Rep. Peterson's Newsletter 3/24/2020

March 27, 2020
Newsletter

To all the health care professionals, and everyone else who is sacrificing during this pandemic – Thank You!

Dear Friends,

A student wrote to me and asked me what I’m doing to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and deal with impacts of the disease. Here’s what I told him…

First, like millions of Minnesotans, I am practicing ‘self-distancing’ by staying away from other people and limiting travel to necessities like getting groceries. This is one of the most important things Americans can do to get the virus under control. The places that are behind on taking this commonsense step are hurting everyone and make this a more costly and deadly disaster.

As your Representative, I have heard from thousands of Minnesotans who have shared their struggles, concerns and ideas on how to move our country forward. It has been amazing to hear how so many Minnesotans have stepped up to help, from Digi-Key and the University of Minnesota partnering to address the ventilator shortage, to rural hospitals expanding the use of tele-health to bring care to those in need while minimizing risks to patients and healthcare workers alike.

Though Western Minnesota’s first case of coronavirus was diagnosed by Renville County Public Health just recently, the effects of the crisis have been felt by our community over the past few weeks. I have been actively responding to those concerns and the effects on rural communities like ours across the US. 

As the Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture I worked with House Leadership and the Administration to make sure SNAP benefits are adequate and available during the pandemic. I voted alongside an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the House to pass supplemental funding for the Administration’s response to the crisis. I also cosponsored the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the disaster relief package recently signed by President Trump.

As a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I signed onto a bipartisan letter to the Veterans Affairs Secretary Wilkie, pressing the VA on their response to coronavirus. and Education to make sure veterans and students receive assistance. Our veterans deserve the best care and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over the VA healthcare system.

Rural healthcare providers face even more challenges than their urban counterparts. That is why I worked with other members from rural districts, to call on Congressional leadership to support rural healthcare providers in further coronavirus response bills.

Small businesses are facing enormous financial pressures with businesses across the state closed or working reduced operations. I led a bipartisan letter with 44 Member of Congress to the Small Business Administration (SBA) calling for lower rates on SBA disaster loans. In addition, the Minnesota Congressional Delegation asked SBA to provide Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to Minnesota businesses adversely impacted by coronavirus. That help is now available

The Minnesota Congressional Delegation is speaking with one voice to show solidarity during these times. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have far-reaching impacts on our communities and our families, we remain confident that we can pull together as a nation to address and work together to respond to this crisis and meet the needs of the American people through the tough economic consequences.

I am dedicated to stopping the spread of coronavirus and relieving the pressures the outbreak is having on our rural communities. As I continue to work on these issues, I encourage you to contact me through my website. Listening to you is the most important part of my job and helps me make the best-informed decisions for our community. 

I hope you find the resources and updates included in this newsletter helpful, and I encourage you to participate in the questionniare near the end.

Sincerely,


Congressman Collin C. Peterson

Minnesota 7th District

Coronavirus Prevention Guidelines

Go to www.coronavirus.gov to find the full recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For information from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), visit www.health.state.mn.us or use the COVID-19 hotline at 651-201-3920.

For information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), visit www.coronavirus.gov.

Government Response to COVID-19

Congress has passed and the President has signed supplemental funding and disaster relief bills in response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The Senate is currently working on a third bill to further respond to the pandemic. 

Click on these links to learn more about specific provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act:

Actions being taken by the U.S. government in response to coronavirus can be followed at www.usa.gov/coronavirus

In addition, I have taken the following actions

Chairman’s Corner

I have been working closely with USDA and congressional leadership to address possible disruptions in agriculture. If your farm or business is being affected, please contact me through my website

DHS Designates Agriculture as Critical Infrastructure

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced agriculture as critical infrastructure. This includes. food production, distribution, and retail.

Our food system is absolutely critical right now to keeping Americans fed, calm, and healthy. As we have heard from farmers and from food companies, we have enough food. The important part now is protecting and supporting the people that grow, raise, distribute and sell that food so supply can continue. The food processing industry is also being impacted by the same shortage of disinfecting products and protective equipment that has reached a crisis situation for our medical professionals.

