Lankford Pushes for Targeted COVID-19 Relief Bill to Support Testing, Charities, Kids, and Small Businesses
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s floor speech.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today outlined the latest offer of targeted relief from Senate Republicans, which was introduced yesterday. The bill focuses on assisting Americans who have been impacted most, including small businesses, assisting schools to help students get back to school safely, and prioritizing vaccine development, health, and resorting the National Stockpile.
The bill also includes Lankford’s proposal to expand the current above-the-line deduction for charitable giving. Specifically, the bill would double the amount from the CARES Act to allow for a $600 above-the-line deduction for charitable giving on federal income taxes. After the targeted relief was introduced yesterday, Lankford state, “Government sees the needs across the country as numbers on a page, local non-profits and houses of worship know each name and each need.”
In his remarks this afternoon, Lankford stressed that we need to stop playing partisan politics and focus in on how we can best move our nation forward, not focus on presidential elections.
The past several weeks I have had the opportunity to be able to travel around the great state of Oklahoma. I have literally been from Guymon to Talihina, from Bartlesville to Lawton to be able to cover as much space as I could and talk to as many people as I could. Obviously we were in smaller groups. We had masks and social distancing and were doing all we could to take care of each other but taking the moment to meet with school superintendents, parents, teachers, health care providers, and hospital administrators, small business owners, and employees of large and small businesses, not-for-profits and their volunteers, law enforcement individuals, city managers, mayors, city councilmen, state leadership. I wanted to be able to hear what's going on on the ground in my state and to be able to know what needs to be addressed because there's been a lot of noise in Washington, DC about what needs to be done on COVID-19.
I think many people in the national press lose track of the fact that $3 trillion has already been allocated to deal with COVID-19 and a tremendous number of changes have already occurred. But in this town, there's a significant number of people that say we just spent $3 trillion. That was fun, let's do it all over again and see a way we can spend even more. My focus has been very simple. What is needed to be able to beat the virus? And what I heard all over Oklahoma wasn't go do more, just go spend more, go create new programs, but how can we beat this virus back so that we can actually get to a moment where we can function again economically as a nation? People are returning to work, but they're asking some very basic questions. And the first of those is, this is a health crisis, what are we doing?
The bill that's just been released that we're voting on in the Senate tomorrow has a whole series of issues tailored to actually work on beating the virus back and on getting our economy going and helping protect our families. That's the design of this. It's not just doing something. It's trying to be able to do the right things to actually help us get through this and to get to the other side of it. Starting with money for testing, not just additional testing, but new types of testing to make sure we have faster tests that are out there and that we have more testing that actually addresses the issue of how can you do it on site, get a rapid result and not wait weeks. So while we have literally millions of tests that have been done, we still have some tests that take a long time to get back. In March we were dealing with let's get a test. Now we're dealing with let's get a faster test. And that's a lot of the focus of the funding here., faster testing.
Vaccines- there are six vaccines now that are either in human trials or approaching human trials right now. That's remarkable thinking about the past history of vaccines and how long it's taken. But there is a significant amount of money invested in this, in February, in March, in previous bills to be able to fast-track the research, and that has made a difference. Now it's a matter of moving it from the research phase to the trials to actually implementing it and getting it done nationwide. Significant money for testing, for vaccines and for treatments that are out there.
The second thing is how do we get our schools open again? I heard over and over again from parents and from administrators and from teachers, we want to get our schools open again. Public, private, charter, online, whatever it maybe, those parents that are taxpayers and individuals—regardless of where they choose to send their child to school or if they choose to keep their child at home for school— those parents want to know what is going to be done to be able to help our kids get educated. And while the vast majority of funding and of authority for education is in the states, there is a federal connection here that we should be able to help, especially kids with special needs.
They have unique challenges during the time of COVID-19, and we need to be able to get those kids back in school and to be able to get them the additional care that they need during this time period. But all parents are saying to me, I want the best possible moment. I do not want my kid being written-off for the future because someone didn't choose to be able to invest in them now. This bill has $105 billion towards education, public, private, charter, and homeschool. It has tax credits built in to be able to assist parents to be able to choose where they want their kids to go. It has ability for more and more schools to be able to go online to be able to help through this season. It has additional dollars that can be used for transportation because many school districts are doing multiple bus routes to be able to make sure they can keep down the number of people on individual bus. All of those things are helpful. We want to be able to help get our kids back in school and to be able to make sure that this is successful.
During this moment it's been interesting. As I talked to many superintendents and educators, they all said to me the same thing, we're working very hard to be able to get our kids back in class and do the things we need to do, and then they would pause and say for years we have talked about innovation in education, but we've been stuck doing the same thing over and over and over again and been frustrated with the results. This pandemic has forced us to innovate in education in ways that we only dreamed about years ago. We need to be prepared during this season not only to continue to educate our kids in the best way possible but to take notes on the best innovation across the country in education. Because we have said as a nation, we need to be stronger at how we're educating our kids and the end product of that and how we're preparing them for the workforce. This is that moment we should pay attention to as well. And the education innovations that are actually going on in my state and around the country.
There is money in this for childcare because this is has been an interesting challenge. The childcare facilities have fewer people that are allowed to be there, there's children that are able to be there but the profit margin doesn't work for them to be able to have all those employees and fewer children that are there. We want them to be able to be there and to be successful and to survive this so we add additional dollars for childcare.
We add additional dollars for ag because in some areas of agriculture across the country they have done very well but some struggled. If we want to be able to eat we better make sure ag survives and thrives through this.
