Many had hoped that by the beginning of August, the coronavirus pandemic would be under control - that children would be returning safely back to schools, American's would be off the unemployment line, and the economy would be on a road to recovery.
Sadly, most of the progress made towards those goals was wiped out in July, as the United States saw one of its worst months yet in the global health crisis.
COVID-19 cases in some Tri-State communities have increased by double or more, with government officials responding by imposing new restrictions and reinstating old ones in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and save lives.
As the country struggles to gain an edge on the novel coronavirus, many Americans are waiting for a helping hand from Capitol Hill.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined Jessica Hartman 44News for an exclusive interview where he talked about the next round of coronavirus relief and its impact on Kentucky and America as a whole.
When Will Congress Agree on A Stimulus Bill That Puts Relief Dollars Into Struggling Local Economies?
"Well I sure hope the answer is 'soon'," Sen. McConnell began. "The administration led by the treasury secretary is engaging with the speaker of the House. We obviously have to have both the administration and congressional Democrats on board - I'm in the middle of discussing it all with them."
"We need an additional boost," stated McConnell.
"I think the economy still needs a boost, and I've laid down a proposal that Senate Republicans think makes sense - focused on kids, jobs, hospitals, and healthcare - and it also includes liability protection so that hospitals and doctors and nurses and universities and K-12 educators are not consumed by lawsuits related to how the coronavirus was handled," Sen. McConnell continued.
McConnell on Direct Cash Payments and Adjusting Unemployment Insurance
Sen. McConnell said he thinks whatever bill congress agrees on should include another direct cash payment for people below a certain income level.
"They really need additional cash assistance, and the bill that I put forward is a starting place to begin the discussion - $1,200 into those folks, similar to what we did in the CARES Act several months ago," said Sen. McConnell.
McConnell also said making sure unemployment insurance is on "firm footing" will be another focus of the next relief bill.
"One of the mistakes we probably made in the CARES Act was that some people are making more staying at home than going back to work," said McConnell. "I think we need to adjust that in a way that unemployment compensates for a significant percentage of lost wages, but doesn't make it more attractive for you to stay home and your neighbor go back to work."
What Else Can Be Done to Get Americans Back to Work Sooner Rather than Later?
McConnell says the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans have helped keep business alive and Americans working.
He reported that $5.2 billion dollars went to Kentucky and was dispersed among 48,000 small businesses.
"Those loans are only available if you maintain employment, so many people continued to get a check under the PPP program - and it's kept a lot of businesses alive," said Sen. McConnell. "We need to do another round of funding for the PPP program, because for many of those businesses, the money has run out - and we don't want those people to be exposed to unemployment any longer."
"So continued support for PPP small business loan program, underwriting unemployment insurance at the appropriate level, and $1,200 checks straight into the pockets of people who make below a certain amount of money all would be a part of a package that I would support, and Senate Republicans by-and-large would support," McConnell went on to say.
However, when Hartman pressed the senator about large companies cashing in on the first round of PPP and how congress would ensure the second round of loans went to small businesses that need them most, the senator insisted the initial funding did end up in the right place.
This was the Kentucky senator's complete response:
"Well, it was designed to go to small businesses. Larger businesses were not eligible for it so it clearly was designed to target small businesses, mom and pop operations, people who had zero to 50 employees. Larger companies could potentially access a program over at the Federal Reserve, but PPP was definitely designed for smaller businesses."
Education, Local Governments, and Their Priority in The Next Relief Bill
44News spoke with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear on Monday about the return to the classroom and the added pressure that educators and communities are facing as they try to keep everyone safe while continuing education.
Sen. McConnell says education is a top priority in the next round of coronavirus relief.
"Education is a top priority in the bill that I put forward," said McConnell. "$105 billion straight down to K-12 and colleges and universities."
"If the local decision is to get back to school in-person, we want to support that," Sen. McConnell continued. "If the local decision is to continue remotely, we want to support that - but I think America can't get back to normal until kids are back in school."