By: Charlie Crist
U.S. Congressman (FL-13) and 44th Governor of Florida Special OP-ED for News Talk Florida
EDITORS, NOTE: Tonight Congressman Charlie Crist will be joined by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of BayCare Health System Dr. Nishant Anand, and local small business consultant, Leo Irizarri. Speakers will give updates on COVID-19 in Pinellas County, the aid that’s available to individuals and small businesses in need, and provide answers to questions from residents.
Folks, these are difficult times. We face a health crisis in size and scope unprecedented in modern history. People are scared – it’s understandable. This virus knows no borders, no age or demographic is immune.
But I’m an optimist, and I know that together we’ll get through this. And I know we aren’t powerless, either. We have the best minds in the world working on a vaccine and medicines. By following the CDC’s guidelines, washing our hands, practicing social distancing, and staying home as much as possible per the Florida Governor’s and local officials’ orders, we can flatten the curve – protecting our families, our neighbors, and buying the brave men and women in the health care profession time. That time will help prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed and keep an adequate supply of vital medical equipment and personal protective gear for our doctors and nurses flowing.
We are also blessed to be the wealthiest nation on Earth in the history of our planet. That puts us in a strong position to withstand the economic impact of this pandemic.
To that end, the federal government will do whatever it takes to get our nation through this crisis. Already, we’ve passed three massive stimulus packages, providing critical funding to families, small businesses, health care facilities, local and state governments, and large employers in order to weather this storm.
The message? Help is on the way.
In the recently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, every American making up to $75,000 a year will receive a direct payment of $1,200, including $500 for every dependent child in their family (people making from $75,000 to $100,000 will receive a graduated check). Additionally, everyone who’s been laid off will receive $600 per week from the federal government, on top of their state unemployment insurance. This benefit is retroactive – I know people are having trouble getting through the State’s unemployment system, but keep at it; you have until June 20th to file.
For students, the CARES Act puts a 6-month, penalty-free halt on federal student loan payments so folks can focus on what’s most important: staying healthy and preventing the spread of COVID-19.
For federally backed mortgages that make up over 90% of the market, the bill halts evictions for 150 days and foreclosures for 60 days, as well as mandating penalty-free forbearance on mortgages for up to 12 months for those facing financial difficulties – so no one is forced out onto the streets.
And for our small businesses and non-profits who are being crippled right now, the CARES Act established the Payroll Protection Program – providing forgivable, no fee loans up to $10 million and equal to 2.5 months of payroll to small businesses and non-profits that continue to pay their employees during the crisis. Please contact your lender for more information; the Small Business Administration and Treasury Department will be working directly through them to administer these loans.
My office has also been very busy helping Americans stuck overseas make their way home. We’ve shepherded over 50 Americans back to Tampa Bay since this crisis started. If you have a family or friend that needs to get home but can’t, please contact our office so we can help.
I also want to highlight the importance of access to accurate information during this crisis. Quality, informed journalism is absolutely critical to the public health and safety, now more than ever. This week we held a telephone town hall meeting with my Pinellas constituents to share information from local health experts. We’ll be hosting another one soon. Visit crist.house.gov for the latest updates.
These are scary times. But we will get through it. We are Americans, and in times of crisis we pull together for the common good. We may be separated right now by walls and windows, but we are emotionally connected now more than ever – as one nation, under God, indivisible.
Please continue to keep the heroes of this crisis, our health care professionals and first responders, in your hearts and prayers. And let’s do our part by following the rules and staying safe. God bless you all and stay strong.