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Manchin discusses COVID-19 relief efforts

WASHINGTON — Work is continuing on a $908 billion bill to provide emergency COVID-19 relief across the nation, a U.S. Senator from West Virginia said Tuesday.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., held a tele-press conference with reporters from around the state on the progress being made on the bipartisan COVID-19 emergency relief framework he announced last week.

“We are working to get something done,” Manchin said. “We have come to an agreement on $908 billion.”

They are currently working on the wording of the bill, defining how money is distributed

He has been in contact with Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., about the efforts. McConnell has submitted a competing bill which Manchin has said does not meet the needs theirs does.

“I have told him there are people who have basic needs, basic necessities of food and nutrition, roof over your head and healthcare,” he said. “We have small businesses that aren’t going to make it. We have unemployment that runs out at the end of the month.

“This all has to be addressed. We cannot just let it go.”

Manchin said they have Democrats and Republicans working on this bill from both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The proposed $908 billion bill would provide $160 billion for state, local and tribal governments; $180 billion in additional unemployment insurance; $288 billion in support for small businesses, including Paycheck Protection Program and other assistance; and more.

The bill is being worked up so state and local governments have to show a need for it before they receive any money through showing what was spent on COVID related expenses, Manchin said, adding they weren’t just going to send out blanket payments like they did the first time.

“It all has to be documented and it will all have to be verified,” Manchin said. “You will be under penalty if you didn’t follow the rules where you will pay that back plus penalties.

“We are making sure we are putting fraud abuse language in everything.”

Their bill would help rural hospitals who got shortchanged before as well as education to help pay for safety measures, money for food programs to help people across the country as more people have been seeking food assistance; broadband assistance; paycheck protection programs and opioid abuse treatment.

Manchin said the pandemic will eventually pass as the vaccines start rolling out. However, the opioid crisis is still in place with people overdosing and dying which has gotten worse during the pandemic.

The bill includes money for personal protective equipment and assistance to small business.

“Small businesses are hurting more now than ever,” Manchin said. “The first quarter of next year will be the most challenging quarter this country has gone through since the financial collapse of 2008.”

COVID infections are up and the senator expects additional restrictions could be put in place.

Manchin said President Donald Trump’s predictions that the virus would go away after November have been wrong. He did acknowledge that the president’s predictions of having a vaccine by the end of the year did come to pass.

With guidance from scientists and advances made in medicine the country will get through the pandemic, but it will take a few more months, Manchin said.

The senator said this is not the final bill on the matter.

Once the new administration comes into office in January, lawmakers will continue to look at where the need is and decide if more will need to be done.

“This is an emergency relief package,” Manchin said. “That is all this is. It is not everything that is needed.”

The Biden administration will look at what will be needed and address it, he said.

Manchin said this is a bi-partisan effort that he hopes McConnell will consider seriously.

He feels that people are hurting now and if McConnell does anything to prevent people from getting help, it will not reflect well on the Senate Majority Leader who is not very popular in some circles now.

“If we put a bi-partisan bill together and he tries to squash it, we are going to be here for quite awhile,” Manchin said, adding they could be in Washington, D.C., through the Christmas holiday.

He thinks they can have a bill ready soon.

Manchin said they have a lot of bi-partisan support for their bill with 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats and their staffs working on many of the details. They have also had input from Republicans and Democrats from the House.

“It is moving in the right direction,” he said.

The senator took a few moments to talk about the death of Charleston Police Officer Cassie Johnson and the passing of West Virginia native General Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier.

“It is just unbelievable,” he said of Johnson’s death last week after being shot in the line of duty. “Such a kind soul and we all are going to miss her.”

He recently traveled to Charleston to meet with her family. He entered an acknowledgment of her in the Congressional Record.

Yeager was a famous aviator known throughout the nation and the world.

“We lost a true West Virginia hero and icon,” Manchin said of Yeager. “He was a character and I really enjoyed getting to know him.

“He was always proud of West Virginia and always proud of where he was from.”

Manchin is planning to enter an acknowledgment for him in the Congressional Record.

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