Special Broadcast: Congresswoman Kuster On Federal Response To Coronavirus

Mar 24, 2020

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR / NHPR

The Exchange will produce a special extended second hour on Wednesday at 10 a.m., as we talk with New Hampshire Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster. We'll discuss how Congress has responded to the coronavirus epidemic, including bipartisan legislation that is aimed at helping families, small businesses, and health agencies at all levels of government. We'll also get her response to the latest developments here in New Hampshrie, including the state's first death due to coronavirus and limits on public gatherings. 

What questions do you have about the federal response to the coronavirus? How has it impacted your life? Submit your questions before the show using NHPR's coronavirus listener survey.

Air date: 10 a.m., Wednesday, March 25, 2020

GUESTS:

Transcript:

This transcript is computer-generated, and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy, and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster joins us this hour, a four-term Democrat who represents New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District, Kuster and her fellow lawmakers have been working on bills aimed at the current health and economic crisis due to the coronavirus. Toward that end, the U.S. House earlier passed a stimulus package, a version of which seems close to approval now after a vote late last night in the U.S. Senate. In a special second hour of The Exchange today, we'll talk with Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster. And, of course, let's hear from you. And Congresswoman Kuster, thank you very much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Great. Laura, it's wonderful to be with you. And thank you.

Laura Knoy:
Well, what is in this stimulus package that looks like it's going to become a done deal?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Well, we're certainly hoping and it's a massive package, close to two trillion dollars. What it's really all about is that economic stimulus to keep our economy going from the negative impact, obviously, of closing down so many businesses all around the country, people losing their jobs.

Congresswoman Kuster:
So where we're focused is, first of all, on the public health system, making sure that we can shore up our hospitals, making sure that we can purchase the supplies that our hospitals need to care for people with covered 19. And then a very strong focus on the business community, especially small businesses here in New Hampshire. Ninety percent of the jobs are small businesses. And we want to make sure that we can help them get through the coming months so that when we're back on track, they will have survived.

Congresswoman Kuster:
We're focused on unemployment insurance. If any of your listeners have lost their jobs, they should be immediately today applying for unemployment insurance. We want to try to keep the money flowing in the economy. Non-profit organizations will also qualify for these small business loans. They can go to SBA.gov/NH To get the funding that they need to make it through this period. And then we have disaster relief for the National Guard to get involved in the response to the coronavirus, emergency grants for state and local municipalities, for the economic dislocation and for the expenses that they're putting in to responding.

Congresswoman Kuster:
I've in close contact with the governor about the reimbursement for the state of New Hampshire, for example, for our public health preparation. And that's the gist of it. Those are sort of the top line.

Laura Knoy:
It's a lot.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Yeah, it's a lot. It's the biggest economic stimulus package in the history of the country.

Laura Knoy:
Well we'll definitely talk about the financing of it, when is this going to be a done deal, I know there was a vote late last night in the Senate, when is this going to be a done deal?

Congresswoman Kuster:
The deal was just struck early. It I think probably in the wee hours this morning. The Senate will vote. It will come over to the House. And what my leadership in the House is trying to determine right now is whether or not we will need to travel to Washington, D.C. to vote in person or whether they could use that procedure that's known as unanimous consent that both sides, Republicans and Democrats, will agree to the package. And it can be voted essentially on a voice vote where we would not need to be present in Washington. So we're on call.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Of whether or not we need to come down there. The vote will likely happen on Thursday. One way or the other.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Getting on a plane. Congresswoman Kuster,.

Congresswoman Kuster:
No I won't get on a plane, trust me I'll be driving.

Laura Knoy:
That doesn't sound advisable.

Congresswoman Kuster:
It's not advisable. We've had a great deal of discussion about it. There is not currently a provision in the House or Senate rules to vote by electronic means. Actually, Senator Shaheen and Senator Hassan, and I think have been pretty well stuck in Washington for the last 10 days as this package was negotiated and they had various procedural votes on it this week, Monday. So it's you know, it's not advisable. It's, what we're working on,iIf we do need to go back is the process whereby we would not vote as a group on the floor of the House, that they would keep the vote open for a long period of time so that we would just be on the floor of the House with just 10 people at a time. And I think we would just scoot in to the voting stations and vote quickly and then head home.

