Congressmen Al Lawson, Neal Dunn see a lot to like in federal coronavirus stimulus plan
In a display of bipartisan agreement, two of North Florida's members of Congress — Republican Neal Dunn and Democrat Al Lawson — have endorsed a $2.2 trillion economic relief package to combat the coronavirus and calm a reeling nation.
Millions of Americans are seeking unemployment benefits as businesses close and jobs disappear.
By Friday morning, both Lawson, of Tallahassee, and Dunn, of Panama City, said they see a lot of good in the package negotiated by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Procedural delays raised by GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky delayed a vote but Friday afternoon Congress approved the measure, sending it to President Donald Trump, who signed it.
The $2.2 trillion legislation will speed government payments of $1,200 to most Americans and increase jobless benefits for millions of people thrown out of work. Businesses big and small will get loans, grants and tax breaks. And it will send unprecedented billions to states and local governments, and the nation’s all but overwhelmed health care system.
"There's funding to shore up our overburdened health system at the local and state level," Lawson said. "And there's funding to get small business back on their feet and get North Floridians back to work."
Lawson's Congressional District 5 stretches from Jacksonville west into Gadsden County. Dunn's Congressional District 2 underlies Lawson's, running from roughly around Cedar Key west through Perry before swinging up and over to take in Panama City and Chipley. Both men were first elected in 2016.
Dunn said he believed the package will prevent any further economic damage to an area that has not yet recovered from Hurricane Michael.
"This bill is designed to jumpstart the economy and help people economically weather the worst part of this virus," Dunn said as he was en route to Washington for the House vote.
As of Friday morning, there were 134 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the 26 counties that Lawson and Dunn represent in Congress.
Duval County in Lawson's district posts the most cases of those counties. Leon, which serves as a pivot point between the two districts and is represented by both, has the second most with 14 cases.
The coronavirus has claimed three lives in the two congressional districts, all recorded in Duval. The Florida Department of Health reports 26 patients currently hospitalized because of COVID-19, the often-severe respiratory illness caused by the virus, in the region represented by the two U.S. representatives.
Florida recorded its first coronavirus infection March 1. Lawson deflected a question about the state and federal response to the coronavirus by pointing to the three aid packages approved by Congress.
"These actions are not our last ... In the weeks ahead, I will look for new ways to support North Florida families, workers and small businesses as we work towards a full recovery," Lawson said.
And Dunn noted that the coronavirus is unprecedented and endorsed how both Trump and GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis have responded to the crisis.
"There's no 'how-to' book for handling such an event," Dunn said. "I think President Trump and Governor DeSantis have done an outstanding job balancing proactive and reactive measures.
"Both have put the people first. Both the White House and Governor’s staffs have been very responsive to our input."
Trump suggested that social distancing and other guidelines can be eased by Easter with businesses and schools returning to normal schedules. Easter falls on April 12 this year. "That's a very optimistic timeline with the rates still rising," Lawson said.
Dunn added that officials "must be conscious of the harm being done to the economy," when asked if the President's target date to "reopen" the country is reasonable.
"The sooner we can get back to a sense of normalcy while remaining vigilant against further spreading of the virus, the better off we will all be," he said.
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