I met with business leaders and heard a lot of different conversations there. They were very appreciative of the Paycheck Protection Program. In my state 61,000 small businesses and not-for-profits took advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program and many of them told me we would not be open today if it wasn't for that. I was grateful this body came together to be able to deal the with the Paycheck Protection Program because it made a real difference in my state and many other states around the country.
The bill we're putting on the floor on Thursday. It deals specifically with the next round of Paycheck Protection limiting it to the hardest hit small businesses and non-profits. Those that have had the largest amount of revenue loss and that are the smallest businesses. We need them to be able to survive through this. Now nothing's going to make them hole and the goal of this shouldn't be able to make every business whole. We can't financially sustain that as a country, but we can try to get people through this and get to the other side of it. We're all going to have to innovate and most small businesses that I talked to told me about the innovations they were doing. How they used to do business one way and within 36 hours they figured out a way to be able to do it a different way. That is the American system. That is the free market and capitalism at its best. At the moment of struggle, you can go innovate and do things different and be successful with that. That's what we have got to continue to protect. Not too much government oversight and control of everything that in the days and moments where we have to innovate, people can't innovate because they have so much government mandates on them.
I was grateful to the Trump Administration and how much flexibility they gave to the process, not only to waivers for child lunches through the schools and flexibility there, but flexibility for businesses to be able to innovate in a very difficult moment. But we'll need another round, smaller round, but another round for the hardest hit businesses for the paycheck protection program. Our not-for-profits told me over and over again how much work that they are doing during this time period. We need to make sure those not-for-profits not only survive it but thrive. As I have said to this body before, we have three safety nets in America. The family, churches and not-for-profits and faith-based institutions, and then government is third. A lot of people look at our safety net as being all the government programs but that's the last in this cycle.
If our families aren't strong, then individuals struggle. If our faith-based institutions, our not-for-profits that take care of so much human need are not strong and thriving and those volunteers aren't engaged, there is no way the government can keep up with the issues. So just keeping not-for-profits open can't be the goal for this. We have to keep them thriving. Those not-for-profits around the country are taking care of the homeless, the hungry, the hurting, and we need to find ways to be able to strengthen them. The best way to do that is not to have some government programs to establish the best way to identify good not-for-profits. The best way to be able to do that is to allow the American people to look at what is working in their neighborhoods and communities because they will invest their own dollars to do that. In the CARES Act, I pushed for and we got a $300 write-off on your taxes. If every American will give $300 to the not-for-profit of their choice. In this proposal that doubles for the individuals and quadruples for the family. It is a $600 tax write-off for an individual or a $1,200 tax write-off for a family if you will donate to a not-for-profit. Why don't we choose to do that? Because not-for-profits are way more efficient at taking care of human needs than the government is, because they have a face. They are interacting with a family. They are interacting with an individual directly. They are not dealing with someone on the phone or online. It's not a check that you receive or a form you fill out. It's a person that you meet with face-to-face that says how can I help you? And it's a volunteer that's there to be able to walk through life with you. Those faith-based ministries and those secular and other not-for-profits that are out there make an enormous difference, and the best thing that we can do to make sure they thrive in this moment is to make sure we incentivize individuals that give to them by saying you can either give this to Uncle Sam or give this to a local charity of your choice. Either way, it's going to strengthen individuals. Go engage with that. That's in this bill, and it's important that we be able to continue to walk alongside them and all those not-for-profits to make sure we thrive because we need them thriving, not just surviving in this moment.
And there is one other thing that I want to identify. A lot of things that are in this bill, and it's liability protections. Businesses and universities in my state said we desperately need the federal government to clarify liability protections. Now, there have been individuals on the other side of the aisle that have said we don't want to do that. We want to just leave that up to the lawyers in the days ahead to have lawsuits. What is occurring is there are many businesses in my state that are holding back and many schools in my state that are holding back trying to figure out what happens next for fear of what could be a series of lawsuits. They just want clarity. They want to do business where they can protect their employees, protect the consumers or individuals or students that are there that are around them, but they also want to be able to operate and function again and don't feel like they can do that without basic liability protections and liability definitions. This bill provides that.
Now, I have heard some in the media and some even in this building that have said this is a pared down, skinny bill. Only in Washington, DC is a $300 billion piece of legislation considered skinny. Only here. Over and over again at home, when I talk to people across the state of Oklahoma, and I would present what has already been done in the previous acts, the $3 trillion that have already been spent on COVID in the months before and the proposals that we have now that would quietly pull me aside at the end of the meeting and they would say almost exactly the same thing. Where is this money coming from?
People are worried about the virus, but they are also worried about what's coming next. People are used to taking out a loan if there is a major storm or a major life event. Knowing I have got to take this loan out to get through it, but they also realize for every loan I take out, I have to pay that back. And people in my state are saying the same thing—where is this money coming from? How are we ever going to pay it back? And they are shocked that the House of Representatives and many in this room are pushing a bill that is $3.5 trillion in spending on top of the $3 trillion that was already spent earlier this year, and they just gasp when they think about an additional $6.5 trillion of deficits in a single year. And they wonder what happens with that. And I respond to them—so do I. That's why we're trying to be as tailored and as focused as we can possibly be to meet the needs that need to be done, but to not just throw a big number out and to say a big number we ought to go big. We have gone big earlier this year. Now it's not just can we throw money out the door from Washington, DC, it is what do we have to do to be able to get to the other side of this? For health, for our students, for the basic operations of our economy and survival to be able to get on the other side of this, because on the other side of this is a bill that has to be paid. We in this body should pay attention to that because certainly the people in Oklahoma are paying attention to that, and so should we. There are things that need to be done, and I look forward to bringing this up to be able to focus on the essential things that need to be done for our economy right now and to be able to keep moving from there.
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