Bill Includes Peters’ Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) fought to significantly improve the latest package to address the Coronavirus pandemic and helped the Senate pass this bipartisan legislation. The third Coronavirus package includes Peters’ legislation to expand unemployment benefits and measures he pushed for to support small businesses, hospitals and health care professionals. Peter spoke about the legislation on the Senate floor Wednesday evening.
The bill includes Peters’ Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, which would create an unemployment compensation program to provide federally funded benefits to people unable to work because of the Coronavirus. It would expand who is eligible for unemployment to include workers who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits or other workers who would not usually qualify, such as self-employed workers like small business owners, freelance workers, independent contractors, and seasonal workers as well as individuals who’ve recently started or were about to start a new job. Workers could receive benefits for up to 39 weeks.
“As we continue working to combat the Coronavirus pandemic, I pushed to significantly improve the Senate’s legislation and ensure it gives more funding that is urgently needed to support Michigan workers, families, small businesses, hospitals and health care workers. Michiganders who aren’t receiving a paycheck or have lost their jobs because of the Coronavirus pandemic shouldn’t have to worry about whether they can pay their bills or put food on the table — and that’s why I fought to secure inclusion of my legislation to expand critical unemployment assistance to everyone from small business owners to workers in the gig economy and independent contractors.
“This package also includes vital resources to help small businesses as well as hospitals and health care workers on the front lines. While this bill will allow us to take important steps to address this public health and economic crisis, there’s no question it’s far from perfect and we have more work to do to ensure resources get to those who need them most. I’m going to continue working tirelessly so our workers, families, doctors, nurses and small businesses all have the support they need to get through this emergency.”
To watch the Senator’s floor speech from Wednesday evening, click here.
Peters has engaged with small businesses across Michigan about the devastating toll this pandemic is taking on their companies and employees and supported key measures to help them get through this crisis. The bill increases funding for 7(a) loans to $350 billion to ensure this critical small business lending program can continue to provide support to small businesses, including in Michigan. The bill also provides $240 million for small business development centers and women’s business centers as well as funding for minority business centers. The bill includes $10 billion for Small Business Administration (SBA) emergency grants to provide immediate relief to small business operating costs. It also has $17 billion for SBA to cover six months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans. In addition, the bill expands how this funding can be used to each small business’ specific need — whether that’s ensuring they can be used for payroll support, such as employee salaries — paid sick or medical leave — or mortgage payments.
Peters pressed for this bill to include significantly more funding for hospitals so that health care providers have the financial resources and medical supplies needed to care for patients and keep themselves safe. This bill includes a significant increase in funding for our health care system from what was initially proposed on Sunday – which will ensure that hospitals can make up for lost revenue, continue their operations and make payroll for the dedicated nurses, doctors and health care providers who are on the front lines of pandemic response efforts. Peters has worked with Michigan health care facilities and health officials across the state, including in rural communities, since the outbreak of the virus began. Most recently, he spoke on Friday with representatives from the Michigan Health and Hospital Association about the resources medical centers in communities across the state need to combat the Coronavirus. After hearing firsthand about the challenges faced by hospitals and health care providers, Peters released a proposal to ensure they can meet their serious financial challenges and get the gloves, masks and personal protective equipment they need to do their jobs safely. This funding is critical as hospitals and health care providers in Michigan prepare for a surge in patients needing care and make sure our frontline health care providers are not at risk as they work to fight this pandemic.
The legislation the Senate passed also includes a number of provisions Peters recommended in a December report to address supply chain challenges and shortages for prescription and hospital-administered drugs and medical devices. Peters was also able to include his bipartisan bill to extend the upcoming REAL ID deadline for at least one year, saving countless Michiganders from visiting crowded state government offices during the pandemic. Finally, Peters helped secure $45 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund, which can be tapped by states to help support their respective responses, including public health efforts to preserve limited state resources in this emergency.
This legislation also includes bipartisan measures that Peters, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, authored with Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) to require oversight, accountability, and transparency. This includes establishing the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee that will be composed of agency watchdogs from across the federal government. This committee will audit and investigate spending and distribution of Coronavirus pandemic response funds. Peters also secured a provision requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ watchdog, to audit and investigate how taxpayer dollars are being spent and keep Congress and the public updated. This oversight will help ensure the funds in this bill go to the people who need them most — including families, workers, small businesses, hospitals and health care providers. It will also ensure that this information is available to the public so the American people can see where their tax dollars are being used to address this crisis. In addition, the committee and GAO will investigate how the Administration has managed its response to this pandemic. These oversight provisions, which are modeled on the successful way Congress conducted transparent oversight following the 2009 Recovery Act, will allow the American people and Congress to track spending and pandemic response efforts in real time.
Peters’ recent efforts to address Coronavirus include aggressive actions to ensure there are enough tests, medical supplies and personal protective equipment to combat this pandemic. Peters led an effort with Senator Murray, calling on the Trump Administration to publicly report to Congress and the American people a list of critical metrics on the Coronavirus response. Peters and Murray are requesting the Administration make information about nationwide testing capacity, hospital bed space, personal protective equipment inventories, and more publicly available to improve transparency and efficiency in Coronavirus response efforts. Last week he called for the President to use the Defense Production Act, introduced legislation to support small business lending, and supported Governor Whitmer’s call to federally fund use of the National Guard to aid Coronavirus response efforts. He also helped the Senate pass the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act that is now law that includes unemployment assistance, expanded paid sick leave, efforts to provide food security to families and children in need, and free testing. Peters introduced the Free COVID-19 Testing Act to make testing free.
Peters also called for the President to declare a national emergency and to re-open health care enrollment. He announced a nationwide testing plan to quickly improve the capacity to test for Coronavirus, including making it available free of charge. He also previously helped the Senate pass emergency funding, including $14.5 million for Michigan’s Coronavirus response efforts.