Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Talks Individual Stimulus Payments & Contact Tracing and Testing During Tele-Town Hall
May 20, 2020
Honolulu, HI—Today, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) hosted her weekly tele-town hall meeting to update Hawai‘i residents about COVID-19. Shawna Lamothe from the IRS and Gayvial James from the IRS Local Taxpayer Advocate office responded to some of the most common questions the Congresswoman and her staff have received over the past few weeks. Dr. Scott Miscovich, who has been leading COVID-19 testing efforts and working closely as a senior advisor to Lt. Gov. Josh Green, updated everyone about the importance of continuing to expand testing efforts so that the state can open safely and quickly identify and react to any new outbreak.
This was the tenth of a weekly coronavirus-related live telephone town hall series Rep. Gabbard has hosted since the pandemic began to impact Hawai’i.
“This massive public health crisis and economic fallout have hit people hard and relief efforts at the federal, state, and local levels are continuing to try to adapt in order to get aid into the hands of those who need it most. The fast-moving pace of developments has left many people confused and in search of assistance and answers,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “With experts from the IRS as well as Dr. Scott Miscovich who is leading testing efforts in our state, these telephone town halls have been crucial to keeping Hawai‘i residents informed and getting their questions answered.”
Rep. Gabbard began the call with an update from Washington, D.C., where she recently returned after voting on H.R.6800, the HEROES Act, a large emergency funding bill focused on providing resources to state and local governments, including Hawai‘i, Maui, and Kaua‘i counties. It also included funding for contact tracing and testing, and an additional direct payment for individuals. She also voted on legislation allowing an option for proxy voting solely during this crisis, to ensure that every American continues to be represented in Congress.
Gayvial Jones, who joined the call from the IRS Local Taxpayer Advocate office, reminded callers that the Taxpayer Advocate Service is there to be the voice of taxpayers with the IRS and are available to assist those having difficulty with an IRS issue. The phone number for the Taxpayer Advocate office in Honolulu is 808-566-2950, and the fax line is 855-819-5024.
Shawna Lamothe, Hawai‘i’s IRS Congressional Liaison, reminded everyone that they have until July 15 to file their taxes. She also noted that the IRS has so far delivered over 140 million Economic Relief payments, direct payments to taxpayers authorized by Congress in the CARES Act, and more are on the way. Payments can be tracked online through the “Get My Payment” tool on the IRS website. The IRS strongly encourages those who need assistance to visit IRS.gov, where many frequently asked questions are answered. The IRS has a dedicated phone line for common questions about the Economic Impact Payments, which can be reached at 1-800-919-9835.
Rep. Gabbard asked the IRS representatives a number of the most frequently asked questions, including the possible reasons for a delay in receipt of a stimulus payment, the IRS’s plan to process paper tax returns, and the tools available on the IRS website.
Dr. Scott Miscovich gave an update on the current state of testing throughout Hawai‘i, emphasizing that the job is not done. He noted the central importance of testing as the state moves forward toward reopening. Rep. Gabbard and Dr. Scott Miscovich took questions live on the call, and answered questions from constituents about the antibody testing now being carried out, the contact tracing plan that is still being formed for Hawai‘i, and the plans to ensure visitors to the state are tested as reopening moves forward. Both emphasized the importance of testing in building a data-driven picture as the state moves forward toward reopening.
Background: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and her team have been working since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis to bring more resources home to Hawaiʻi, while also keeping Hawaiʻi residents informed through a resource hub on her website, regular e-newsletter updates, and weekly telephone town hall events including public officials and community leaders to provide updates and directly answer constituent questions.
Protecting and Providing for Americans During the Crisis
In early March, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard introduced H.Res.897, a resolution that would provide an emergency non-taxable Universal Basic Payment to all adult Americans until COVID-19 no longer presents a public health emergency. She was the earliest Member of Congress to introduce legislation for a Universal Basic Income-like payment as a temporary economic stimulus package to directly and immediately help Americans as they weather this crisis.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has continued to work to make sure that much-needed medical supplies, testing, and personal protective equipment (PPE) are readily available and sent a letter requesting that the Trump Administration prioritize working with our trading partners to ensure medical providers can obtain needed equipment quickly. She also sent a letter to the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services calling for the Departments to ensure access to PPE for essential childcare providers.
In March, working with Hawai‘i’s Congressional Delegation, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard sent two letters calling on President Trump to support Hawai‘i’s request for medical equipment, supplies and resources for the state.
