WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) issued a statement today after the Senate approved a bipartisan emergency funding bill to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) on a 96-1 vote:
“We are pleased that Congress quickly passed this important coronavirus response package on a bipartisan basis, and with sufficient funding to meet the threat posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. While the Trump Administration's initial $1.25 billion request fell far short of what state and federal agencies need to combat the spread of coronavirus, this $8.3 billion package will immediately direct needed resources to Virginia and other states – including funding for diagnostic testing, vaccine development, and additional resources for state and local responders who are on the front lines of a potential pandemic,” said the Senators. “This legislation is about making sure costs don't get in the way of a strong response to the threat posed by the coronavirus. Once it is signed into law, the Commonwealth will immediately receive $13.3 million in federal funding to help cover the costs of preparations for this public health emergency.”
“With the President's signature, state and local agencies in Virginia will be able to apply for further federal funds to reimburse for the costs of detecting, tracking and controlling the spread of the virus. While Virginia is fortunate that we have not experienced an outbreak, this bill sets aside $350 million that will be available to local authorities if our region does get hit. It also provides $500 million for masks, medication, protective equipment, and other much-needed medical supplies that can be distributed directly to hospitals and local health care providers. We are committed to working with federal, state and local health officials to make sure the Commonwealth is getting the federal support it needs to prepare for coronavirus, and we encourage all Virginians to follow the guidance of public health professionals to protect against its spread,” concluded the Senators.
The legislation also includes language based on Sen. Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act of 2019, which reduces restrictions on the use of telehealth for public health emergency response, as well as $500 million to facilitate its implementation.
Earlier today, the Sens. Warner and Kaine wrote to the leadership of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce encouraging the organization's member businesses to commit that workers will not be penalized for following recommended health procedures to protect the public from further spread of the coronavirus. Sen. Warner also led a group of 14 Senators in urging major U.S. employers to make the same commitment.
In a letter sent yesterday, the Senators urged health insurers and federal and state officials to eliminate cost burdens that could disincentivize people with coronavirus symptoms from seeking testing and treatment for the contagious illness. In a separate letter, the Senators called on the Trump Administration to end efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act that could jeopardize America's coronavirus response.
These letters represent the latest in a series of efforts by the Senators to push for a robust response to the threat of coronavirus. In January, Sens. Warner and Kaine asked the Administration to redirect available public health funds to combat the virus and to inform Congress of any additional resources needed to respond to the coronavirus. Earlier this week, in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence – who has been tasked with coordinating the federal government’s coronavirus response – Sen. Warner expressed concern over how the U.S. government has mobilized to combat the outbreak of coronavirus and urged the Vice President to devote the resources, expertise, and manpower needed to prevent this virus from spreading while also improving the government’s communication with Congress and the American public. This week, Sen. Kaine joined letters calling on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia to provide details on their Departments’ plans for preparedness and response efforts to protect the safety and health of students, teachers, school staff, and workers in light of the emerging threat of the novel coronavirus.
The House of Representatives passed this coronavirus response package yesterday by a 415-2 vote. With Senate approval, the bill now heads to the President's desk, and President Trump has announced he intends to sign it into law.