The CARES Act has aided Logan County medical providers and local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guthrie alone has received over $5.2 million dollars in Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Provider Relief funds through the CARES Act since COVID-19 began.
Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas said it is important for Oklahoma to help local communities fight the virus monetarily.
“That’s money that’s just necessary,” Lucas said. “Some folks will say, ‘Why does the federal government have to step up?’ Well, COVID-19 is a pandemic, it’s not just an issue that has hit us in Guthrie, or Logan County.”
The CARES Act has a broad range of functions, and one of them is the allocation of $130 billion to the medical and hospital industries, equipment manufacturers and public health programs.
Mercy Hospital has had issues such as overcrowding since the pandemic began. Guthrie Mayor Steven Gentling is on the hospital’s board of directors, and he said the hospital received desperately needed aid to remedy the situation as much as possible.
“I know that it took them out of a very precarious financial situation to one that was between ‘bad’ and ‘ok,’” Gentling said. “The rural hospitals have just been hit, all hospitals, but especially rural hospitals have just been hit so hard by the COVID.”
Mercy Hospital received $3,885,874.52 in aid to combat that and other issues until a vaccine makes its way to hospitals.
Scientists have been scrambling to produce a COVID-19 vaccine for months. Reports frequently surface about how a new group has nearly completed it, but time will tell how long it could be until it will become widely available for Americans.
Lucas said the CARES Act will hopefully not be needed in order to supply vaccines to those without health insurance. There will be distribution centers responsible for getting the vaccines to Oklahomans.
“There have been different reports and different discussions about the plan, but I’m confident that this will be available to everyone,” Lucas said. “Some would say, ‘Well you should pay for your own (vaccine),’ no, beating COVID-19 down so we can get the economy going again, so that people don’t have to go to the hospital, so that we don’t have, as we’re seeing in many of these people, long-term damage.”
The CARES Act also includes the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which has provided grants to small business owners across America. There are 349 local businesses that have used the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to secure relief loans of under $150,000 to keep employees on their payroll. Without the PPP, it is estimated that nearly 1,500 jobs would have been lost.
The contrasting effect is that the CARES Act will saddle America with $1.7 trillion dollars of debt over the next decade. Lucas said Oklahomans, and the rest of America, will have to deal with it responsibly in order to secure an economic recovery after the pandemic is over.
“Once we get past this pandemic, we don’t have any money,” Lucas said. “We’ve got a mountain of debt, and we’ve got to get a grip on ourselves. That said, though, think about how many people who’ve put off business expenditures, how many people have not done things since March. I would argue there’s a pent up amount of economic activity that once folks are confident they can go back to work, once they’re confident they can go back to doing things, you’ll see an explosion of economic growth in the year we get to that point, and I’m hoping that’s not years away, I’m hoping that’s months or weeks away that we start the vaccination program.”
Lucas has also sponsored the Rural STEM Education Act – bipartisan legislation which was passed with the intention of bringing broadband to rural areas in order to provide access to better STEM education resources.
“This is my effort to try and address the disparity between living in rural Oklahoma, rural America and the urban areas,” Lucas said.
However, it can also be utilized in the effort to bolster remote learning during the pandemic.
“In the Farm Bill and in the first care package, there was additional money directly appointed toward broadband development in the rural areas, so we’re fighting it on all fronts,” Lucas said. “It’s my observation that the under 40 crowd, if they don’t have access to the same kind of broadband, to the world, so to speak, whether it’s related to education or to business or just their personal entertainment use, they’re going to go somewhere where they do, and I don’t want to lose those people, whatever community or town it is in my district, I want those people to have an incentive, a reason, an ability to stay.”