WASHINGTON — As Congress debates the next coronavirus relief package, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) authored the following op-ed in the Dallas Morning News on his priorities to best serve Texans working to combat the pandemic and Texas families struggling in this economy:
In the wake of disasters, the first step is always response — that initial lifesaving push. Following the tornadoes in North Texas, for example, Texans came together to perform search and rescue operations, provide medical care, and set up emergency shelters. At some point, the transition to recovery begins — restoring power, clearing debris, rebuilding, and eventually returning to a normal routine.
There’s inevitable overlap between short-term response and long-term recovery efforts, and that’s precisely where we find ourselves today with the battle against COVID-19. While this is a crisis of a different breed, the same principles apply: We’re fighting to save lives and support our neighbors today while simultaneously building a strong foundation for tomorrow.
Over the past several months, Congress has passed four bills totaling more than $3 trillion. This has enabled us to scale up testing, bolster supplies of PPE in hospitals, advance vaccine research, help those who lost their jobs, support small businesses trying to survive, and assist schools trying to maintain our kids’ education. This funding has been a lifeline for the workers and institutions hit hardest by the pandemic, but more must be done.
As the U.S. Senate develops the next coronavirus response package, I’m fighting to secure critical assistance for the Texans who need it most.
First, we must continue to support our children and teachers. As August begins, school districts face tough decisions about how to prevent children from catching and spreading the virus while providing a quality education. Whether offering instruction in-person, online, or a combination, the start of the school year presents huge hurdles.
Congress has already provided more than $30 billion in emergency relief for education, including over $2.6 billion for Texas. This funding has helped school districts, colleges, and universities prepare for the fall, but more is needed. The HEALS Act, which was recently introduced in the Senate, included an additional $105 billion for education. This could cover cleaning services and equipment to protect students and staff returning to the classroom, or laptops and internet hot spots for virtual learning. But funding alone is not enough. Congress must also protect the flexibility of schools to choose the instruction model that best serves their students, staff and communities.
Second, we need to deliver additional assistance for workers who have had the rug pulled out from under them. Since March, more than 3 million Texans have filed for unemployment benefits, and recipients have collected an additional $600 a week in federally backed benefits I supported. But those bolstered benefits expired July 25, leaving many who are still unable to work without the income they need.
Congress must extend a federal unemployment supplement to continue to help those who, at no fault of their own, are out of work. But we can’t stop there — a second round of $1,200 payments for the Texans hit hardest by this pandemic can support families who are struggling. And additional funding for job-saving programs like the Paycheck Protection Program can keep more Texans on payroll, both today and in the future.
Finally, as COVID-19 cases surge, Congress must bolster our response to the virus itself. One of the most crucial needs is improved testing capacity to identify and stop the spread of the coronavirus. Congress has already provided $26 billion to scale up testing, and we’ve gone from conducting an average of 145,000 tests per day nationwide in early April, to more than 780,000 per day in mid-July. This represents tremendous progress, but more funding is needed — especially to overcome the backlogs that have left some Texans waiting more than two weeks for results.
Beyond testing, we must strengthen our fight both in hospitals and research labs. More than 20,000 hospitals and health care providers in Texas have already received over $4.1 billion in federal funding, but more money can help these providers navigate the surge in cases and maintain critical supplies like masks, gloves and ventilators. And to continue moving us closer to a successful vaccine — the only key to a true recovery — Congress must invest more in research.
As COVID-19 response and recovery efforts continue, this is no time to take our foot off the gas. As Congress moves to pass another relief bill, I will keep fighting for the Texans hit hardest by this pandemic and a brighter future for our state.
Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.