Coronavirus Update: March 19, 2020

March 19, 2020

Dear Friend,

I hope that you and your family are keeping safe and healthy during this difficult time. Working together, we will get through this crisis.

I’m writing to provide some new information and recap some of the work being done at the federal, state and local levels to fight the coronavirus pandemic and keep our communities safe.

I also wanted to let you know that tomorrow, Friday, March 20, I will host two telephone town hall sessions with public health experts to discuss the coronavirus crisis and answer your questions. The first session begins at 1:35 PM. The second session begins at 3:15 PM. To join the call and ask a question – or if you’d just like to listen in – you can dial 877-208-4390. You can also listen online and submit question at https://sarbanes.house.gov/live.

With that said, here’s a brief recap of recent developments.

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Federal Action in the U.S. Congress

On Monday evening, the Maryland Congressional Delegation announced $10.2 million in federal funding for Maryland’s response to the coronavirus. The funding comes from the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which I voted for earlier this month. It will help Maryland mitigate the coronavirus by improving operational readiness, developing effective tools and strategies, boosting technical assistance and program support and strengthening communication and coordination among public health agencies and partners. This funding follows an initial $500,000 that was announced on March 5.

Congress has now passed, and the President has signed into law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a bill I voted for in U.S. House of Representatives last week. This economic relief package will help provide American families with financial stability and security as we weather the coronavirus pandemic. The bill contains several important provisions, including:

  • Free Coronavirus Testing: The bill ensures that all Americans, including those with private insurance, Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, CHIP, VA, FEHBP and TRICARE, as well as the uninsured, have access to free tests.
     
  • Enhanced Unemployment Insurance: The bill extends unemployment benefits to laid off and furloughed workers, as well as workers who exhaust their allotted paid leave.
     
  • Paid Leave: The bill requires companies with up to 500 employees to provide two weeks of emergency paid sick leave to workers who are sick with coronavirus or caring for a family member who is sick with coronavirus. The bills also requires companies with up to 500 employees to provide twelve weeks of paid family leave to employees who cannot work because their children’s schools are closed or if childcare is unavailable. Businesses would receive refundable tax credits to cover the cost. Most businesses with more than 500 employees already provide some form of paid leave. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees can seek hardship waivers from the U.S. Department of Labor.
     
  • Expanded Food Assistance Programs: The bill provides nutritious food to low-income pregnant women and mothers with young children, helps local food banks meet increased demand and offers home-delivered meals to low-income seniors. It also makes sure that children who depend on free and reduce-priced meals at school continue to have access to nutritious foods if their schools close.
     
  • Increased Medicaid Benefits: The bill boosts federal support for states to absorb new Medicaid enrollees if people lose their jobs. This is critical so that states will not be forced to cut benefits, reduce Medicaid rolls, raise premiums or impose higher cost-sharing.
     
  • Waived Medicare Copays: The bill includes a provision authored by Congressman Sarbanes to waive copays for Medicare patients who visit their health care providers and get tested for coronavirus.
     

Also on Wednesday, my colleagues and I in the National Capital Region Delegation urged President Trump to provide federally supported testing sites for coronavirus in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Today, the U.S. Small Business Administration approved Maryland’s request for a disaster declaration after my colleagues in the Maryland delegation and I wrote in support of the request. All Maryland small businesses are now eligible to apply for disaster loans at disasterloan.sba.gov.
 

State-Level Action in Maryland

On Monday, Maryland ramped up its response to help stop the spread of the virus:

  • All gatherings of more than 50 people are now prohibited. (No exceptions.)
     
  • As of Monday evening, all bars, restaurants, theaters, fitness centers and spas in Maryland are closed.
     
  • The Maryland Department of Health will work with health care providers across the state to increase capacity by 6,000 beds.
     
  • The Maryland Secretary of Health has activated the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps, a 5,000-person force of medical and public health volunteers throughout the state.
     
  • Utility companies – including those that provide water, sewage, electricity, gas, phone, cable TV and internet services – are prohibited from turning off service for any residential customer.
     

On Tuesday, Maryland announced that the state will postpone its April 28 primary election to June 2 due to the coronavirus pandemic. For more information about the new primary date, you can visit https://www.elections.maryland.gov/. There’s still time to register to vote in the primary if you haven’t done so already. See here for more information.
 

Maryland General Assembly Action

On Wednesday, the Maryland General Assembly ended its current session. Before adjourning, the General Assembly worked swiftly across party lines to take emergency action to address the coronavirus pandemic. This includes:

  • Providing $50 million from the State’s Rainy Day Fund to help respond to the public health threat.
     
  • Extending unemployment insurance benefits for Marylanders.
     
  • Increasing health care benefits and protecting health care workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. Some highlights include:
     
    • Preventing retailers from price gouging necessary goods and services such as food, water, fuel and medicine;
       
    • Prohibiting employers from firing employees who are isolated or quarantined after contracting coronavirus.
       

Household Tips

Several grocery stores across Maryland will offer special shopping times for coronavirus-vulnerable customers, including people aged 60+ and those with underlying health conditions.

  • Giant: Beginning on Friday, March 20, Giant locations in Maryland will offer special shopping hours for customers aged 60 and older and those with immune system deficiencies. These special shopping hours will occur every day, from 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM.
     
  • Safeway: Safeway locations in Maryland will offer special shopping hours for vulnerable shoppers every Tuesday and Thursday from 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM.
     
  • Whole Foods Market: Whole Foods locations in Maryland will offer special shopping hours for customers aged 60 and older every day from 7:00 AM to 8:00 AM.
     
  • Target: Target locations in Maryland will provide special shopping hours for seniors and people with underlying health conditions every Wednesday from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM.
     
  • Martin’s: Beginning on Thursday, March 19, Martin’s Maryland locations will provide special shopping hours for customers aged 60 and older every single day from 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM.
     
  • Dollar General: As of Tuesday, March 17, Dollar General locations in Maryland will reserve their first operating hour each day for seniors. Most Dollar General stores open at 8:00 AM. Please be sure to confirm your store’s opening hours on the store locator page.
     

As always, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter for additional updates and information about the outbreak.

For a full list of coronavirus-related resources, please visit my website.
 

Sincerely,

00_JPSS_Signature
Congressman John Sarbanes
Maryland’s Third Congressional District

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