Laura Knoy:
What aspects of this giant stimulus package that you just outlined for us, Congresswoman, might be of special interest to us here in the Granite State?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Sure. What aspects of it?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Again, I think the focus that I've had and by the way, I want to thank Granite Staters for their participation.

Congresswoman Kuster:
I should said right at the outset, might my hardest with everyone. We've been in constant contact.

Congresswoman Kuster:
We had 4000 emails and phone calls last week and a shout out to my staff who were working from home to respond that every one of those.

Congresswoman Kuster:
I think the two biggest things so far beyond the public health response, so let me start there, it's the unemployment claim. We went from an average of, I think twelve on a typical day in March to last Tuesday, 6000 claims in one day. And that was essentially just the beginning of the wave. That was the hotel and restaurant and bars that were closed down.

Congresswoman Kuster:
But also the small businesses, as I mentioned, 90 percent of jobs in New Hampshire are small business jobs. These are people who had a great idea and opened up a shop or I have a small manufacturing business, or maybe they're in the hospitality industry. And our goal is to try to help them through this period of economic uncertainty.

Congresswoman Kuster:
In a perfect world, they would be able to keep their employees on the payroll. And that's the goal of this economic package, that these are grants and loans for small businesses. Again, you can apply SBA.gov/NH and we're looking at very low or zero percent interest rate. We're looking at no payment for a period of time to get through this. And the goal would be, as I say, to keep people on the payroll, even if your business is, you know, not seeing a lot of traffic right now.

Laura Knoy:
And so many things have been shut down. And certainly the state has moved pretty quickly on this. The Department of Employment Security here in New Hampshire, as I'm sure you know, Congresswoman, has been, you know, processing claims very quickly, trying to get those checks out as soon as possible. So how does the federal effort sort of complement what the state is already doing?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Well, it will fund it. Mostly ours is a federal program.

Congresswoman Kuster:
So our role is the appropriation. It's administered through the state. And I do want to commend the people that had been working to process these claims. But the funding will come primarily from this federal appropriation.

Congresswoman Kuster:
And this is the third package we started, I should say, Laura, my involvement with this started close to a month ago with our first hearing from Secretary Azar and Dr. Fauci, who we've all gotten to know now coming to our House Health Subcommittee to talk about the COVID-19.

Congresswoman Kuster:
And from the very beginning, our concern was, first of all, that the chain of command and making sure that the decision making was in place at the federal level. There was some delay and confusion and mixed signals coming from the White House and others early in this. And I think that caused considerable consternation down the line, but that got squared away. Second was to make sure that the materials that the math, the testing kits, all of that, we still are having problems with that supply and then learn.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, we've talked so much about that. Yeah.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Right. Recognizing the economic dislocation. So the very first package that we passed very quickly in the House that was tied up a bit in the Senate, but then passed signed by the president. We had these SBA loans right from the beginning and the enhanced unemployment insurance. And then then we did add a second package. And then this really big package is the third piece of legislation that come through the House and Senate.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Congresswoman, I know we have people who want to ask you questions, so I want to open up the lines for your questions for New Hampshire Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster. Again, she's a Democrat representing our 2nd District. Join us in this special hour to The Exchange as we talk with one of the members of our congressional delegation about the federal response to the coronavirus. William is calling us from Concord. Go ahead, William. You're on the air. Thanks for being with us.

Caller:
Thanks for taking my call. Thank you. Representative Kuster who worked in the House. This is a little more relevant to your prior guest, Dr. Adams. I'm a physician in Concord, and I know from conference calls I've been on the testing results in the state running about a week or more behind. So I emphasize that because the amount of covered in the state now is certainly quite significantly greater than has been published.

