Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma): Telephone Town Hall - March 18, 2020)

Rep. Tom Cole: Fighting an invisible enemy

Unlike the traditional enemies our nation has faced throughout history, COVID-19 is one that can dangerously hide in plain sight and threaten the health and wellbeing of any American community.

Indeed, winning this war requires not only special weapons but our collective effort and commitment. As the federal government continues to actively respond, arm communities nationwide and determine the best steps forward in terms of resources and relief for the American people, I am encouraged by the whole-of-government approach that’s been deployed to fight this invisible enemy.

Remember, we only became aware of this coronavirus 12 weeks ago, and there is a still a lot we do not know. However, that uncertainty has not stopped the federal government from responding swiftly and decisively. As we continue to piece together a fuller picture and adapt our strategy to defeat this unseen adversary, I am grateful for the steps taken thus far – including legislation negotiated in close coordination with the Trump Administration and delivered by Congress in a bipartisan manner.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), speaks about the recent "Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans" report at a Congressional panel in Washington, D.C., on June 5, 2019. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Earlier this month, Congress passed its first response package, which was focused on delivering emergency funding for our public health defenders in every American community. Specifically, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act provided $8.3 billion toward our preparation, prevention and ongoing response to COVID-19. Importantly, this included funding to deliver test kits to more communities, to support treatment options and to develop and eventually distribute vaccines.

The legislation also dedicated resources toward state and local response efforts, including a generous amount for tribal nations and their health systems that serve many of our own communities in Oklahoma. And of importance to rural communities, this first phase included telehealth provisions, ensuring patients can still consult with their doctors and get the care they need at home. I was glad to see Congress act quickly to pass this urgent funding and the president sign it into law.

As we all are aware, the situation has changed drastically since that first response package was signed into law. Many more cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the United States, which rightly led President Trump to declare a national emergency and further restrict travel of visitors into the United States. Around the same time, congressional leaders negotiated around the clock with the Trump Administration to deliver a second phase of relief.

Signed into law last week, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act aims to help lessen the financial blow to hardworking Americans – including money to ensure free testing for anyone exhibiting symptoms and to expand paid leave for those who are either sick at home, complying with a quarantine, taking care of someone who is infected or looking after dependents due to school closures. Additionally, it expands unemployment benefits to help those affected by COVID-19 and provides emergency nutritional assistance to vulnerable populations, including students who depend on meals at school.

To address the unforeseen economic impact of COVID-19, Congress and the Trump Administration are working to deliver a third package to the American people. I certainly support helping those who are experiencing financial hardship, unexpected unemployment and other sorts of sharp losses as a direct result of this coronavirus. Many companies, industries, small businesses and families are hurting by no fault of their own. It is indeed right to deliver relief and urgently seek to stabilize the economy during these uncertain times.

Alongside legislative action, federal agencies are also taking steps to help the American people. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working around the clock to help food supply meet heightened demand. The Small Business Administration is offering disaster loans to small businesses. The Internal Revenue Service has delayed the deadline for tax filings by three months to July 15, 2020. For a comprehensive listing of resources and information about what the federal government is doing as a whole to respond to COVID-19, please visit usa.gov/coronavirus.

As the federal government continues to put its full weight into efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and deliver aid to get us through, don’t forget that every American has a role in the fight. In the days ahead, it’s important to continue following the guidance outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (visit coronavirus.gov) and updates provided locally by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (visit coronavirus.health.ok.gov). That includes practicing social distancing, thoroughly and frequently washing your hands, not touching your face and daily disinfecting surfaces.

Even though we must keep our distance from others, we can and should still look after each other. Pick up the phone to check on your family, friends and loved ones. And if you are able, I hope you will consider donating blood. We will get through this together.


Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is serving his eighth term in Congress as the elected representative of Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District. He is recognized as an advocate for taxpayers and small business, a proponent for a strong national defense and a leader in promoting biomedical research. He is considered the foremost expert in the House on issues dealing with Native Americans and tribal governments. He and his wife, Ellen, have one son, Mason, and reside in Moore, Oklahoma.

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