Read more about the announcement in my press release.

Local Food Pantries

Our office also has heard from local food pantries that food demand is high but supplies from grocery stores and donors have been diminishing. The supplemental funding bill I supported included $300 million for more food and $100 million for storage and distribution for food shelves, and I’m hoping for additional funding in the next package. North Country Food Bank and Second Harvest Heartland have more information on food pantries throughout our district.

Emergency Motor Carrier Regulatory Relief

An expanded emergency declaration from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides regulatory relief for motor carriers transporting essential supplies, food and fuel. Allowing carriers to move freely enables farmers and wholesalers to move food products including milk, as well as livestock and poultry more easily to where they need to be. I am glad to continue my work with the FMCSA and our agriculture industry to find commonsense strategies that can help feed families during this crisis.

Read more about the emergency declaration from the FMCSA.

Production of Ethanol-Based Hand Sanitizer

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued public guidance adding flexibility for alcohol fuel plants and beverage distilled spirits plants to shift to the production of ethanol-based hand sanitizers. Expanding the operations making hand sanitizer grows the need for ethanol at a time when farmers need it. 

Read more about the public guidance from the TTB.

Biofuels Caucus Asks the Administration to Support the Ethanol Industry

I led members of the Biofuels Caucus in sending a letter to President Trump urging him not to challenge a recent court decision on small refinery waivers under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). In its ruling, the 10th Circuit invalidated three small refinery waivers, finding that they were wrongly granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA’s reckless use of waivers reduces demand for ethanol and hurts our farmers and ethanol producers. The Biofuels Caucus strongly urges the Administration to let the ruling stand and oppose the EPA’s use of waivers by applying the ruling across the country.

Click here to read our letter to the President.

Guidance for Veterans

Veterans experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are encouraged to call their VA medical facility or call MyVA311 (844-698-2311, press #3 to be connected). Veterans can also send secure messages to their healthcare providers through MyhealtheVet

Information about the operating status of local VA facilities is available on each facility’s website, which can be found with the VA facility locator: www.va.gov/find-locations

Help is available for Veterans in crisis by calling the Veteran Crisis Line at 1 (800) 273-8255 and pressing 1, at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or by texting 838255.

Find the most current information on the VA’s coronavirus website.

GI Bill Flexibility for Student Veterans

Congress has passed legislation that would allow Veterans to retain benefits under the GI Bill as classes move online or campuses close due to coronavirus.

Health & Healthcare Updates

President Trump announced that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is accelerating testing on therapeutic drugs to treat coronavirus. For the latest health information and updates, please use the following resources:

  • For information from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), visit www.health.state.mn.us or use the COVID-19 hotline at 651-201-3920.
  • For information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), visit www.coronavirus.gov.

Medicare Expands Telemedicine Coverage

To keep seniors safe at home, Medicare has expanded coverage for telemedicine nationwide to help seniors with health problems stay home to avoid the coronavirus. After hearing concerns from rural health clinics, my staff reached out to state and federal officials to clarify that under the new 1135 waiver, telehealth services can be provided in all settings including at a patient’s home, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and Rural Health Clinics. Risk of serious illness from COVID-19 is greater for older people and those with underlying health problems such as lung conditions, diabetes or heart problems. Many Medicare beneficiaries are managing chronic health issues that put them at heightened risk. The telemedicine expansion is geared directly at supporting this vulnerable group.

High-Deductible Health Plans can cover COVID-19 costs

The Internal Revenue Service advised that high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) can pay for 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)-related testing and treatment, without affecting their status.

Learn more about the IRS's notice on HDHPs on its website.

Donate Blood

The American Red Cross is facing a severe blood shortage as the coronavirus outbreak threatens the availability of the nation’s blood supply. Healthy individuals are urged to help restock the shelves for patients who need surgery, victims of car accidents and other emergencies, or patients suffering from cancer. Make an appointment: www.redcross.org/give-blood.html.

