Rep. Axne Calls for Protections for Iowa Retirees, Children, Communities, and Critical Institutions in COVID-19 Legislation

May 7, 2020
Press Release
In letter to House committee leaders, Rep. Axne outlines additional priorities to protect vulnerable groups in next coronavirus response legislation

Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) called for specific protections to protect Iowa’s vulnerable populations – including retirees and children – and critical institutions in the next round of coronavirus (COVID-19) response legislation.

The letter, which was sent to the leaders of six House committees, details provisions that Rep. Axne has prioritized after speaking with constituents across all 16 counties of Iowa’s Third Congressional District on her Virtual District Tour and in multiple telephone town halls.

“As we near the third month of this widespread public health emergency, I’ve spoken to families and communities across central and southwest Iowa that are concerned about the deep scars that will be left in our most vulnerable if we do not take action now,” said Rep. Axne. “Our older Iowans, our schoolchildren, and the men and women who help our communities every day through our schools, our Post Office, and our charitable organizations cannot be left behind as we continuing responding to the impacts of this deadly pandemic.”

Included in the letter are requests to:

  • Reopen of the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces to lower uninsured Iowans’ financial burdens during the COVID-19 public health crisis
  • Waive prescription drug copays for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency
  • Expand financial support for K-12 and higher educational institutions
  • Protect renters in Iowa through emergency rental assistance and inclusion of her bill to expand housing counseling to help keep Iowans in their homes
  • Cut red tape and reform financial requirements to preserve the United States Postal Service
  • Expand paid family leave coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Shore up endangered multiemployer pensions to prevent retired Iowans from facing lost pensions

Rep. Axne, a member of the Rural Broadband Task Force, also asks committee leaders to include a robust investment in expanding rural broadband in future coronavirus legislation.

“We must focus on getting fast broadband internet access across the entire country, especially in our rural areas that lack connectivity,” Rep. Axne wrote. “This pandemic has demonstrated that affordable high-speed internet access should be accessible to every American in order to do schoolwork, run their business, receive online medical care, stay connected with family, or find assistance.”

Last month, Rep. Axne also urged congressional leaders to include specific assistance for Iowa’s rural communities, including Iowa’s agriculture and ethanol industries.

Rep. Axne has also sought increased supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and hazard pay for front line workers and funding to ensure rural health clinics and hospitals are not forced to close due to financial insolvency.

The full letter can be found below:

Chairman Neal, Chairwoman Lowey, Chair Maloney, Chairwoman Waters, Chairman Scott, and Chairman Pallone:

Americans across this country need more assistance as the COVID-19 outbreak has now surpassed a month. Today, nearly 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment, our essential workers do not have adequate protections, and our retirees are worried about their economic security. It is clear that another COVID-19 stimulus package is needed, and that it must include provisions to protect our most vulnerable populations – including our seniors and our school children – and reinforce institutions that provide essential services.

First and foremost, in order to better protect the health and wellbeing of our citizens in this time, Congress should authorize reopening the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace, allowing anyone to purchase health insurance as they need. It is critical that Americans who need adequate health insurance due to their work, family, or economic situation are able to access it. Congress should also authorize the automatic enrollment of individuals who have $19,000 or less in income and limited savings in the Medicare Savings Programs.

Steps must be taken to reduce costs of prescription drugs by waiving drug copays during this outbreak. And we must expand telehealth services so that those who are in need of regular health care assistance can access those services via the internet or telephone for the duration of this public health crisis.

Additionally, we have to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 testing to states like Iowa as well as ensure access to COVID-19 antibody testing once that becomes available. In Iowa, we have seen cases rising steadily in some areas, and we have some of the fastest-growing outbreaks in the nation. While earlier efforts may have focused on ‘hot spots’ in larger and more densely populated areas, my constituents and frontline workers are in equal need of increased testing and protective supplies. This upcoming package should include language to ensure Iowa is able to access testing and supplies on an equitable level to any other state.

I believe one of the best ways to protect Iowans and families across this country is to expand support for paid Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Currently, there is a cap on requiring paid FMLA at 500 employees or less. This arbitrary cap leaves hundreds of thousands of workers without access to necessary leave. That is why I have included my tiered paid FMLA proposal that scales federal assistance to both size and revenue of a business. This model will support far more workers across the country than the current system while supporting businesses in a way that matches their economic ability to provide assistance. I have attached that proposal to this letter.

This public health crisis has also demonstrated that we need more protection and support for those in retirement. First, we must include the Butch Lewis Act to shore up endangered multiemployer pensions which, due to economic fallout, are at risk of failing. Without financial assistance, we could see our seniors and retirees suffering as their pensions dry up. In addition, we need to provide short-term funding to make up for coronavirus-related shortfalls and ensure that older Americans who rely on their retirement and Social Security benefits are protected.

We know that education is an investment into our nation’s future. As students work to continue their education online, Congress must ensure that all our educational institutions are able to support the changing needs of students. Congress must include increased school funding for the direct purpose of increasing K-12 teacher pay, which helps retain our teachers and ensure our students have access to qualified teachers. Additionally, we need to include individual schools under PPP, ensuring that any school facing a financial crisis can apply for assistance. Finally, we must support our higher education institutions by creating waivers for emergency assistance with the Department of Education.

Of course, accessing online education means we need to provide every American with high-speed internet. That is why we must focus on getting fast broadband internet access across the entire country, especially in our rural areas that lack connectivity. This pandemic has demonstrated that affordable high-speed internet access should be accessible to every American in order to do schoolwork, run their business, receive online medical care, stay connected with family, or find assistance. We must also work to remove data caps and service limitations during this pandemic. That is why any COVID-19 stimulus package must include expanding internet access now and investing in a nationwide broadband structure for the future.

We must also ensure that the United States Postal Service (USPS) remains operational, as mandated by the Constitution. The best way to ensure the long-term stability of the USPS is to remove red tape and repeal the excessive requirement that they must pre-fund their pension accounts 70 years in advance. Improving USPS’ long-term stability  ensures that USPS continues to deliver mail to every community, specifically our smaller and more rural communities. USPS service in every community means that you can live and operate a business anywhere in the United States, unlike private shipping companies who regularly refuse to provide service to smaller, rural communities they don’t see as profitable.

Another important way to support our communities is to expand support for rental assistance. No family should face eviction from their housing because they lost their income due to COVID-19. While evictions are currently on hold, we can do more to ensure that renters stay in their homes as the economy returns. Additionally, to better support both renters and homeowners, I am calling for inclusion of my Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act to help everyone navigate housing assistance while working to reduce their costs. I have attached the text of that bill to this letter.

Our nonprofits and charitable organizations are also suffering in this time – including those who provide food or assistance to communities that have reported over 100% increases in need in just a few short weeks. Meanwhile, they have also been negatively impacted by lost revenues which only compounds the difficulty of serving our communities. That is why we need to include legislation to expand the Universal Charitable Deduction, allowing donations made to local charitable organizations this year to be deducted on 2019 tax forms, and extend that deduction through 2020. It is equally important to expand the Paycheck Protection Program to 501(c) nonprofits and quasi-governmental organizations that do not currently qualify for PPP, while also increasing financing for PPP. We must also include the Community Meals Fund, which gives nonprofit grants to small and midsize restaurants to prepare food and hire staff, which will ensure our communities continue to have access to hot and fresh meals during this crisis.

Sincerely,

Cindy Axne

Member of Congress