WINCHESTER — During a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday, Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, said extending enhanced unemployment benefits to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is a “top priority.”
In March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — a $2 trillion stimulus package to provide relief. One of the components of that package was an additional $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits to aid those who lost their jobs because of coronavirus. Those enhanced benefits officially expire on July 31 (but states can only pay through the week ending July 25 or July 26). Once that happens, the maximum unemployed benefits Virginia residents can receive is $378.
“The maximum benefit in Virginia had been $378 a week, which for most families in this district, you can’t feed your family on $378 a week,” Wexton said. “You certainly can’t pay your rent. You certainly can’t pay your mortgage. You can’t pay your car note. That extra $600 a week was a lifeline for so many families.”
The HEROES Act, a $3 trillion stimulus bill passed by the House of Representatives in May, would extend those enhanced benefits through January. The bill is not expected to be passed in the Republican-controlled Senate, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissing the package in a Fox News interview as a “liberal wish list.”
Wexton, however, said passage of the Heroes Act is a priority. She said she spoke with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, and he said resetting the unemployment benefits to the maximum that states allow “would have huge adverse impacts on our economy.” Wexton said the loss of the added CARES Act money will result in many evictions and foreclosures.
A constituent in the town hall expressed concern about the moratorium on evictions expiring on July 24. The CARES Act imposed a temporary moratorium on evictions. The moratorium went into effect on March 27.
“This is going to be a huge issue,” Wexton said. “We’ve already heard from constituents who tell that their landlords are waiting to evict them. And we cannot let that happen, because to have a homeless crisis on top of everything else that we are dealing with would be a real, real problem.”
She said the Heroes Act would include $100 billion in emergency rental assistance. The act also would replace the current 120-day moratorium enacted in the CARES Act for renters with a new 12-month moratorium on non-payment evictions. Wexton said the package would protect people from becoming homeless.
“It is something that we are not sure whether we are going to be able to get in the next round of stimulus but we are working on it with the Senate and with the [Trump] Administration,” Wexton said. “Because we all saw what happened in ‘08 and that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what’s going to happen if we don’t get some more support in place. So we are fighting tooth and nail to make this happen.”
Expanding broadband and internet access is another major priority of Wexton’s.
“The CARES Act did include $325 million to boost broadband in rural and underserved areas,” Wexton said. “That’s not enough. It’s just a drop in the bucket of what we need to do.”
The Heroes Act includes $1.5 billion to close “the homework gap” by connecting students to Wi-Fi and another $4 billion to help low-income and underserved families get more access to broadband. On July 1, Wexton voted in favor of the Moving Forward Act to rebuild and modernize America’s infrastructure. She said the bill, which passed the House, invests $100 billion to build out the whole rural broadband structure throughout the country.
During the town hall, Wexton was accompanied by Loudoun County Health Director Dr. David Goodfriend, who said that the governor’s requirement for face coverings to prevent the spread of coronavirus is “the main thing that’s keeping our numbers lower.” He said he thinks Virginia will remain in Phase 3 of reopening while there continues to be continued person-to-person transmission of coronavirus.
Goodfriend said that with winter bringing many illnesses with COVID-like symptoms — including the flu, cold, croup and other respiratory infections — it is important for people to get their flu shots and vaccines in the fall to “protect against the things we can protect against.”