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Incoming lawmakers stress coronavirus relief, economy as first priority of new session

Incoming lawmakers stress coronavirus relief, economy as first priority of new session
© Greg Nash

COVID-19 relief and getting the economy back on track must be top priorities in the next legislative session, incoming lawmakers from both parties said Thursday.

Congress early in the pandemic passed a large relief bill and a few pieces of supplemental legislation to address the economic fallout from shutdowns and business closures. But some of that assistance has already expired with other programs set to end in the coming weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell makes failed bid to adjourn Senate after hours-long delay Paul Ryan to host fundraiser for Cheney amid GOP tensions Senate Democrats near deal to reduce jobless boost to 0 MORE (R-Ky.) said Friday morning that he was “‘more optimistic’” about reaching an agreement on the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill that legislators are trying to pass attached to a government funding bill.

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The new relief bill is said to provide $600 to $700 stimulus checks for most individuals, $16 billion for vaccine distribution and testing and $325 billion for the Small Business Administration along with money for health care providers and relief for specific industries. 

Rep.-elect Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said that Black Americans in her district have been hit the hardest and COVID-19 relief is “No. 1” on her agenda as an incoming legislator. 

“Something has to be done and it has to be done now,” Bush said at The Hill’s “Meet the New Members” event. “$600, $1,200 is not going to save anyone. It’s a little bit of help. It gives us ... a little breathing room to say this will help us for today but tomorrow still comes.”

Bush told The Hill’s Steve Clemons and Bob CusackRobert (Bob) CusackTrump legal switch hints at larger problems The Hill's Morning Report - President Biden, Vice President Harris begin work today Incoming lawmakers stress coronavirus relief, economy as first priority of new session MORE that while new rounds of relief are promising, they aren’t enough.

“We need a true moratorium on eviction, a true cancelling of utilities being shut off, we need that for one full year, so those are some of the things that have to happen,” she said. “The stimulus checks ... we need that and that’s going to affect Black and brown communities straight out the gate.”

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Rep.-elect Teresa Leger de Fernandez (D-N.M.) also expressed her frustration with pandemic relief efforts, saying GOP leadership has stalled attempts to help Americans.

“I think now there is a recognition of this is what happens when you do not, when you have a Mitch McConnell heading up the Senate, things that need to get done for the American people get blocked,” she said. 

Fernandez added that she hopes Democrats win both Senate runoffs in Georgia next month, giving the party a majority in the upper chamber.

Rep.-elect Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) also criticized the current Congress for not utilizing remaining resources in the Paycheck Protection Program and said that her “first and foremost” priority will be the “economy and jobs.”

“I’m frustrated that Congress hasn’t, if nothing else, opened back up the remaining Paycheck Protection Program dollars that were unused in the first CARES Act,” she said at the event sponsored by Philip Morris International and Mastercard. “There’s about $130 billion sitting there, open that back up and let small businesses that are still suffering apply for those dollars.” 

“Congress hasn’t done that and I think they should, but we have to do what we can to go through the next several months,” she added. 

Bush emphasized that COVID relief is more than stimulus checks, but encompasses other aspects of policy like the need for adequate healthcare coverage.

“People need help and relief, they need aid right now,” she said. “That’s why when I’m in, I will be fighting for Medicare for All because it’s not a white, liberal agenda, it’s a way to make sure each and every person has healthcare...I cannot sit back and allow my people to die over health care.”