CARES Act provides needed relief to NM, isn't the end - Albuquerque Journal

CARES Act provides needed relief to NM, isn’t the end

This is a difficult and unprecedented time for families across New Mexico. First and foremost, New Mexicans are worried about protecting their health and the health of their families during this global pandemic. But they are also being forced to confront new economic pain and uncertainty – wondering whether they’ll be able to pay the bills and put food on the table.

New Mexicans have responded to this adversity with characteristic resolve. In Congress, we are working hard to provide our state with the support New Mexico needs to get through this crisis.

Last month, Congress passed a $2 trillion relief package to respond to the COVID-19 crisis – the largest response package ever enacted. This pandemic demands action of this magnitude.

Throughout this emergency, we have kept our focus on those hit hardest: working people, small businesses and our most vulnerable populations – low-income communities, rural communities, communities of color and tribal communities. We worked to ensure the relief package effectively responded to the day-to-day realities New Mexicans now face.

And we worked to provide major resources for our overloaded health care system – the rural hospitals struggling to stay afloat, urban hospitals facing unprecedented challenges and the heroic health care workers on the front lines of this fight.

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans released their draft relief package, it was a giveaway for industry and big corporations, and it didn’t do enough for working New Mexicans.

But we held firm. And, in the end, we helped negotiate the much improved bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or “CARES” Act. This package, passed (by the Senate) by a vote of 96 to 0, helps keep workers on the payroll, dramatically expands unemployment benefits, helps small businesses stay afloat, establishes a $150 billion “Marshall Plan” to bolster our health care system and puts guardrails on funds for big corporations.

Crucially, the state of New Mexico will be eligible for up to $1.25 billion for reimbursement of the state and local governments’ COVID-related costs.

Our first priority is to keep New Mexicans healthy and make sure they weather the economic storm.

That’s why this legislation will make direct payments of $1,200 to most individual New Mexicans, $2,400 for married couples, and $500 per child.

The bill drastically expands unemployment insurance to cover the self-employed and “gig” employees – and increases the weekly benefit by $600 for four months.

It has key support for small businesses – the engines of New Mexico’s economy. That includes loans of up to $10 million for small businesses, with those loans being converted to grants if companies keep employees on the payroll.

The CARES Act supports New Mexico’s 23 tribes and pueblos, with $10 billion in relief and emergency funding for Native communities that are at severe risk from this pandemic.

And it protects New Mexico’s national laboratory and federal contractor employees by ensuring paid leave for federal contractors who can’t work on-site or remotely.

Is this a perfect bill? No. Must we do more? Absolutely. But it will provide immediate, and badly needed, relief to New Mexicans struggling to overcome this crisis.

In New Mexico, we are fortunate to have Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s strong leadership. She acted early and decisively, and her work has gone a long way helping contain COVID-19 and saving New Mexican lives.

Unfortunately, the president has not shown the same leadership or competence. And it’s the American people who are suffering as a consequence.

In Congress, we have a lot of work ahead. We must be watchdogs over the administration to make sure the federal dollars we appropriated are expeditiously and fairly disbursed to states, local governments and tribes. We must push the federal government to use every resource at its disposal to ensure free and widespread testing, as well as to provide the necessary health care supplies to keep our communities healthy and safe.

And we must closely monitor the continuing health and economic impacts of this virus on New Mexico and the nation as we prepare for what we hope will be a bipartisan fourth legislative package.

This pandemic is challenging us in unprecedented ways. But there are thousands of stories of New Mexicans and Americans coming together, helping others making a difference. We firmly believe that, working together, we will get through this crisis and come out stronger on the other end.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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