In April, she introduced H.R.6609 with Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) which directs the President to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to acquire and manufacture necessary components, materials, and supplies to conduct molecular and serological COVID-19 medical testing nationwide.
In May, she introduced H.R.6809, the Nurse Workforce Protection Act, with Rep. Rodney Davis (IL-13). The bipartisan bill would prevent a healthcare provider receiving COVID-19 federal assistance from furloughing, reducing the salary, or reducing the hours of its nurses more than 25% as well as prevent them from forcing them to use paid vacation days.
In mid-May, it was reported that the Trump Administration was abruptly stopping the deployment of over 40,000 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen one day shy of them qualifying for benefits they would earn under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Rep. Gabbard demanded that they be deployed as long as the public health crisis demanded it and not cut short in order to avoid giving them the benefits earned by their service and sacrifice.
She also urged House Leaders to support essential workers and to adopt labor rules that would ensure they receive full pay as they work to serve others during the pandemic. She also called for first responders and emergency service workers to receive hazard pay as well as additional resources for supplies — especially PPE — so they can keep safe while protecting Americans during this crisis. Rep. Gabbard has called for specific provisions to protect frontline healthcare workers, including financial assistance, preventing pay cuts, and protecting these critical workers against retaliation for things like wearing their own personal protective equipment or whistleblowing on unsafe practices in their facilities.
In March and early April, she cosponsored H.Res.908, a resolution which draws attention to the increased anti-Asian bigotry being witnessed during the coronavirus crisis and calls on the Federal government to work with state and local law enforcement to confront and prosecute hate crimes related to this. She also reached out to U.S. Departments/Agencies, Congressional Leaders, and mortgage lenders to urge them to take measures that respect the hardships faced by individuals and families during this pandemic including a halt to all foreclosure and eviction proceedings and support for SNAP and WIC. She continued to call for direct support for those that are most in need in the relief bills before Congress, including farmers, ranchers, military families, rural communities, those living paycheck to paycheck, and the communities that rely on the tourism industry for their livelihoods. She also urged House Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy to increase the resources available for small business lending from credit unions which are a critical asset to Hawai‘i’s small business community.
Following up for Hawai‘i’s farmers, in April, she helped lead a Hawai‘i delegation letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue asking him to ensure USDA support prioritizes specialty crops, livestock, and producers supplying farmers markets, restaurants, and schools. She also joined a broader, bipartisan letter to Sec. Perdue drawing attention to this strain on specialty crop farmers.
In April, Rep. Gabbard was an original cosponsor of H.R.6467, the Coronavirus Community Relief Act, which would provide $250 billion for local governments, like those in our neighbor island communities, to help cover costs caused by COVID-19 between March 1 and December 30 of this year. She also called for robust emergency funds to ensure that the U.S. Postal Service will be able to continue to serve communities across Hawai‘i through this crisis.
Rep. Gabbard also wrote to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling for clear guidelines for state and local governments to receive federal reimbursement for the costs they are incurring as part of their response to this public health crisis.
Rep. Gabbard led a letter with Rep. Ed Case (HI-01) that urged the House Ways and Means Committee leaders to provide more funding for Hawai‘i through the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. And, to help protect our kūpuna who rely on prescription medications, she and over 50 of her colleagues called on House Leaders to take legislative action to cap prescription drug prices. She fought to lift the Medicaid cap to territories to ensure full coverage for all Americans, as well as prevent Medicaid funding rollbacks by states. To protect our keiki she joined a bipartisan letter to House Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy calling for specific relief for children’s hospitals. Rep. Gabbard also recognizes the importance of not-for-profit blood centers in our healthcare system, and is committed to ensuring that blood centers can continue to provide lifesaving blood components to patients in communities across the country.
Securing Emergency Funding
On May 15, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard voted to pass H.R.6800, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. Though she expressed grave concerns with the massive bill and how it was put together, she supported the legislation because it would provide urgently needed aid to state and local governments to improve testing and tracing efforts as well as another direct stimulus payment to Americans. In particular, the bill provides support to Counties in Hawai‘i that had not received direct assistance in past emergency legislation. It also closed loopholes and clarified discrepancies in previous emergency funding bills.
The HEROES Act would also fund personal protective equipment (PPE) purchases for frontline workers as well as hazard pay to essential and frontline workers. The bill would ensure smaller businesses get relief resources, extends the $600/week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation as well as the Pandemic Extended Unemployment Compensation for gig economy employees. Finally, it included Native Hawaiians in funding provisions for education, employment as contact tracers, mortgage payment assistance, and housing block grants.
