The Federal Government Responds to the Coronavirus

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Few, if any, events in our lifetimes have had such a widespread impact as the coronavirus outbreak. It is a health concern, but if you are sitting at home reading this when you would otherwise be at work, going out to eat, attending a community event, or participating in any other activity that has been cancelled, you understand just how much our lives and livelihoods have been disrupted.

Since more than just public health has been upset by the effects of coronavirus, and the government has required schools and businesses to close, the government’s response calls for more than public health measures.

So far, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted on two measures related to the coronavirus. I voted for both. While not perfect, I believe they will help meet the needs of this present emergency. They expand testing, provide paid sick leave for workers who are affected by the coronavirus, and give a hand to small businesses reeling from the pandemic.

While Congress has voted for resources and legislative fixes, agencies have offered regulatory relief and waivers so red tape won’t hold up solutions to combat coronavirus and work around its effects.

With schools closed, students and teachers can use remote learning, but remote learning in turn requires Internet access. Similarly, with health care resources strained by the coronavirus and vulnerable populations encouraged to self-quarantine, telehealth options become more valuable. In response, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) waived the E-Rate and Rural Health Care program gift rules, allowing broadband providers more flexibility in providing service and thus supporting remote learning and telehealth.

Taking advantage of these services requires an Internet connection, but many companies have announced that they will expand availability of their products or services, such as free use of WiFi hotspots, during this emergency. Check with Internet service providers in your area to see what resources they may offer.

Further, Medicare beneficiaries now have the option to use telemedicine instead of having to visit a doctor in person.

The U.S. Treasury Department has moved the federal Tax Day from April 15 to July 15. All taxpayers and businesses will have this extra time to file their federal returns and make payments without interest or penalties. However, taxpayers expecting refunds should file now to get their money.

Small businesses have been hit hard by the coronavirus’ economic impact. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans in designated areas, including Virginia. They are low-interest loans to help small businesses get back on their feet. To learn more, visit SBA.gov/disaster.

You can still access Social Security’s online services, such as applying for benefits, checking the status of an application or appeal, or requesting a replacement card, at socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices. Your local office is also able to conduct business over the phone.

It is an unfortunate reality, but we must be on guard against scammers even in this time. Fraudulent letters threaten the suspension of Social Security benefits due to office closures. This is false. Benefits will not be suspended or discontinued even when offices are closed for in-person service.

Also, beware of scam robocalls and text messages related to the coronavirus, including offers of fake cures and free home testing kits. You can stay up to date on avoiding these scams through the FCC (https://www.fcc.gov/covid-scams) and the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov/coronavirus).

The Federal Government is on the move, but even as businesses and schools close, worship services are cancelled, and events are postponed, there is much we can do as citizens to help each other.

Blood donations are still needed, and the American Red Cross has identified a nationwide blood shortage. Healthy individuals who qualify can give blood and save lives.

The elderly and people with existing health conditions are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. If you have family, friends, or neighbors in this category, check in on them. Avoid prolonged contact to prevent any potential transmission, but maybe you can help them with grocery purchases or talk on the phone to keep them company.

The dining rooms of local restaurants are closed, but you can support them by ordering takeout or buying gift cards.

Law enforcement and medical professionals continue to work through this pandemic. So do the truckers and grocery store stockers who bring the food we eat to the stores where we purchase it. If you see these personnel, thank them.

This time may be difficult, but it is no time to panic or despair.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or my Washington office at 202-225-3861. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.