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Sewell lends vote to new coronavirus relief bill

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved the Heroes Act, a package drafted largely by Democrats to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by providing additional support for struggling families and essential workers, broader funding for testing and contact tracing and more.

Among the 208 lawmakers to support the measure – the current makeup of the U.S. House is 233 Democrats, 198 Republicans and one Libertarian – was U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL.

“The coronavirus is not waiting, so Congress must continue to show leadership and act now to provide relief to our communities, workers and families to weather this crisis,” Sewell said. “Not only would this legislation provide Alabama counties and municipalities with much-needed resources, it would also honor the service [of] our frontline workers by providing them with well-deserved hazard pay, to give them the support they need and deserve to continue to keep our communities fed, safe and healthy during this pandemic.”

Specifically, Sewell noted that the new bill would also provide a second round of direct payments of up to $6,000 to American households and extend the additional $600 unemployment benefit tacked onto weekly payments through January.

“These are critically important measures that will provide security and additional support for Alabamians impacted by this pandemic,” Sewell said.

While Sewell praised the legislation broadly, she specifically lauded the estimated $1.6 billion expected to be allocated to Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, which will provide the state and its communities with funding to cover coronavirus-related outlays, cover for lost revenue and compensate frontline workers.

An analysis prepared by the Congressional Research Center, which provides a town-by-town breakdown of the funding allocated in the most recent legislation, shows that Dallas County will receive more than $13.9 million this year and more than $6.9 million next year, for a combined total of more than $20.9 million.

As far as towns and cities within the county are concerned, Orrville is expected to receive nearly $57,270 this year and $28,635 next year, for a total of just over $85,900, Valley Grande is expected to receive nearly $1.2 million this year and more than $599,800 next year, for a total of nearly $1.8 million, and Selma is expected to receive more than $5.8 million this year and more than $2.9 million next year, for a total of more than $8.8 million.

Elsewhere in the region, Lowndes County is expected to receive more than $5.4 million over the next two years, Marengo County is expected to collect more than $10.6 million, Perry County is expected to receive more than $5 million and Wilcox County is expected to collect more than $5.8 million.

Additionally, Sewell noted that the $3 trillion relief package includes $90 billion in support for state and local education, including more than $1.4 million for Alabama communities, to maintain or restores state and local fiscal support for schools at all levels.

The funding can be used for a variety of programs and activities, including summer learning, afterschool programs, distance learning, emergency financial aid for college students and more.

Beyond that, the legislation “provides transformative, far reaching support to protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people” through the following measures:

• Establishes the $200 billion “Heroes’ Fund” to provide hazard pay to frontline workers across the country;

• Commits an additional $75 billion for testing, contact tracing and treatment;

• Strengthens the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) to ensure that it reaches underserved communities and nonprofits and provides an additional $10 billion for coronavirus emergency grants through the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program;

• Expands COBRA subsidies and a special enrollment period in Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges for those without insurance;

• Requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop science-based workplace infection control plans and prevents employers from taking action against employees who report problems;

• Provides $175 billion in support for renters and homeowners for rent, mortgage, utility and other housing-related costs;

• Provides a 15 percent increase to the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit and provides additional funding for nutrition programs that benefit families;

• Provides additional resources to ensure safe elections, an accurate Census count and preservation of the U.S. Postal Service.

The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, where it faces an uncertain future, as Republican leaders have advocated for a pause in COVID-19 relief legislation.