Havre Daily News: Tester gives live update on Facebook on COVID-19 efforts

by Rachel Jamieson

Sen. Jon Tester D-Mont., held a Facebook live event Wednesday to answer people’s questions about the coronavirus and to provide any updates.

“I know there’s a lot of challenges out there not only by businesses, but also by banks, by folks who may be unemployed right now, these are all real life challenges that we’re doing our level-best to try to listen and act accordingly to try to get these challenges solved,” he said. “A few weeks ago, Congress passed the CARES Act, the COVID-three package, it goes by a lot of different names and it was passed to combat the public health and economic crisis that we face right now.”

He said he thought the act gave too much money to the big businesses and didn’t target enough to the businesses who were targeted by the coronavirus.

The initial bill, which failed on two votes before a revised version passed in a third vote, didn’t have enough money for health care, municipalities and education units, he added.

“It was a bill that was absolutely necessary. It was necessary because there were health care workers out there, working families and small businesses, and they need it sooner rather than later,” Tester said.

He said more work needs to be done on many fronts.

“Over the past week, we have heard a number of things that have delayed the Paycheck Protection Program that Congress passed, and I heard directly from Montanans that they’re having some difficulty with unemployment,” he said, “and make no mistake about it, the federal government needs to step up in both of those cases and do more with to get this relief as quickly out as possible.”

He said the Paycheck Protection Program was set up to be a “critical lifeline” to help businesses to cover eight weeks of payroll, mortgages, interest and utility costs.

“We want to continue to hear from you. We’re here to help. Wherever we can, we’ll help those small businesses get through some of the red tape challenges that are brought forth with the implementation of this bill,” he said.

The unemployment insurance should be available right now, he said, adding that people can go to https://montanaworks.gov to track the payment or for more information.

For people who want to track the federal stimulus payments to individuals they can visit https://www.irs.gov .

Tester said he has also heard from Montanans health care workers and first responders about the shortages of personal protective equipment, and he was able to bring in 20 percent of what was needed into the state, which was about 80,000 masks.

“I don’t think the the federal government is taking charge on the personal protective equipment” Tester said, “I think they have pushed it off to the states, and what it has resulted of is you’ve got states bidding against other states, bidding against the federal government and the different agencies within the federal government for these health care personal protective equipment. That’s driving up the cost. This is all taxpayer money that is being used to buy this stuff that is driving up the cost needlessly.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to be centrally regulating these things when it comes to personal protective equipment and sending out those contracts and getting those bids, so one agency getting those supplies, he said.

He said when it comes to the number of tests, that is a big issue all over and that Montana still has trouble securing the personal protective equipment needed for health care workers.

The personal protective equipment for testing is critically important, he said, adding that FEMA distributed half of the PPE to the places that are considered hot spots and the other half throughout the country.

The delays are slowing reducing restrictions, Tester said.

“As we talk about who’s responsible it is to open up the economy, I’ll tell you it will continue to be difficult to fully open up the economy until we have tests,” he said. “Now, I’m not saying we need to test every walking soul on Earth, but the truth is there are people out there that need tests that are not able to get it right now, that should never be the situation, so folks need to have tests.”

As for the status of tests in Montana, he said, the state needs more, but has been seeing work getting done on technology evolving to make more tests.

“I think testing is going to be the key into opening up the economy up, and I think everybody wants to see the economy be opened, but nobody wants to be in a situation where they’re going to be exposed to coronavirus, so it’s really, really important that, I think, as a nation, we focus on testing and work together to the best our ability to get as many tests out and get them into the areas that once again, have the personal protective equipment to be able to administer those tests to keep our health care workers safe,” Tester said.

He added that people do not have to have insurance in order to be tested for COVID-19.

He said he will be hosting another Facebook live or Town Hall next week.