Good afternoon, and thank you to everybody who has joined us. I’m Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy and I represent Seminole County and part of Orange County in the U.S. House of Representatives.
I’m hosting this call with leaders of non-profit organizations in central Florida to discuss the congressional response to coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
I did a similar call with health care workers on Tuesday evening and another one this morning. I think you’ll all agree that these doctors and nurses are soldiers on the front lines of this fight. They are incredibly dedicated and incredibly courageous. Our society, and specifically our government, must ensure they have the resources, equipment, and supplies necessary to do their job both effectively and safely.
I am laser-focused on getting our health care workers and other first responders the personal protective equipment they need and deserve, so they can provide their patients with the standard of care that they need and deserve.
Later today, I’m doing a similar call with local chambers of commerce and another call with state and local elected officials. Everyone has had their lives upended by this crisis, and everyone is eager to obtain information, to provide input, and to share their impressions.
I have to tell you—I benefit enormously from these conversations. They give me the ground truth and the good ideas I need to support our community here in central Florida and our country more broadly during this uniquely challenging time. This is exactly how representative democracy is supposed to work.
What I’d like to do is offer just some brief framing remarks and then outline what Congress has done and is doing to combat COVID on both the health care front and the economic front. I’ll try to focus on the aspects of our response that I think would be most useful and interesting to you in the non-profit sector.
If I don’t mention something you care about, or if you want more details about something I’ve said, we can discuss it further during the Q-and-A. And, of course, my DC, Orlando and Sanford staff and I are always available to talk with you about COVID or any other policy area. If we don’t know the answer, which I am ashamed to admit does happen on rare occasions, we’ll quickly find out who does.
So, you probably know the numbers, but they’re worth repeating. We now have about 55,000 confirmed COVID cases nationwide and nearly 750 deaths.
In Florida, we have about 1,900 confirmed cases, and at least 23 deaths.
There are 89 confirmed cases in Orange County and 32 in Seminole County. Every time my office obtains the latest statistics in preparation for these events, the numbers have grown.
Coronavirus is, first and foremost, a public health crisis—but it has spawned a sudden and profound economic crisis, as a broad range of businesses are forced to shutter or dramatically scale back operations.
Many for-profit firms and non-profit organizations like yours that, a month ago, were thriving or at least surviving, now stand on the brink of disaster. Families whose breadwinners held stable jobs and earned stable incomes now confront the prospect of unemployment for the foreseeable future. Their retirement and investment accounts are rapidly losing value, and their children are at home, missing out on their education, because their day care, school, or college has closed down.
All of us are deeply worried about the older people in our lives, like our beloved elderly parents or grandparents, who are more likely to die or suffer serious health effects from the illness.
To combat coronavirus effectively, we need a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach.
When the enemy you’re fighting is an infectious disease, your personal conduct doesn’t just affect you personally. It affects everyone else in your community too.
That’s why social distancing, and staying at home wherever possible, and washing your hands—all these seemingly humdrum things—are so critical. Seeing people crowded on Florida beaches is totally unacceptable. They are endangering themselves and they are endangering their fellow citizens. If people won’t do the right thing voluntarily, then government must require them to do the right thing.
We are a nation deeply committed to the principles of liberty and freedom. It’s part of our national soul. It’s one of the reasons why I love this country so much. But we all need to make some personal sacrifices for the common good.
As I said, coronavirus is, above all, a threat to public health—and that threat will only be defeated through science and medicine.
We have to conduct far more testing to identify people with COVID so we can isolate and treat them—effectively and humanely.
We need better medical treatments for people with coronavirus so they survive their ordeal and recover. Keeping the mortality rate low is key.
And we need a large-scale, Manhattan Project-style research effort to develop a vaccine.
That’s the only way this crisis ends. Until then, we need to soldier on and do everything possible to support our workers and businesses, who are being hurt by a force beyond their control, through no fault of their own.
This will require calm, capable, and decisive leadership at every level of government—federal, state, and local. There is absolutely no time for partisanship or petty politics. Coronavirus is tearing at the fabric of our society, but we can’t let it break us.
Now, as you may have heard, I’ve been personally affected by COVID. I’m hosting this call from self-quarantine here in central Florida, because I was in close proximity to a congressional colleague of mine who later tested positive for coronavirus.
Knock on wood, I’ve experienced no symptoms to date and my health is very good. It’s now been 13 days since my potential exposure. Unless there are changes to my health, I will end my self-quarantine tomorrow—two weeks from my exposure date.
Two of my staff members are also self-quarantining, and they feel fine too. As you can imagine, my staff are like family to me, and so I’m closely monitoring their condition as well as my own.
All of this serves to underscore that coronavirus is a challenge to our entire community, our entire country, and our entire world. It doesn’t care whether you are rich or poor, or what religion or nationality you are, or what language you speak, or the color of your skin. The simple fact is—we are all in this together.
With that as background, let me quickly outline what Congress is doing to respond to this pandemic.
We have already passed two large bills this month and today we are passing an even larger bill.
I will give you a few highlights from these bills and we can delve into the details during the Q-and-A if you’d like.
The first bill totaled $8.3 billion. It was an emergency appropriations bill, mostly putting new funding into key health accounts to fund R&D on testing, treatment, and vaccines.
The bill also created a disaster loan program at SBA to assist small for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations affected by coronavirus, and that program is now up and running in Florida.
