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Combating Coronavirus and its devastation: getting relief to your family now

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Editor’s note: U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-35) and U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud (R-27) were each given an opportunity to write opposing viewpoints concerning the federal response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Cloud did not submit an op-ed.

By U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-35)

Let’s join together with compassion and thoughtful actions to soften the blows of coronavirus. Helping one another amidst this horrible pandemic requires resolve, grit, and ingenuity.
So many are struggling right now—some with disease, some trying to make ends meet, all with worry and concerns. Lockhart neighbors are suffering serious economic hardship; from those owning small family businesses on the square, to those struggling to pay rent, to those who have suddenly lost their jobs, I want neighbors like these to be prioritized in further relief legislation. I oppose attempts to slip in more giveaways for the ultrarich. There is no panacea, but know my office is working overtime to do all we can to respond to individuals and to ensure our communities obtain access to needed resources.
In addition to significant support for our public health system and health care workers, new legislation has approved $6.5 billion to develop vaccines, treatments, and cures. I continue to focus on preventing monopoly pricing for these pharmaceuticals developed at taxpayer expense.
Some key updates:


Coronavirus Testing


I made free access to testing for everyone a top priority. We all benefit when more neighbors are tested.
If you are insured and your doctor requests a coronavirus test, it is free, without co-pays or fulfilling a deductible. Free testing is available for the uninsured if Governor Abbott accepts federal funding or, if not, whenever Trump Administration implementation is completed.


Making Healthcare Affordable 


Treatment for the coronavirus is not free. I am working to prevent those who need care from being overwhelmed with bills. I seek to eliminate surprise out-of-network billing, add a special Affordable Care Act enrollment period for the uninsured and those who want better health insurance, and provide care for the uninsured. If you have lost a job and your health coverage, you may already qualify to obtain ACA coverage. Schedule a free counseling session to discuss options with Foundation Communities at enroll@foundcom.org or 512-381-4520.


Tax Rebate Payments


If you have a Social Security number and earned less than $75,000 individually or $150,000 for a couple, you will receive $1,200 for each adult and $500 per child under 17. Some earning more than this will receive partial payment. If you previously included banking information with your tax filing, the IRS advises that your account should receive a direct deposit this month. If not, the IRS plans to offer an opportunity to provide direct deposit information or will otherwise mail a check in coming months. 


Unemployment Coverage Expansion


Unemployment insurance has been extended to include many not previously eligible, including the self-employed, contractors, gig workers, and those with limited work history, though this may be impeded by unreasonable Trump Administration rulings. An additional $600 in weekly benefits is provided through July 31 and lower, regular benefits are extended an additional 13 weeks. For information from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) on how to apply and to monitor updates on eligibility, visit ui.texasworkforce.org. Hopefully, TWC’s belated expansion of call hours from 7 am to 7 pm, seven days a week, will alleviate the well-justified inaccessibility complaints of those desperate for help.


Small Business and Nonprofit Help


If you are trying to keep a small business or nonprofit afloat, the SBA Paycheck Protection Program through a bank provides forgivable loans up to 2.5 times your monthly payroll or $10 million to cover up to 8 weeks of payroll, rent and other expenses. Alternatively, SBA directly offers Economic Disaster Injury loans, including a $10,000 grant. Information and applications are at https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options. A guide to navigating these forms is at https://www.sbc.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=guide-to-the-cares-act. Additionally, the Economic Lockhart Economic Development Corporation has created an COVID-19 Economic Recovery Loan Program to provide one-time loans to some eligible businesses for $5,000, with possible additional $2,500. More information is available at: https://lockhartedc.com/coronavirus-updates.


Distance Learning Progress


Recently, LISD Board of Trustees moved to provide wireless internet access to all district students and staff throughout Caldwell County. This is welcome news for so many families working to engage in distance learning. For parents seeking more avenues to keep their kids engaged and learning while indoors, Austin PBS is providing free educational games, bilingual coloring books, and home lesson plans at https://austinpbs.org/, including resources for educators.  


Caring for a Loved One


If you are employed, but are sick, seeking a COVID-19 diagnosis, or caring for a family member, you may be eligible for paid leave. Eligible full-time and part-time workers at companies with fewer than 500 employees may receive two weeks of paid sick leave related to COVID-19, as well as 12 weeks of paid family leave.
Though both the volume of those seeking help and deficient Trump implementation may make it difficult to promptly access the help we have legislated, please keep trying and keep me advised of your experience. I am receiving repeated complaints both from those unable to connect on unemployment and small businesses unable to access the Paycheck Protection Program.
Denial, delay and ongoing misrepresentations by President Trump continue to greatly impair our efforts; I work daily with colleagues to take every reasonable step to address both the health and economic challenges that Americans are facing. My website is continually updated with news on these efforts and further coronavirus resources: https://doggett.house.gov/coronavirus.
Though closures cost our economy dearly, until we resolve this health crisis we cannot resolve our economic crisis. 
Let’s all do our part to help save lives and rebuild livelihoods. In this unique crisis, the strongest help may come from the quietest acts and sacrifices, like: staying home, caretaking, donating, supporting health care professionals and essential employees, and checking in by phone on neighbors and loved ones.
For a safer future, we must follow doctors’ advice, not politicians who doctor the truth. I know we will weather this storm.  And as we struggle through it, I welcome your advice and your questions at Lloyd.Doggett@mail.house.gov or https://doggett.house.gov/contact.
U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, Chair of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, represents Texas’ 35th District, which includes Lockhart, Maxwell, and Martindale.

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