As the coronavirus crisis threatens the lives and livelihoods of Floridians, we must work every day to support the health care workers who are saving lives and the families, workers, and small businesses that make our economy work.
Last week, Congress passed a bi-partisan COVID19 response package to put families and workers first, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. I am proud of this historic piece of legislation, which will help families and small businesses across this country, including in our great state of Florida.
It builds on two bipartisan bills already signed into law to boost prevention, preparedness, and families.
Direct cash payments
Because of our efforts, most Floridians will get immediate direct cash payments in the next few weeks. All individuals earning less than $75,000 and households earning less than $150,000 will get $1,200 for each adult and $500 for each child under the age of 17. Payments will get smaller after that until they phase out entirely for higher income earners.
To help make sure you get your payment as soon as possible, I am urging the president to allow the IRS to deposit the money directly into Floridians’ bank accounts instead of delaying it with paper checks.
We dramatically increased unemployment benefits so that the average laid-off worker will get four months of full pay. And we made sure self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig economy workers are covered. Floridians are eligible for up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits, about three months longer than before this bill was passed.
I consistently hear from constituents that the website where Florida applications must be completed continues to malfunction, making it extremely difficult for individuals to file a claim for unemployment benefits.
These are desperate times and I sent a letter urging Governor Ron DeSantis to take a number of much-needed steps, including waiving job search requirements and waiting periods and increasing the maximum payment amounts and the length of time workers can receive unemployment benefits.
The CARES Act included $200 billion for hospitals, health-care workers, and research, including ventilators, masks, gowns, gloves, and more personal protective equipment desperately needed by healthcare workers.
My Democratic colleagues and I fought for provisions to assist small businesses, which now may access $349 billion in forgivable loans to keep employees on the payroll, $17 billion for debt relief for current and new SBA borrowers, and $10 billion in immediate disaster grants. My office is here to help Florida businesses secure that relief.
More needed funds
For Florida students, we secured billions in emergency education funding and eliminated income tax on student loan repayment assistance by employers.
I worked hard to secure $8 million in desperately needed funds to help our state and local governments cope with the coronavirus pandemic, $53 million for low-income families in Florida to pay their heating and cooling bills, $968 million for Florida transit systems that have been disrupted by the virus, and $90 million for our state to address homelessness and prevent evictions.
For accountability and oversight, we prevented secret bail-outs and added special oversight requirements, including banning stock buybacks for any company receiving a government loan from the bill for the term of the government assistance plus one year and establishing robust worker protections attached to all federal loans for businesses.
Prepping for election
These are just some of the supports you may be eligible for you under this emergency package.
While this relief package will provide much-needed aid for families and businesses throughout the country, I know we still have more work to do, and I will be working for you every day as Congress crafts the next package.
Another top priority has been how to prepare for the 2020 election. This year, voters are set to elect a president and congressional, state, and local officials, but the process has already been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing some states to postpone their primaries.
The CARES Act provides $400 million for election assistance grants for states to help prepare for 2020. This funding can be used, for example, to increase the ability to vote by mail, expand early voting, and expand online registration. Florida will receive $20 million for these purposes.
I led a letter calling on Governor DeSantis to expand our state’s vote-by-mail infrastructure using these funds, in addition to reallocating resources designated for polling locations, voting machines, poll workers, and other election administration expenditures.
I also urged the governor to automatically mail absentee ballots and balloting materials to all registered voters and provide pre-paid postage and self-sealing return envelopes.
The real heroes
Thank you to Florida health care workers who are risking your lives to care for others. Thank you to grocery store clerks, garbage truck drivers, postal workers and all essential workers for keeping our state going.
Thank you to families who are sacrificing, following social distancing guidelines and showing kindness to your neighbors. Thank you to small business owners who are doing everything you can to keep going for the workers and communities that depend on you.
You are the heroes in this story. And it is because of you that I know we will get through this together.
Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson represents parts of Northern Miami-Dade and Southeast Broward counties.