Caller:
And that's the reason that, as Dr. Adams said, I would urge the governor to institute a mandatory shelter in place immediately.

Caller:
It's already much further out there. And every day that goes on without the result will result in avoidable deaths. My strong opinion in terms of federal staff, as you know from Governor Cuomo's comments, there apparently has not been a very effective release of federal stockpile of PPE equipment. And certainly at the hospital I'm working at, it's very carefully rationed and locked down and were reused, reusing masks, for example. So I would urge Represenative Kuster to do all she can to force that release of the federal stockpiles to the areas with the most need. Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
William. Thank you so much for calling in. And thank you for taking care of people in our community. Again, the health care workers that we've been talking to over the past week are just putting everything they have into it. And I'm sure I speak for many listeners when we say we are so grateful. So thank you, William.

Laura Knoy:
Two points he raises Congresswoman Kuster that we should talk about. One is this federal stockpile. I have heard so much frustration on the part of health care providers over the past week that there are shortages and that they are basically point the finger at the federal government. So what are you doing, Congresswoman, to speed things up?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Well, and I couldn't agree more. The White House is very, very frustrating in this regard. And we have been pressing for this with letters, with phone calls. I've been talking with the Governor almost every day about the issue of supplies and the stockpile. So some of the supplies have been released now from the stockpile. But it's a huge frustration. Some of the materials are out of date and there just simply was never enough to cover that country. I think New Hampshire was early in getting our request in the federal delegation did help to support the governor's request. But what we received them, what states across the country proceed with only 25 percent of what they were asking for.

Congresswoman Kuster:
So we pretty quickly shifted with the Governor on effort for private vendor relationships, which of course, is part because everybody is working at the same time for a limited supply and competing in those bids. The governor is now taking steps over the last several days to increase manufacturing right here in New Hampshire. It has been in touch with companies with regard to gowns and gloves and even ventilators.

Congresswoman Kuster:
He has been in touch with 3M, the big company, about the masks. And we do expect, anticipate a shipment of math coming in, that that was partly a federal issue. We had to change the liability around the math because there was the two different criteria, one for healthcare use and the other for industrial use that we now can just use the math for health care.

Laura Knoy:
We've heard a lot about that. (crosstalk)

Congresswoman Kuster:
And one last thing.

Congresswoman Kuster:
There is a national production act that is used during emergencies, during war time.

Congresswoman Kuster:
And we have repeatedly requested the President to put that into place, because what that would do is give the government the opportunity to in struct the manufacturers to create the volume that we need. And he has been very separate in his refusal about that. And so we're working together with the governor to work around that. One of the things that I do want to commend. The people of New Hampshire is when the have put out a call for people to present with material, there was supporting early board of fast gloves and that kind of thing by certain individuals. And the response to that has been very positive. We've had constant communication with the hospitals on this issue of supplies. And so I would encourage anyone listening on this call that may have access to materials, tips to please turn those in to your health care providers in your community.

Laura Knoy:
Well, again, it was good to hear from William, and we spoke with Dr. Pepe, who runs Catholic Medical Center. Also Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro and Monadnock community hospital in Peterboro. And I asked him about these shortages. And, you know, I said, look, we're not talking about high tech MRI equipment. We're talking about gowns, masks. You know, not high level stuff here. Why do we have these shortages? And he said, I could have told you this was going to be coming.

Laura Knoy:
We've been talking about these shortages for a long time. And I guess for that and my question for you, Congresswoman, is how much did you and other leaders in Congress see this coming? The U.S. intelligence community warned, for example, in its annual threat report for 2019 that the U.S. would remain vulnerable to a flu pandemic or a large scale outbreak of a contagious disease. So, you know, at some level, people were talking about this a long time ago.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Absolutely. And Laura, I mean, it's not as though we couldn't look around the globe to see what was coming from other countries. Again, I am trying extremely hard not to be partisan and trying to just be levelheaded and calm and work with the situation that we have.

