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Congress must work together to provide pandemic relief

BY SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER
Last week I voted for an additional $500 billion in COVID-19 relief to help keep paychecks coming, relieve financial burdens, and contain COVID-19.But for the second time in two months, Senate Democrats have blocked legislation that would provide this additional $500 billion in COVID-19 relief for many things that have bipartisan support — additional unemployment benefits, more Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses, more federal funding to help schools and child care reopen safely, and more money for testing and vaccine development.Here is what this bill — the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act — would have done for Americans struggling during this pandemic:• Provide an additional $300 per week in federally funded unemployment benefits• Provide an additional round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for the hardest hit small businesses• Provide an additional $105 billion to help schools and colleges re-open safely• Provide an additional $15 billion to help parents get the child care they need so they can get back to work• Provide an additional $16 billion for states to conduct more testing and contact tracing• Provide an additional $31 billion to develop and procure tests, treatments, and vaccines• Help prepare for future pandemics, including provisions to improve onshore manufacturing, create state stockpiles and support federal stockpiles• Give Governors and states flexibility on how to use the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, which was provided by the CARES Act in March• Provide $20 billion for additional farm assistance• Provide liability relief for businesses, schools, colleges, nonprofits and local government agenciesSince March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has passed nearly $3 trillion in relief for families, workers and businesses, and to contain the disease, but there is still more work to be done.Democrats and Republicans should be able to work together and focus on these areas where we have bipartisan agreement — like funding for schools, colleges, child care, and for testing and vaccines — so that Congress can provide much needed assistance to the country.And while we are in the midst of dealing with this pandemic, it would also be wise to remember any legislation Congress passes this year should prepare for the next pandemic by making sure that support for onshore manufacturing is sustained, stockpiles are full, and states have the right tools and resources to respond.The reason to do that now, while our eye is on the ball, is because the next pandemic could be as soon as next year.