but added oversight becomes more difficult when looking at the sheer amount of funding in the bill, at more than $2 trillion.

Raskin said the legislation that passed Thursday allows more banks and institutions to have access to federal funds.

“We’ve been very disenchanted by the idea of … relatively big businesses cornering the market with this money,” Raskin said. “[So] we are diversifying the channels for distribution of this money to include a lot of rural banks and credit unions and minority-owned banks in order to make sure we don’t get this cornering of the market.”

Concerning raw materials—personal protective equipment, test kits and other items the medical profession needs—Trone and Raskin both said Congress and the federal government should look outside the United States for aid.

Both said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has done a fine job leading his state, including his work with his wife Yumi to acquire 500,000 coronavirus tests from South Korea.

Raskin said it’s a “sad state” that individual states have to compete with each other on the market to acquire tests and other supplies.

“That basically takes us back to the Articles of Confederation before we had a Constitution when the states were competitors and didn’t know how to organize together … Right now, we’re not getting that kind of leadership at the national level, and thank God for Gov. Hogan and the other governors who have been really out in front,” Raskin said.

Outside of Thursday’s funding package, Raskin and Trone said there’s more work to be done, especially as a second edition of the CARES Act is drafted in the coming weeks.

Trone identified three areas he believes must be funded in that bill: mental health resources, broadband/high-speed internet for rural areas and direct funding to the states/local governments.

Gov. Hogan, as chair of the National Governors’ Association, has asked—with other governors—for $500 billion from the federal government to help states recoup lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trone conceded it’s likely the funding for states won’t be that high, but added it’s important they get a large sum of money.

“In our state, they also share a part of the income tax and also they have hotel taxes and tourism taxes. And all those income sources are just drying up, plus their expenses are way up,” Trone said of state and local governments. “I think it should have been in today’s package, but we couldn’t get bipartisan agreement. And bipartisan agreement is absolutely crucial, that we all move forward as one country.”

No matter how funds in future bills are disbursed, both he and Raskin said states re-opening their businesses and overall economies should be driven by scientific reasoning.

Raskin said that includes increased testing, contract tracing, quarantine/isolation practices for those diagnosed with the virus and “strict public health protocols” in everywhere from schools, businesses, stadiums and other public spaces.

“This is not the kind of thing where we should blow a whistle for … May 1, and say, everybody can go back to work,” Raskin said. “That is a recipe for disaster, that will plunge us back into recurring cycles of pandemic outbreak and economic shutdown.”