By Rep. Ben Cline
As our nation mourns the loss of more than 100,000 American lives from the coronavirus pandemic, our country was struck by yet another tragedy – the brutal killing of George Floyd. We share the grief and anger of Mr. Floyd’s family, who remain in our prayers during this difficult time. Mr. Floyd’s killing was an outrageous act of violence committed by a member of law enforcement, and with the recent charging of all of the now-former officers involved, I look forward to justice being served and being served quickly.
Over the last week, thousands of Americans have gathered peacefully in cities across the country to express their outrage and anger over Mr. Floyd’s death. I want to express my respect and appreciation to those who protested peacefully regarding Mr. Floyd’s killing and who exercised their First Amendment rights, including those who participated in events in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Staunton and Harrisonburg. Let us together turn our collective voice into positive action, and through outreach, dialogue and understanding, we can work to achieve justice and greater unity as a nation in the days ahead.
Reopening the Country:
Early last month, the Trump Administration released its Guidelines For Reopening America developed by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and since then, the majority of U.S. states have begun the process of reopening.
Starting May 15, Virginia began its first phase of a gradual reopening plan put in place by Governor Northam, when salons could open by appointment and restaurants and bars could allow outdoor dining in most counties. Excluding Northern Virginia and Richmond, which remain in Phase One, Virginia’s second phase of reopening began June 5, as key statewide health metrics continue to show positive signs. Virginia’s hospital bed capacity remains stable, the percentage of people hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test is trending downward, no hospitals are reporting PPE shortages, and the percent of positive tests continues to trend downward as testing increases.
Under Phase Two, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 50 people. Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer indoor dining at 50 percent occupancy, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 30 percent occupancy, and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may open with restrictions. The current guidelines for religious services, non-essential retail, and personal grooming services will largely remain the same in Phase Two.
Please note that health officials are warning that mass gatherings and protests around the country could exacerbate the spread of the virus, just as the economy is beginning to slowly and safely restart. Peaceful demonstrators should take appropriate measures to maintain their safety and the safety of others by adhering to social distancing guidelines and other CDC recommendations.
Emergency Relief Payment:
In the past week, I have heard from many of my constituents who are still waiting to receive their Emergency Relief Payments from the IRS. Please be aware that it may arrive in the form of a prepaid debit card. Please take the time to examine the contents of any mail received from the IRS, Treasury Department, or Money Network before you shred or throw it away. For answers to frequently asked questions surrounding the prepaid debit cards, visit eipcard.com/faq. To contact the card vendor, call 1-800-240-8100.
Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act:
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has provided over $511 billion in much-needed relief to over 4 million small businesses and their employees, including over $12 billion to almost 100,000 businesses in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
As small businesses adapt to different stages of reopening restrictions, many need more flexibility for the terms of their PPP loans. To address the varying needs of small businesses and ensure that they can focus on getting back on their feet, the House and Senate recently passed, and the President signed, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act.
Coronavirus Food Assistance Program:
The United States Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program until August 28. If you are a farmer or rancher who has been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I would encourage you to apply for financial relief at farmers.gov/cfap.
As part of the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture also created the Farmers to Families Food Box initiative to help those affected by the pandemic. And this week, I enjoyed the opportunity to join volunteers at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg to help distribute 7,000 meals to folks in need.
On June 6, 1944, Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. Their fortitude laid the foundation for victory in Europe. This weekend, we honor the memory of the more than 4,000 soldiers who perished and the thousands who were wounded or missing.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.