A fourth federal coronavirus aid bill, and the promises it would hold, was the highlight of conversation Tuesday when Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) met with local elected officials, business and community leaders in downtown Lancaster.
Liability protection, childcare provisions, and unemployment and stimulus payments were subjects Toomey was asked about by attendees, including business and education leaders, as well as local and state officials.
“I don’t know how a fourth bill is going to develop, I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but if it has anything it should have liability protection,” Toomey said during the event at the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce.
Liability protection would shield organizations from lawsuits if they were to reopen facilities and an individual contracted COVID-19 as a result of visiting the location. It was a concern shared by representatives of the business community eager to reopen, as well as educational institutions facing the prospect of returning to class in the fall. Millersville University President Daniel Wubah said the topic keeps him awake at night.
“Colleges are going to be very reluctant to let students come back on campus even following all the safety procedures that they ought to follow, they’re very willing to do that, but if they think they’re going to be subject to frivolous lawsuits from the trial bar then they’re going to think twice about reopening,” Toomey said. “That’s not a good place for us to be in, so I do think liability protection is important.”
Scott Fiore, President at TriStarr Staffing, and a member of the Lancaster Chamber board of directors, asked Toomey about extending the additional $600 a week unemployment payments that were part of the federal coronavirus relief bill passed in March.
The payments, which are in addition to regular unemployment, are set to expire at the end of the month. Some advocates are pushing for an extension of the payments.
Fiore noted there is a reluctance among some workers to return to work because the amount they are making with unemployment is more than they would earn at work.
“I don’t think it was ever a good idea to tell people you can make more staying at home than going to work, and it would not be a good idea to continue that,” Toomey said. “It’s not the right policy in my view.”
Toomey later told reporters he had not yet made up his mind on whether a second round of direct payments should be included in a fourth bill, but noted that there were issues in the administration of the first round of $1,200 payments in April, such as giving money to Americans who were not out of work and in direct need of financial aid.
Democratic Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace asked the senator about the possibility of the fourth bill including support for childcare, which she noted can be a barrier for parents who are looking to return to work but may be unable to if schools and daycares are closed.
“Valid points, I think,” Toomey responded. “Childcare is an essential part of a block of people being able to get back to work, so that is an important challenge.”