To date, Congress has passed 4 emergency funding bills that have been signed into law:
H.R.6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (on March 4)
H.R.6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (on March 14)
H.R.748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (on March 27)
H.R.266, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (on April 23)
The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act provided urgently needed, immediate funds to help with the initial impact of the virus on America. Rep. Gabbard voted to pass this bill which included funds for 14 community health centers in Hawai‘i which received more than $750,000 combined in support.
Next, she voted to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide free testing for COVID-19, two weeks of paid sick leave, up to three months paid family and medical leave, unemployment insurance for furloughed workers, food security for those who rely on food stamps, student meals, senior nutrition plans, and food banks, and increase federal Medicaid funds for local, state, tribal and territorial governments and health systems.
The CARES Act included direct cash payments to Americans, assistance for those who are out of work due to the outbreak, funding for small businesses, hospitals, and health care workers, and state and local governments. The bill’s funding for state and local governments included at least $1.2 billion for Hawai‘i. Though the bill included Rep. Gabbard’s idea for a direct benefit payment to support Americans reeling from the pandemic’s impact, it fell short of the full scope suggested in her legislation, H.Res.897, and she urged Congress to do more.
In late April, Rep. Gabbard traveled to Washington, D.C. in the middle of the pandemic to vote on the fourth COVID-19 emergency funding bill. While carefully adhering to social distancing rules and additional health precautions taken by House leadership, she voted to pass the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. The bill provided $310 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program — including $30 billion set aside for community-based lenders, small banks and credit unions and $30 billion for medium-sized banks and credit unions. The bill also included $50 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, and clarifies that small farms are eligible for this funding. Finally, the bill also addressed the continuing public health crisis by providing $75 billion in funding to support hospitals and frontline healthcare workers, including funding for PPE, as well as $25 billion for COVID-19 testing.
In the weeks following the passage of the CARES Act, Hawai‘i received over $142 million in emergency funds to help support healthcare providers. This included more than $10 million in additional funds to the 14 community health centers which received funds after the first emergency bill as well as $132 million to other healthcare providers across the State to help cover the costs they are incurring due to the crisis. However, this $132 million came with the stipulation that these healthcare providers may not engage in “surprise billing” of patients they have treated for COVID-19.
Also, Hawai‘i received over $107 million in funds through the CARES Act to support public transportation systems, community public health infrastructure, and housing for vulnerable communities by way of Federal Transit Authority grants, Community Block Development Grants (CDBGs), and the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS program.
By mid-April, the CARES Act continued to yield funds for Hawai‘i, including an estimated $88 million for educational purposes and over $133 million for its airports. The educational funds will help support K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities. This includes a separate fund of $154 million for the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Also in April, FEMA announced another round of disaster relief funds, $100 million available to all 50 States and U.S. Territories.
Calls for Preventative Measures
In early April, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called for the resignation of Hawai‘i Department of Health officials Bruce Anderson and Dr. Sarah Park because of their repeated failures that put the health, lives and well-being of the people of Hawai‘i at risk. She added that should they refuse to step down, Governor Ige should fire them.
On March 21, Rep. Gabbard called for an immediate implementation of a 14-day self-quarantine for all passengers arriving in Hawaiʻi, both visitors and returning residents. The state later announced that a self-quarantine requirement would be implemented on March 26, but Rep. Tulsi Gabbard continued to advocate for an immediate implementation. She also sent a letter calling on the President to issue a minimum two-week, nationwide shelter-in-place order — a proven, effective solution to slowing the spread of the virus.
As the virus was first spreading in different parts of the world, Rep. Gabbard called on the Trump Administration to suspend flights from South Korea and Japan given the prevalence of COVID-19 infections in these countries, until they could guarantee all passengers would be tested prior to boarding flights to the United States.
About Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is serving her fourth term in the United States House representing Hawai‘i’s Second District, and serves on the House Armed Services and Financial Services Committees. She previously served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Homeland Security Committee. She was elected to the Honolulu City Council in 2010, and prior to that at age 21, was elected to the Hawaiʻi State Legislature in 2002, becoming the youngest person ever elected in the state. Tulsi Gabbard has served in the Hawaiʻi Army National Guard for over 17 years, is a veteran of two Middle East deployments, and continues to serve as a Major. Learn more about Rep. Tulsi Gabbard...
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