Lawmakers praise workers, offer hope for economy

Mar 21, 2020
In The News

Lawmakers praise workers, offer hope for economy

Written by Frank E. Lockwood
Published by Arkansas Democrat Gazette

With the nation preparing for the worst pandemic in more than a century, with the stock market plunging and with many businesses shuttered, many Americans are frightened.

The fear and the uncertainty are real, but can also be overcome, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack said Friday, after visiting a coronavirus testing site.

“This is uncharted territory,” the Republican from Rogers said. “We know it will end sometime. We just don’t know when and how. We just know that at some point and time, things will get better.”

In the meantime, “people are worried, people are scared, people are anxious,” he said.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

“It’s a dangerous combination because what it does is it causes people to react, sometimes overreact, to the conditions,” he said. “We all need to do our part to make sure that we are being constructive in the process and not contributing to the hardship.” He, like other members of the state’s delegation, said he supported giving economic assistance to Americans and businesses.

In a telephone interview, Womack portrayed Arkansas’ coronavirus test givers and hand-sanitizer manufacturers as heroes in the battle to contain and overcome the virus.

There are others doing heroic work as well, according to U.S. Sen. John Boozman.

“I’m so thankful that we’ve got men and women that are in the health care professions that have stepped up, in their case literally putting their lives on the line,” the Republican from Rogers said.

Arkansans who steer the supply trucks, stock the shelves and scan the groceries are also performing essential services, he said.

Others who follow the advice of public health officials are also playing a crucial role, Boozman said.

“Social distancing, keeping our hands out of our mouths, washing our hands. … If we’ll do that we’ll keep the curve lower so that everybody’s not going to get sick all at the same time and truly overwhelm the system,” he said.

If Arkansans follow the experts’ advice, the system can withstand the challenge and many lives can be saved, he said.

If the advice is ignored, “things spiral out of control very, very quickly,” Boozman said.

While Arkansans take steps to lessen the number of victims, lawmakers must take steps to shore up the economy, he said.

“I think the economy is in very very bad shape. I don’t know anybody that’s really not being affected by this,” he said.

Boozman said he hopes the Senate can pass legislation Monday to help American businesses and workers and that the House will take it up quickly.

“The longer we wait, the more difficult the problem is to solve,” he said. “This is truly a national emergency.”

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford said the health crisis is hitting close to home, with at least one case already confirmed in Craighead County.

The Republican from Jonesboro has spent most of the week at home, working remotely and consulting, telephonically, with farmers, business leaders and community leaders.

With danger looming, it’s important for people to follow health officials’ recommendations, he said.

“It’s going to be challenging. We’re just making some pretty, pretty serious adjustments to our lifestyle. It’s going to be uncomfortable for a while, but it’s doable,” he said.

The changes are temporary, he said.

“I don’t think it’s the new normal. It’s something we’re going to have to deal with for the next, I don’t know, several weeks,” he predicted. “But I think we’re going to get past this and come out better.”

U.S. Rep. French Hill, who spent most of his time working from home this week, said the House needs to move quickly to bolster American businesses when it reconvenes next week.

“My biggest issue now is the economic stabilization for all of American businesses that have been so negatively impacted by the virus,” the Republican from Little Rock said.

During this health crisis, federal economic intervention is needed, he said.

“The most important thing we can do, in my view, is to get rapid cash flow to our businesses so they can maintain employment of our citizens during this interim period,” he said.

The nation’s financial institutions remain solid, the former banker said.

“The banking system is strong and is standing ready to be of support. This is not an economic crisis. This is a public health crisis that has led to a negative economic impact. So our banks are strong right now, but we need this financial support for our small businesses and for those in the travel and entertainment industry so they have some stability in their own business operations,” he said. “The ultimate negative impact on the economy would be if that doesn’t get done quickly.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, who spent his week at home in Garland County, said he’s working with other elected officials to deal with the crisis.

“I’ve lost count of how many delegation calls we’ve had with various groups around the state and then just all the emails, text messages and phone calls from constituents who are concerned and needing information,” he said.

The Republican from Hot Springs said he’s reviewing the latest economic stimulus package proposed by the Senate.

Economic assistance is needed, he said.

“That’s the whole focus of what the federal government’s looking at is, how do you mitigate this,” he said.

The difficulties are temporary, he said.

“We do know that this eventually will pass,” he said. “All the pain we’re experiencing in the economy right now is self-inflicted because we’re trying to reduce the spread of the virus, knowing that the sooner we get past this pandemic, the quicker the economy will come back,” he added.

Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton introduced legislation that would provide tax rebates to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits, boost aid to poor families and increase assistance to small businesses.

In an interview, the Republican from Dardanelle stressed the importance of aggressive action to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We need to move aggressively to get ahead of this problem at this point,” he said. “I know it will cause hardship and dislocation. But the more aggressive we are now, the shorter this crisis period will be.”

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