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Lankford Supports COVID Relief, Slams Broken Process

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today issued a statement following passage of HR 133, Consolidated Appropriations Act, which includes targeted relief in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The bill now heads to the President.

“Oklahomans and Americans have endured a year with too many challenges. That includes waiting for relief that Congress should have provided months ago. We have agreed for months that another relief package is needed for those directly affected by Covid, the unemployed, small businesses and educators. Today, we have finally passed needed targeted relief that provides direct payments to Americans in need, extends the pandemic unemployment program for those out of work, and provides support for small businesses who are struggling, including our essential nonprofits. Most importantly, it provides funding for every Oklahoman to receive any of the Covid vaccines for free if they choose to take it.

“Those who are hurt the most by the pandemic get the most help in this bill. But, the bill also includes all twelve appropriations bills to fund every program in the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, an energy bill, tax policy, homeland security bills, an end to surprise billing in hospitals and more. There are many essential bills in this package, but each of them should have been done individually over the past seven months, rather than crammed into the last legislative week of the year.  

“The process to get to this final bill has been the ugliest I’ve seen in my time in Congress. Excuses about Covid, the election and a failure to even try the committee process has stacked up a year’s worth of work for the last week of the year. This isn’t sustainable. Amendments were behind closed doors, arguments were conducted through the media and the bill grew larger the longer it stayed in the dark.  This process needs sunshine. 

“It took three short-term spending bill extensions in the last week to get to a final agreement. Over and over I reminded the Senate that if we had passed my bipartisan Prevent Government Shutdowns Act, we would have had much less drama. We need to get back to actually conducting the appropriations process on time and allow it to happen in the public throughout the year, not behind closed doors with four people, four days before Christmas. It’s time to get back to legislating again.  The bill includes hundreds of essential and important policies that should have been considered individually, rather than combined into one enormous bill.”

In March, Lankford supported the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Lankford secured in today’s COVID relief package an extension of a $300 deduction ($600 for those filing jointly) for charitable giving on federal income taxes.

Oklahoma highlights in the bill include: 

  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill: 
    • A second round of direct payments of $600 for individuals ($1200 for those filing jointly) plus $600 for each qualifying child.
    • Temporarily extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) through April 5, 2021, with an additional $300 a week for 10 weeks.
    • Provides $325 billion for a second round of the successful Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses with the highest need.
    • Provides tax deductibility of PPP expenses, something Lankford has heard extensively from the Oklahoma small business community.
    • Provides simplified loan forgiveness for loans of $150,000 or less, the vast majority of PPP loans. 
    • Extends the eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021.
    • $10.25 billion for child care providers, including direct support for child care providers to ensure parents have access to child care to return to work.
    • Additional assistance for Oklahoma foodbanks.
    • Nearly $20 billion for vaccine development.
    • $13 billion to support farmers and ranchers.
    • Provides additional $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program.
    • Allows Oklahomans to rollover unused balances in a Flex Savings Account to next year.
    • Extends the deadline for the Coronavirus Relief Fund for states and Tribes until December 31, 2021.
  • Calls on the Department of Justice to appropriately address the needs arising out of the Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma and directs the agency to continue to make itself available for consultations in support of a sustainable, long-term response.
  • Prioritizes broadband and telecommunications access programs to minorities, Tribes, and rural communities, including $250 million for the COVID-19 Telehealth program.
  • Three percent pay raise for active military.
  • Includes multiple pro-life policies.
  • $120 million to begin new construction on a VA hospital in Tulsa.
  • Funding to continue construction of the border fence and add new technology to protect the US southern border.
  • Rural health—allows Critical Access Hospitals and Sole Community Hospitals to convert to 24/7 Emergency Departments to preserve access to emergency medical care in rural areas without increased cost to the patient.
  • $250 million to the US State Department to modernize technology to streamline process passports.