Congresswoman Kuster:
But I can't help but go back to the White House, eliminating the office of pandemic response, this was something we've all heard now about the transition, the Obama administration briefing the incoming administration about how important this was, pandemic response, about how important supplies, materials, preparation, preparedness. So that has been a great frustration. And I can say certainly from my committee, when we first heard first secretary is are we were very frustrated at the approach and the attitude from the very top. I mean, the press of the United States was denying that this was a problem and we knew it was a problem and we knew that we needed to work quickly. Time is of the essence.

Congresswoman Kuster:
And every day that goes by, lives will be lost. So we've been fortunate here in New Hampshire that we've been able to work in a bipartisan way with federal delegation in the governor to try to address these issues in a local way, because that help has not been forthcoming from the White House.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Congresswoman, we will talk a lot more after a short break. I've got some e-mails I want to share with you. So coming up, more of your questions and comments for Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster. Stay with us. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster joins us. We've been talking about lawmakers and their work on legislation responding to the coronavirus pandemic, especially a giant stimulus package that appears close to being becoming reality. We would like to have your questions or comments for the congresswoman as well. Congresswoman Kuster, we were talking a little bit earlier with William, the doctor who called in. And I'd like to ask you a little bit more about that. He talked about not just the federal stockpile of protective gear. You address that. He also talked about testing. The public has been receiving conflicting information, Congresswoman. I'm sure you've been hearing this about testing. You know, we're told that their tests are readily available, but then people call their doctors and they can't get it. Now, the message from the federal and state governments seems to be it'd be nice to test everybody, but we can't do that. So just stay home if you don't feel good. How are we supposed to assess this as just regular people? And what do you think would make the situation better?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Sure. So on this, I do have very good news, which I want to give a shout out to the decisions and and medical staff at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center there. One of the locations around this country that have developed their own testing capabilities. And we should see an uptick in the number of tests here in New Hampshire.

Congresswoman Kuster:
I will say right off the bat that there has been an unmitigated disaster around the testing issue. And again, this goes back a month ago when we were meeting with secretary is our Dr. Fauci. There are a series of events that happen around testing with the CDC and that set us back as a country dramatically. So what we've tried to do here in New Hampshire is to adjust to the reality on the ground. I want to commend the people at the public health officials in New Hampshire that they their best attempts at testing in the early stages, but they were quickly overwhelmed in that lab. And again, this ties together with the issue about supplies, because in order to do the testing, you need to have the appropriate swab, the vials, the medium, all of these, and you need the personal protective equipment that is in such short supply to take the samples and process the testing.

Congresswoman Kuster:
So the gowns, the gloves, the mask,.

Laura Knoy:
Sure, and that's what we heard from medical professionals. Right.

Congresswoman Kuster:
(crosstalk) Your front line with a sick person. And we want to protect, above all, our health care professionals. So the situation we find ourselves in here in New Hampshire is that we are focusing the testing on our health care professionals to make sure that we keep them safe and that if there is a health care professional that is showing signs of illness, they can be tested quickly and go into quarantine rather than having to quarantine everyone that we think might have been exposed.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Second, testing people in hospitals and in nursing homes that are showing signs of illness so that we know the correct course of treatment that they can be isolated and not exposed other people. Third were public health and first responders. So I've gotten a lot of calls from communities about whether it's police, fire, EMT, that they get tested so that we know if they have to be taken out of commission and put into quarantine. So what we're not able to do here is the broad testing of the whole community.

Laura Knoy:
And would that be desirable, Congresswoman?

Congresswoman Kuster:
That would be desirable. There are countries taking that approach.

Laura Knoy:
In a perfect world, that's what we would do.

Congresswoman Kuster:
In a perfect world, because then you can isolate the people who, you know are ill. The biggest challenge, I think, law with this illness beyond just the uncertainty of dealing with it and the fact that it is a very serious illness. One of my colleagues is very, very sick out in Utah. He's been hospitalized. He's 45 years old. He said he told me over the phone.

