House Suburban Caucus advances congressional pandemic response

There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the everyday lives of many Americans. People have lost jobs, families have lost school and daycare options, and cities are grappling with health and safety protocols and an impacted economy. As our world starkly changes around us, our response to the challenges we face must evolve as well.

To help shape our nation’s response, today the House Suburban Caucus is endorsing a legislative agenda designed to address many common issues facing our constituents. The pandemic has forced us to reevaluate work-life balance and adapt to new realities, and we believe it is our responsibility to step up and offer solutions. The legislation we are endorsing targets issues that suburban families are grappling with, including health care, education and childcare.

To avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus, many have made the choice to stay away from doctors’ offices for all but the most serious concerns, an understandable fear that has unfortunately led to otherwise avoidable health complications. Congress has acted to improve telehealth options, and the Suburban Caucus is endorsing legislation that would expand and make permanent telehealth services to ensure people have access to the care they need, including mental health services. Last month, Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerHouse Suburban Caucus advances congressional pandemic response DCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program Hispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses slate of non-Hispanic candidates MORE, chair of the House Suburban Caucus, introduced a telehealth package made up of nine separate pieces of legislation written by Republican members committed to prioritizing health care access and affordability as part of our promise to build a better health care system for Americans.

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The legislation would make telehealth more affordable for those on high-deductible health plans, expand telehealth for veterans, address restrictions that deter health care providers from providing telehealth services, and permanently waive the originating site and geographical restrictions affecting our seniors on Medicare, among other provisions. Telehealth is a new frontier of medicine that will give families and patients the ability to choose how to get health care on their own terms, not terms dictated by bureaucratic restrictions. The Suburban Caucus is also proud to champion legislation that would provide health insurance premium assistance to workers who are unemployed. No one should lose their insurance or be forced to pay increased premiums because they lost their jobs during a pandemic. Suburban Republicans are committed to crafting and implementing initiatives that help Americans struggling with health care affordability so that everyone has the coverage they need.

Our educational system has also been shaken by the spread of the virus, and many schools have already announced they will be moving to online or hybrid learning until a later date. Parents are concerned about the efficacy of remote learning, the potential effects of too much screen time, the challenge of balancing work schedules while supervising children without child care options, nutritional deficiencies and child safety, the health of students and teachers, and so many other concerns. School closure decisions affect not only vulnerable students who have already experienced declines in academic performance and an uptick in child abuse but also parents who will have to work from home, cut back on hours, or compromise their family’s financial well-being.

At-home learning requires additional expenses parents may not have budgeted for, which is why we advocate for the Student Empowerment Act, legislation that would expand the use of 529 savings plans so parents can defray the additional unexpected costs of teaching a child from home tax free. Unfortunately, Democrats blocked this from becoming law last year following pressure from unions, but the Suburban Caucus believes parents need our help to meet the new financial obligations digital learning will entail. We believe that the children most at risk of being left behind by educational disruptions are those whose families are often without the resources needed to learn from home.

We take seriously the re-opening guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics which warned that schools are fundamental to the development and well-being of children. Schools provide critical “academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity,” and they play a necessary role in helping those with special needs and addressing “racial and social inequity.” As we strive to re-open schools, the Suburban Caucus endorses liability protections for schools that are following CDC guidelines, and Education Freedom Scholarships that would provide tax deductions for private school scholarship donations, making school choice more affordable for middle-class parents. The Suburban Caucus also supports Back to Work Child Care Grants, which would provide assistance for child care providers to reopen safely.

In addition, the Suburban Caucus will endorse legislation to give individuals the ability to rollover their Flexible Spending Arrangement balances to 2021, change election amounts, or withdraw the balances without penalty if families need funds for other expenses. We also support solutions to protect seniors by fighting elder abuse, helping nursing homes address outbreaks, and funding televisitation programs so that vulnerable nursing home residents aren’t isolated from their families. In addition, the Suburban Caucus is committed to improving America’s infrastructure networks, and we endorse a transportation reauthorization bill that will improve roads, bridges, transit, and other projects and further jumpstart economic growth.

Families in suburban communities should not be meeting these challenges alone, and that’s why we are working to find the most common-sense solutions to the problems COVID-19 has brought to the surface. We will not stop fighting for suburban families who are working hard to stay safe as the world changes.

Wagner is chair of the House Suburban Caucus and Wittman, Stivers and Hill are task force chairs.