WILKES-BARRE — As health care workers sacrifice their safety to fight COVID-19, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Tuesday proposed that anticipated coronavirus legislation include a GI Bill for front-line ‘soldiers.’
To support the Americans on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, Casey, D-Scranton, is calling for a modern-day “GI Bill” for health care workers who have made sacrifices to protect the nation against the virus.
As COVID-19 has placed the health care system under particular strain, Casey said health care workers across America have stepped into the breach — at extraordinary risk to themselves — to care for those sick with coronavirus and to prevent its continued spread into our communities.
“When the difficult victory in World War II was won, we showed our gratitude to the men and women who helped to secure that victory with the GI Bill,” Casey said. “In the same way that we demonstrated our gratitude to our service members, we need to begin a conversation about how best to show our thanks to the front-line personnel who today are our soldiers in the fight against coronavirus.”
Casey said a plan is needed in the same way that the workers are currently meeting the needs of a nation.
“In short, we need a new GI bill for health care workers returning from their COVID-19 service in the hospitals, health systems and nursing homes of America,” Casey said.
Casey added that in Pennsylvania, 5 percent of COVID-19 cases so far have been among health care workers. Casey is exploring a range of options for health care workers, such as student loan forgiveness, financial aid to help workers to pursue additional education and a financial reward for health care workers who spent months in the trenches.
Last week, Casey joined his Senate Democratic colleagues in introducing the COVID-19 Heroes Fund — Senate Democrats’ proposal consisting of two major components: a $25,000 premium pay increase for essential workers and a $15,000 essential worker recruitment incentive to attract and secure the workforce needed to fight the public health crisis.
CARES Act funds
Also this week, Casey led a bipartisan group of Pennsylvania’s U.S. representatives in sending a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asking that the Department of Treasury expedite the release of funds from the state and local Stabilization Funds created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The members of Congress urged Mnuchin to allow local leaders to use their discretion as to how federal dollars are spent in their communities in order to adapt to each locality’s unique situation as they respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“It is essential that funding from the Coronavirus Relief Fund be delivered swiftly to states and localities,” Casey said. “As officials in Pennsylvania make tough choices in deciding expenditures to fight the pandemic, we urge the Department to complete these allocations sooner than the 30-day deadline specified in the CARES Act.”
Casey said expeditious release of funding is critical, as localities are facing massive budgetary shortfalls that are widening with the increasing length of the pandemic.
“We also ask that you ensure that the funding is provided equitably in a manner that benefits all communities in Pennsylvania that have faced severe economic challenges as result of COVID-19,” Casey said.”Governors and mayors are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 and need support as soon as possible.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.
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