Congresswoman Kuster:
This is the sickest he's ever been in his life. So beyond that, it's the fact that people are contagious when they're asymptomatic, when they are not showing any symptoms. And that's why it's so important that we stay at home, if possible, work from home, study from home so that we can isolate ourselves because we don't know who's who is contagious until it's too late. And that's the biggest challenge that we're facing.

Laura Knoy:
All right, well, let's go to our listeners, Congresswoman and Mary Jane's calling it from Hanover. Hi, Mary Jane. You're on with Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster. Go ahead.

Caller:
Thank you very much for taking my call and thank you Representative Kuster. I am a Hanover state rep from Hanover-Lyme district, Grafton County, and I received a call from a constituent sister that she had available 250,000 N-95 masks and it may have gone up to 500,000 by this time. And we have been working with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the New Hampshire State House to get these face masks out here in New Hampshire. Now, this same person who is the director of direct sourcing in the garment industry that she works in. She raised the issue of eliminating the duty rate on these N-95 masks and other PPE, personal protective equipment and other medical necessity. She is saying that Trump could drop the duty rate to zero on these medical necessity products. And so I'm calling to see if, you know, if anything is being done to drop the duty rate to 0 percent. You know, if you're aware of it and what's your position and what can we do about it?

Laura Knoy:
Well well, I'm really interested in Mary Jane, thank you for calling in.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Thank you so much, Mary Jane. These are the kind of individual efforts that are happening.

Congresswoman Kuster:
I've been giving these tips to the state as well. When I hear from friends who know of people that can import these these maps that are so desperately needed for health care workers. So I will absolutely look into that. I agree. We have had a discussion. I have heard that these issues are being discussed regarding duty tariffs and such, that they we have a holiday on all of that and everything be dropped to zero. And I appreciate the call and I'll definitely look into it. I would absolutely support that.

Congresswoman Kuster:
And this is something. Another thing that has come up, Laura, we did a letter just recently, led a letter about the dramatic increases in pricing to make sure that the federal government steps in and that this is why I want the government more involved in the issue of supplies, is that these types of issues like duties on importation or price spike need we need to protect the people who are trying to get these supplies to our health care providers from, you know, dramatic price increases or or something like import duty. So I appreciate the call, Mary Jane.

Laura Knoy:
Thank you. Yeah. For telling us. Sarah sent us an email and this relates to what we talked about in our first hour. Congresswoman, this is the different orders that governors around the country have been putting put in place. Vermont, as you know, just put a stay at home order in place in Massachusetts. They've closed all nonessential businesses. Sarah sent us an e-mail. She says New Hampshire should shelter in place. We need to be proactive, not reactive. This past Saturday, Sarah says the Hannaford in Plymouth was packed with people and over half of the license plates in the parking lot were from out-of-state. We overheard someone in the store say, oh, we're from Boston and it's getting bad down there. So we thought we would stay at a hotel and maybe rent a condo up here and stay around here instead. Sarah worries as the surrounding states closed down, people are going to start flocking to New Hampshire because we don't have the restrictions in place.

Laura Knoy:
Sarah also tells us the story about her own situation. She says The governor stated that most nonessential businesses have done the right thing and closed. But Sarah says, I work for non essential quote quote unquote, company that employs 150 people. We are still business as usual. We can not work from home. My husband's employer is still business as usual. He cannot work from home. We need to collectively isolate in order for this to work. If we don't, Sarah says, then our hospitals will be overwhelmed and our state will be devastated. Sarah, thank you for those stories. And to her first part, really interesting. You know, people coming up from Boston to New York where things are getting pretty bad and seeking refuge in New Hampshire. What do you think about that, Congresswoman?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Well, I think that is going to happen. We have so many people with second homes up here.

Congresswoman Kuster:
I think what's very, very important is to get the message to those people that they should quarantine as soon as they get here. We have relatively fragile rural hospitals. I've been trying to advocate for rural hospitals and make sure they get special protection and funding under this legislation, but they are, I've been in contact with them. They are very short of supplies. They are short on staff. So people need to understand that if they do leave the city and come up to a second home or a condo or whatever in New Hampshire, that they have got to quarantine themselves and not jeopardize the health and well-being of the local population.

