‘Trying to do what we can’: Rep. Hagedorn discusses Congress’s role in combating COVID-19
Published 7:01 am Saturday, April 11, 2020
As COVID-19 continues to shut down much of the country, Americans are turning to their elected officials for solutions. State and federal leaders have put orders into effect to try to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus’s spread, but the situation is still far from over.
While health is a major concern, Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-MN1) said the biggest concern he hears from constituents is related to the virus’s economic impact.
“People are wanting to know if they’re going to be able to get these bridge loans for their small businesses,” he told the Herald. “They’re also hoping to get the Paycheck Protection Program grant, and the government has $350 billion for that. And of course the people who are employed in those businesses or are currently unemployed want to make sure they’re going to be cared for as well.”
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Even on the healthcare side of things, Hagedorn said the economic effect has been felt.
“Aside from needing personal protective equipment, we want to make sure rural hospitals don’t go bankrupt over this,” he said. “They’ve put off so many surgeries and treatments that they’re losing money everyday.”
“We’re all very concerned about loss of life,” he added. “People realize that it’s a virus and it’s something we’ve never experienced before. We don’t have a vaccine at this point and that can be very devastating for people. We’re hunkered down; the governor gave his stay-at-home order and people are trying to figure out what that means. We still have to live, we still have to get through this and figure out when we can restart the economy.”
In an effort to alleviate the economic impact, Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill in March, which Hagedorn supported. While he did not approve of some of the spending, Hagedorn still felt passage of the bill was necessary.
“We had to do what we could for the American people under the circumstances,” he said. “I think the money for the small businesses, $350 billion, was an adequate amount to get started. They put that program together in a week; that’s quite something.”
“The Secretary of the Treasury says it (the small business stimulus) might require more funding, and I support that because that program is designed to keep our small businesses going so when we do re-open, they can fire back up and don’t have to go out and recruit and train people,” he added. “(Small businesses) can be as efficient as possible, so that is very important.”
Other aspects of the bill included $250 billion for direct payments, which is supposed to give families of four earning under $150,000 a direct deposit of $3,400 from the U.S. Treasury in the next week or two. There is also extra money for unemployment compensation – $600 per person per week – which runs until they are called back in to work. The bill also included about $100 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for agriculture, which has been a key concern for Hagedorn.
“Our livestock industry in this country is in trouble,” he said. “We have the second most hog farmers in the nation in our congressional district. Right now as it stands, they’re losing $50 a head. That’s not sustainable. I’ve been devising a solution and I’ve got one put together that we’re going to present to the House Agriculture Committee and the Secretary of Agriculture that would use a market-based solution to make sure our producers, whenever they sell into this market and are losing money because of the coronavirus, are not harmed and driven out of business.”
“More than 50 percent of all food in this country is consumed in restaurants,” he continued. “It’s hard to believe; everyone would think the vast majority is in our homes, but it’s not. When these restaurants don’t sell, then they aren’t buying fine cuts of meat, dairy products or anything else. The prices went through the floor these last few weeks and I’m really concerned about our livestock producers.”
Congress has also made a bipartisan effort to allow the medical community to combat the coronavirus.
“We put together a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services saying it made sense during a crisis to allow healthcare workers to work across state lines,” Hagedorn said, referring to a letter he helped write. “That has enabled doctors to do telemedicine across state lines and be reimbursed by Medicare and allow healthcare workers to crisscross the country and provide care as needed. We’ve worked with Mayo Clinic to help them knock down barriers and get rid of red tape and fast track them to do testing. They came up with one of the original tests for COVID-19 and they are working on a test to see if antibodies are present in a person that would tell them if they’ve already had the illness. From there, they can take plasma out of people and inject it into others who are susceptible to the illness or already have it to minimize the risk of dying.”
Hagedorn did express concerns after a recent visit to Mayo Clinic for a cancer follow-up, calling the place “a ghost town.”
“Our hospitals are being diverted for (COVID-19) treatment and no one is seeing patients unless it’s a total emergency,” he said. “They’re doing it to prepare for a surge as well as to preserve personal protective equipment. I’m concerned a lot of people are putting off medical care, and it could be a problem. My cancer was found unwittingly – it was just a routine physical examination that caught it, so I got treatment. Had that (physical) not occurred, I might not be here today. I’m concerned we’re only focused on the one side while there are people going without medical care right now. Their lives are important too. I asked the governor to look at a way to focus on COVID-19 patients in specific places, however many it would take, and let everybody else go back to the doctor because right now, I’m worried about people.”
The Trump Administration’s handling of the COVID-19 situation has drawn a mix of praise and criticism. Hagedorn said he believes President Donald Trump is “doing a fine job.”
“The president took very decisive action early when he shut down the border with China,” he said. “That might have done as much good as anything at that point, and he did that in the middle of the Democrat impeachment. On top of that, you had leaders like (former Vice President Joe) Biden and others saying that he was being a racist for doing it and that it was not a necessary step. Later, they came back saying it was a good idea. He put together a task force under the Vice President and they’re doing all they can under the circumstances. This is something we’ve never had to deal with in our lifetime; there are going to be bottlenecks and it’s going to be tough. You can’t just snap a finger and make things happen.”
“Right now, what we need are people to step up and work together to minimize this to help keep the loss of life as minimal as possible, get past it, and get back to everyday life as best we can and as soon as we can,” he added.
Since there is no definite end in sight, Hagedorn said Congress will continue to work for the American people.
“For now we’re trying to do what we can; minimize the damage, do social distancing and follow the rules so we can get past it,” he said. “Congress will step in when needed to make sure people can have a bridge from when this started to when this ends.
“Whatever it takes, we’re there to help. We’re happy to be there as best we can.”