Consumer Resources

Consumer Protection Resources 

The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) has recommended visiting ConsumerResources.org, a hub for consumer protection information and resources from state attorneys general. It includes information on how consumers can avoid coronavirus-related scams like price gouging, links to consumer protection resources for state and federal agencies, and directs consumers to where they can file consumer complaints. 

Go to www.consumerresources.org to browse these consumer protection resources.

FCC Resources

The Federal Communications Commission has launched a COVID-19 Consumer Warnings and Safety Tips webpage to alert consumers to the proliferation of scam phone calls and texts related to the coronavirus pandemic.  Scammers are promoting bogus cures, offering fake test kits, sending hoax text messages, and generally preying on virus-related fears.

For more information about scam calls and texts, visit the FCC Consumer Help Center and the FCC Scam Glossary. You can also file a complaint about such scams at fcc.gov/complaints.

Social Security

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will continue to pay benefits. Be aware of scammers that may try to trick you into thinking the pandemic is stopping your Social Security payments. SSA offices are not accepting visitors at this time.

Visit the SSA webpage on COVID-19 for more information. 

Taxes

The IRS has a set up a webpage dedicated to helping taxpayers, businesses, and others affected by the coronavirus.

Federal Filing Deadline Postponed to July 15

The deadline for filing tax returns will be postponed three months to July 15 because of the coronavirus outbreak. All taxpayers and businesses will have this additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties.

Visit the IRS’s web page dedicated to helping taxpayers, businesses, and others affected by the coronavirus. 

State Tax Information

The Minnesota Department of Revenue remains open and ready to help with tax-related services. The Department is still offering in-person meetings and walk-in services but may modify them to allow more distance between people. Tax returns and payments can be securely dropped off outside their St. Paul office without face-to-face information. 

Visit the MN Dept. of Revenue webpage on COVID-19 for updates on how state tax services.

Small Business Resources

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has produced a handout and disaster assistance loan guidelines for small business owners.

For the latest information from SBA, small businesses can sign up at www.sba.gov/updates and follow MN SBA on Twitter for updates as they become available (@SBA_Minnesota).

Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)

An SBA economic injury disaster loan declaration has been made, allowing the SBA to provide small business assistance through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. EIDLs are low-interest loans of up to $2 million provided to businesses and private non-profits. They can be used toward working capital to meet needs including payroll, accounts payable, and fixed debt payments. 

Visit SBA’s disaster loan website to apply for a loan.

This declaration was made in part due to the Minnesota Congressional Delegation’s call for Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Jovita Carranza calling to provide Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to Minnesota and local businesses reporting the effects of COVID-19 to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). 

Read the letter to SBA Administrator Carranza on EIDLs.

Additional Business Resources

Employment Resources

Department of Labor

The Department of Labor is providing assistance and resources for workers and employers. Click on the following links for more information:

Find more information on the resources to help workers and employers

Filing for State Unemployment Benefits

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has given the following recommendations to speed up the process for those seeking state unemployment benefits:

  1. Apply online at www.uimn.org
  2. Try to find answers to your questions without calling. Start by clicking on the word “Applicants” in the upper left corner of the Unemployment Insurance website – and select from the menu options: What do I need to know? How do I apply? How do I get paid? What affects my benefits? These are designed to answer the questions most people have. If you call, you may have a long wait. DEED is trying to free up those lines to help people who do not have any online access or need translators in order to apply for benefits.
  3. Get help from others you know. If you’re not comfortable filling out forms online, maybe you have a smart niece or nephew who can help walk you through it. You’re not alone. Nearly 1 million Minnesotans have used our online Unemployment Insurance application in the past 10 years; most of us have family, friends, and neighbors who are familiar with the application process.

State Employees

Employees of the State of Minnesota can find information on guidelines on the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget (MMB) website. 