Qualifying small businesses can receive up to $2 million dollars in financial assistance, which can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that can’t be paid because of COVID’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses and 2.75 percent for non-profits like you.
Congress has eliminated the typical creditworthiness requirements and we’ve reduced red tape and bureaucracy so checks go out the door and into your businesses as soon as possible.
If you’d like to apply for a loan, and need guidance, my office is happy to assist you.
The second coronavirus bill we crafted was approved a week ago, though it seems like a year ago.
It provides free testing for coronavirus for all Americans, with or without insurance.
It also increases federal funding for Medicaid programs in Florida and other states. I’ve urged leaders in Tallahassee to finally expand Medicaid to cover more people. It was the right thing to do before the coronavirus crisis, and it’s absolutely critical now.
Finally, the law provides for two weeks of sick leave for workers who are sick or quarantined or who are caring for a family member who is sick or quarantined.
It also provides for an additional 10 weeks of family and medical leave for workers who must stay home to care for a child whose school or day care has closed due to coronavirus. I was deeply involved in drafting this provision. It’s not perfect, but I’m really proud of it.
Employers who are required to provide these benefits to their eligible workers get swiftly reimbursed by the federal government—100 percent. The reimbursement is done as a credit against employer-side payroll taxes. We’ve tried to make it as fast as possible, because we know a lot of firms have cash flow problems right now.
That brings us to the third bill, known as the CARES Act, which I am sure you have been hearing about all over the news. The Senate approved the nearly 900-page bill late last night, the House will soon approve the bill, and the President will sign it almost immediately. This is good, because you and your fellow citizens can’t wait a moment longer for support from your government.
The CARES Act is a $2 trillion dollar investment—an infusion of funding into our health system, our economy, our families, and our for-profit and non-profit businesses. It’s the biggest bill, dollars-wise, in the 230-year history of our country. It’s an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis.
I should caution you that all the fine details of this bill are still being absorbed. In the coming days, my office will be making sure families and businesses are aware of all the different forms of assistance made available under the bill, so folks can get the help they need. It’s not just about enacting this bill, it’s about executing on it.
Let me just give you some highlights of this nearly 900-page bill that I hope will be of interest and relevance to you.
The bill includes what has been described as a “Marshall Plan” for health care workers and our health care system.
It provides every adult with a Social Security number with a check for $1,200 dollars, plus an additional $500 dollars per child. Those amounts will begin to phase out for individuals earning more than $75,000 dollars—or $150,000 dollars for married couples filing jointly.
It includes an above-the-line deduction for total charitable contributions of up to $300 dollars, which applies to contributions made in 2020 and would be claimed on tax forms next year.
Relatedly, the bill lifts the existing cap on annual contributions for those who itemize, raising it from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent.
Both provisions will encourage charitable giving at a time when people may be less inclined to donate, given their own economic anxiety.
The bill delays employer-side payroll taxes through the end of the calendar year. It’s a delay, not an elimination.
The bill makes a massive investment in state unemployment programs. This is particularly important for Florida, which has perhaps the least generous UI program in the country. The bill provides every American receiving unemployment with a $600 dollar increase in benefits; increases the length for which benefits can be received; and allows part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers to access benefits.
The bill makes a wide variety of assistance available to small businesses, both for-profit and non-profits.
For example, it makes $350 billion dollars in forgivable loans available to small businesses and non-profits to maintain their existing workforce and help pay for other expenses like rent, mortgage, and utilities. It provides $10 billion dollars for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 dollars to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs. And it provides $17 billion dollars to cover 6 months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans.
Finally, I want to highlight a provision I’m particularly proud of, which is a proposal I’ve been pushing called the Employee Retention Tax Credit, or ERTC. We fought really hard to get this in the final bill, and we were ultimately successful.
The ERTC is a fully refundable tax credit that employers, including non-profits, can claim. The credit is equal to 50 percent of wages paid to an employee, up to total of $10,000 per employee for the calendar year.
The credit is taken against employment taxes, with any excess refunded to the employer.
The credit is available to employers that had to fully or partially suspend operations due to an order from a governmental authority, or had a decline in gross receipts for any calendar quarter in 2020 of 50 percent, compared to the same quarter in 2019.
For employers with 100 or fewer employees, the credit applies to wages paid to all workers, whether they are working or furloughed. For employers with over 100 employees, the credit applies to wages paid to furloughed workers only. The goal of the ERTC is to help employers who help their employees, keeping them on payroll rather than laying them off.
I’m really excited about this credit, and I’m hopeful it will be of use to both businesses and workers.
While there are many other provisions in the bill that I’m happy to discuss, I want to turn it over to you now.
I will use whatever you tell me on this call to inform my next actions. I’ll also convey the information you give me to my key colleagues in Congress and to senior officials in the Trump administration.
If you have concerns that are better addressed by the Florida government, or by the Orange County or Seminole County governments, I am in constant contact with them as well, and I can pass along your recommendations or concerns.
Please be as candid and as blunt as you want. I and other elected leaders need to hear the truth, even if it’s not pretty. In times of crisis, honesty and facts are more critical than ever.
I’m joined on this call by multiple members of my staff. I’ve asked them to chime in from time to time to help address your concerns.
With that, I want to thank you again and open up the line to your questions and comments.