ASHLAND — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said a potential second COVID-19 “rescue” package could be on the way.
“Keep your eyes out for July,” McConnell said Friday during a meeting held at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, where he addressed recent COVID-19-related struggles in the area and the closing of Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.
When alluding to the second stimulus package, McConnell said he will prioritize investing in “future generations” and liability protection for essential workers, ranging from hospitals to businesses and universities.
McConnell was accompanied by King’s Daughters Medical Center President and CEO Kristie Whitlatch, as well as King’s Daughters Chief Medical Officers Dr. Stacy Caudill and Dr. Charbel Salem, for the event.
In Whitlatch’s statement, she acknowledged the importance of funding in the pivotal beginning phases of the pandemic.
“Rural health care was at a fragile inflection point before COVID. Without the over $14 million received through the CARES Act … King’s Daughters would not be in a very good position today,” said Whitlatch.
For Kentucky, COVID-19 cases remain low compared to those in the hotspots of the country. In Boyd County, there are 39 confirmed cases, with three reported deaths.
In the first stimulus package organized under the CARES Act, a bipartisan relief effort, McConnell co-authored the bill that was unanimously approved for $2.2 trillion.
In the package, money was allocated to individuals — in the form of $1,200 checks — large business and local government loans, as well as Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses.
For Kentucky, $11 billion was given to the commonwealth through the package, with $1 billion to health care providers and $14.2 million to KDMC in particular.
Now, anticipating a “significant economic comeback,” McConnell says if a bill were to come in July, their attention would be shifting to preventing potential future issues, like liability lawsuits.
“I’m going to insist on liability protection related to the coronavirus incident … To be perfectly frank, we didn’t know what to do about it. We had never done it before. But we did the best we can,” said McConnell.
This comes after waves of complaints by patients and students who say those in hospitals and institutions mishandled the COVID-19 transitions in their services.
McConnell’s congressional counterparts in the U.S. House of Representatives have historically opposed measures by the government that impede malpractice claims in times of national disaster.
Charles Booker, Senate candidate and representative for the Kentucky House of Representatives’ 43rd District, says this move should give pause to Kentucky voters.
“Folks like Mitch McConnell are still seeing this as an opportunity to bail out big businesses and not prioritize the people of Kentucky,” said Booker.
McConnell is not the only member of Congress with plans for a potential second stimulus package. Just last month, members of the House voted to pass the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or the HEROES, Act.
The HEROES Act would put an additional $3 trillion toward boosting the economy and would include new provisions like student loan relief, rent and mortgage assistance, and an extension of the $600 monthly unemployment bonus currently set to expire in July.
In his statements Friday, McConnell said he has no intention of backing the HEROES Act in the Senate.
Despite the goal of expanding protections in a potential second stimulus package, there could still be a few that a second bill would miss, including those without access to broadband.
As the world continues with things like telehealth to support social distancing, people without internet access struggle to catch up.
Though the CARES Act addressed the issue of access for those in rural communities by allocating $200 million to the FCC to improve rural internet connection, McConnell says he doesn’t plan to include broadband in a second package.
“I think that (broadband) is important, but I don’t think it outta be paid for by borrowing from future generations to be put into a rescue package,” said McConnell.
In a state that ranks 47th in broadband access, those participating in online school, virtual doctor’s appointments and attempting to move small businesses online stand to be affected by its absence.
Senate candidate Mike Broihier said he hopes Kentucky voters will remember how senators like McConnell handled the pandemic in the upcoming election.
“He’s only making a campaign stop for show because he’s afraid of losing his seat in November. The people of Kentucky see through it, and they will bring him ‘home’ in November,” said Broihier.
McConnell, the incumbent and longest serving Kentucky senator in history, is up against Broihier and 16 other candidates in the Tuesday, June 23, primary.