Visit the MMB webpage on COVID-19 Info for State Employees.

Effects on Job Corps 

The Department of Labor has established a mandatory spring break from March 16th to April 14th for all Job Corps centers in response to COVID-19 concerns. All enrollments have halted and centers are arranging for students to be transported home or placed in temporary housing.  Outreach and admissions may continue operating but new arrivals will not be accepted until after the break. 

Read more information from the Department of Labor.

Education Updates

You can call the State of Minnesota’s hotline for questions related to COVID-19’s impact on schools at 651-297-1304.

Student Loan Payments Suspended

Federal student loan borrowers will be permitted to suspend their monthly student loan payment without penalty for the next 60 days. 

Read more about the student loan payment suspension from the Education Department.

Administration waives K-12 standardized testing requirements

Education Secretary DeVos has waived state requirements for K-12 standardized testing due to coronavirus causing widespread school closures.

Asking the Department of Education to Protect Students

I joined a bipartisan group of 72 lawmakers calling on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to take steps to ensure that the cost of public health protections do not result in financial burdens for students. 

In recent weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced institutions of higher education across the country to implement remote learning, end study abroad programs, and close on campus housing. These difficult but necessary public precautions will result in unpredictable financial hardship for students.

Read the full letter to Education Secretary DeVos.

Resources for Families

You can call the State of Minnesota’s hotline for child-care related questions about COVID-19 at 651-297-1304.

Here are some online resources for families and children to continue education at home.

Library of Congress

PBS

  • PBS Daily Email: Family resources for engaging young learners. 
  • PBS KIDS Video: On-demand educational videos and live streams available for mobile, tablet, and TV connected devices with no subscription.
  • PBS KIDS Games App: Nearly 200 educational games that can be downloaded for offline play anytime, anywhere.
  • PBS KIDS for Parents: Information, activities and tips for parents, including on talking with kids about coronavirus.
  • PBS LearningMedia: Free resource for Pre-K-12 educators and families to support classroom and distance learning. 

Smithsonian Institute

The Smithsonian Institute also has online learning resources that can be found by clicking here.

Online Agriculture Experiences

Ag-Week has compiled virtual agricultural experiences for families with students at home due to coronavirus. These include virtual tours of dairy farms and Minnesota Ag in the Classroom resources.

Find these resources in Ag-Week’s article.

Questionnaire Results

Last week, I asked you about the federal government’s response to coronavirus and testing. Here’s what you had to say:

Do you think the guidance from the federal government for how Americans should best deal with the coronavirus has been clear and effective?

In the United States, do you think testing for the coronavirus has been adequate to identify those with the virus so they can be quarantined?

Newsstand

22nd Annual Water Management and Flood Damage Conference

The Red River Water Management Board and the Flood Damage Reduction Work Group held their 22nd Annual Conference in Moorhead. Over two days, experts shared various reports on topics like water retention, soil management, water quality initiatives, weather outlooks, and watershed district projects.

Western Minnesotan recognized for heroism

I want congratulate Cameron K. Hanson of Fergus Falls, 1 of 18 named Carnegie Medal Heroes for saving a 65 year old man from drowning in an icy lake in December of 2018. Hanson experienced loss of feeling in his fingers and sustained nerve damage to hands and feet following rescue.

Read more about Cameron’s heroics on the Carnegie Hero website.

Congressional Art Competition

High-school students who live in Minnesota’s Seventh District are encouraged to submit their artwork for the 2020 Congressional Art Competition.  The Competition is open to all high-school students in 9th through 12th grades, with exceptions for schools that have 7th and 8th grade students on the same campus as the High School.  The overall winner from Congressman Peterson’s district will have their artwork displayed for one year in the U.S. Capitol.

The grand prize winner will be flown to Washington, D.C. for a reception in late June 2020 honoring his or her artwork, which will be on display for one year. Two semi-finalists will have their artwork displayed in my district offices.

Find out more about the competition and how to apply.