The $2 trillion dollar stimulus package the President signed last week is far-reaching and includes money for individuals and provisions aimed at stemming the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Representative William Keating (D-Mass.) about what's in the bill and what he's working on to address the pandemic.
Eident First, I wanted to ask you about the process with the vote on the $2 trillion stimulus package. Did you manage the vote as a chamber with social distancing, or was that just not possible?
Keating I was fortunate myself to keep a great deal of social distance. When I went through Green Airport in Providence from the time to the curb to the plane, I was the only passenger, believe it or not, in the entire terminal. On the plane, there were only five people coming over, I believe eight on the way back. That took care of the transportation portion.
When I got to the House, I did not enter the chamber. I stayed in my office—probably the safest spot, since no one's been there for two weeks—and was ready to go, should the need arise. So, looking at what I had control over, I don't think that was a problem in my individual case.
Other members had more challenges. They spread people, members, out to the gallery and the chamber to keep them apart. So, it was different and we didn't have to have roll calls, as it turned out. But it was important to be there because one member was threatening to do that. He could have held it up. And, I think that people make great efforts to be there because we didn't want this bill held up.
Two trillion dollars of aid that would be there for small businesses, direct aid to individuals, unemployment—the people that were just devastated, as our district has clearly been disproportionately hurt, I believe. One of the most important things and necessary things we had to do, was make sure a lot of that aid went to hospitals and health care workers' personal protection equipment. That's the third package that we've done. The first centered on dealing with research in treatment and in vaccines. And, the second dealt with family issues. As we were doing the third major package, we've already been planning on a fourth package.
Eident I see. I was going to ask if there was another bill in the works.
Keating The fourth one hopefully will focus on a recovery, dealing with investments that are going to bring us back economically and make sure that we're dealing with the health care needs that is necessary going forward.
Eident So you're happy with how things are going, given the circumstances?
Keating No, I'm not. I mean, I don't think anyone is satisfied, frankly. We're late to the game. You know, there will be an after-review as we look back on this and things can't be done the same way. The delays, the inadequate supply chain, inadequate planning, all of those things were failures, frankly, and we can't let that happen again. But we're focusing on the present right now and dealing with these needs.
Eident I think a lot of people are wondering how and when they might be getting their money. Do you know how it's going to be rolled out?
Keating The Secretary of the Treasury who's in charge of this is estimating people could get this money in three weeks, particularly people that have direct pay through the IRS, so those accounts are going to be used for electronic transfer of the money. He said that he anticipates those funds in three weeks. People that don't have that setup will have other means. It won't be quite as fast.
It's important, I think, to touch base, if you will, with our office, if we can be helpful. All our offices representing the Cape and the Islands are remotely accessible—just because the doors right now are closed, people are working as they always do, and over time, frankly, people should be assured that they can get help from our office.
Eident There's been a lot of talk about, of course, the need for more testing. But we've also had news late last week, Congressman Seth Moulton, and Ayanna Pressley, said they were experiencing symptoms and are self-quarantining. And of course, we've heard about Senator Rand Paul testing positive for COVID-19. Do you think that all of Congress should be tested as a way to make sure that our lawmakers at the top echelons of our country are protected?
Keating Those should go to the people that are experiencing symptoms. They need it the most, not members of Congress just because of their position.
Two areas I've been working on, myself and with my office. One is dealing with testing, we're helping a Massachusetts based company get their final approval. They're going into production for a testing device that will give results in 15 minutes. And, the costs of these kits are not terribly expensive. I've been told, between $10 and $20. They've been using this device at Mass General and other hospitals. They've been proven effective. So, we're working to try and speed that along.
We've also been working with our local hospitals in southern Massachusetts to get another site to deal with what we know, will be the coming surge. These would be for patients that have the virus, but that aren't life-threatening, but still can't go home. So, we're working on that with federal Army Corps officials, with National Guards people, with the governor's office, and with local hospitals, and that's something that I believe will be necessary to have in place as the surge occurs.
Eident Are you thinking that folks from the Cape and especially the Islands where there is low capacity might be able to use this facility to help them through this?
Keating Yes, this would be freeing up spaces in the hospitals for those people that are most seriously affected, but also making sure that there's a place where people aren't ready to go home necessarily, who had the virus and just need basic monitoring. They don't need that kind of acute care, but aren't ready to go home. So, this is a huge need that we have in our region. I believe hopefully never have to use it, just like we hope shelters never have to be used when a hurricane hits. But, we can't wait for that surge to happen and not be prepared.
And, I just want to give great credit to our great healthcare community in our region. The people on the front line—doctors,nurses and administrators—they're all working hard day and night to keep us safe, but we have to make sure they have the resources to do their job.
Eident Well, Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. Stay safe. Stay healthy.
Keating Same with you, and to everyone listening. Stay together by staying separate.
This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.