Laura Knoy:
Well, that's interesting. Yeah. And I was talking. Yeah. Go ahead.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Well, I wanted to say this is a conversation that I've been having with the governor ordered relatively practically daily basis. There is decision making around what you call the particular order and how you convey to people the absolute seriousness of if you are able to work from home, study from home if your work is conducive to that, you must be doing that. And for your own health and safety and well-being and the health of your family, you should be essentially isolating yourselves and avoiding any risk. Now, obviously, we have people across the state who work in businesses that need the income, they need the income. They don't want to be unemployed. Businesses can continue. So I think that is what the governor is weighing. Even these orders with essential obviously frontline workers, health care workers will need to be out and about first responders. We have certain other industries that are essential in the sense that, you know, people still need to get their cars fixed so they can get to... (crosstalk).

Laura Knoy:
Well, and we've heard from some business people last hour. And then just over this past week, some business people who, you know, they don't fall into that obvious category like a firefighter, police officer, health care worker and so forth.

Laura Knoy:
I have heard from some business people that they actually want these orders put in place, the shelter in place, orders these stay at home orders put in place so that they can then get their employees on unemployment insurance and so that they can sort of shut down in the appropriate way. They're telling us it's tricky sometimes when there aren't these stricter orders in place, but then there's the economic consequences as well. If you had your druthers, Congresswoman Kuster, would you like to see the approach that we have now where different states are taking different approaches, or do you think it's time for a national order?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Well, it would certainly be much easier for everyone if there was a natural order. But I do think you have to weigh that economic dislocation. And I think you have to take into account all of the public health it buys and that data about what's happening in the number of cases. And it is difficult because we don't have sufficient testing. I think the doctor who called in is correct. There's more of this COVID-19 out in the community than we may realize based upon the positive test result. But I also understand the challenge of weighing the balance, because the economic dislocation from completely shutting down the whole state could be devastating for people, could be devastating for their health and well-being as well. So I think I'm not familiar with what you're describing about companies hesitating to shut down if they feel that they can shut down. They should. And people should apply for unemployment insurance. That that should not be a problem. But if there's some pressure in waiting the order from the governor, I'm I'm just not familiar with that issue.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. Well, it's interesting. It's interesting to hear from you on that then, because in our last hour, we had a homeland security expert at the beginning of the show, the mayor of Manchester in the middle of the show. And then at the end, an infectious disease doctor from Dartmouth. And all three of them said we want nationally right now. In fact, last week we want an order to stay at home.

Laura Knoy:
Everybody across the United States, you seem to be saying maybe not time for that yet, Congresswoman Kuster.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Well, I just think it's it varies by region. It just as it does here in New Hampshire, it's where it's much more compact. Manchester, Nashua, cities, there is much greater risk, much greater spread. And we may need that approach and need it quickly. There are other parts of the state that are much more rural where people are sheltering in place. They're staying in their homes. They're working from their homes. And they know that they don't need to be compelled to do that. So I think it's an assessment balancing the economic dislocation, which could be devastating for months. And that that's the balance. I'm just trying to say it's not an easy answer. My family, we are have been sheltering in place. We've been staying home. Other than going out for a walk every day, we had no contact. And but there are people that are not in that situation. They the type of work that they do. They're not able to do that.

Laura Knoy:
Well Congressman, I want to bring another caller into our conversation, if I could. Teeny is calling in from Keene. Hi, Teeny. Go ahead.

Caller:
Hi. I'm just wondering if I have dysphrenia. And I'm wondering if there any provision, peer support agencies or for people with disabilities generally.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Teeny I'm sorry about that. That's hard. And certainly there are mental health challenges involved with this crisis. Go ahead, Congresswoman.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Yes, I know. I just want to say thank you so much for calling in. And this is we've been in constant contact with NAMI NH and the mental health agencies around the state. We do have specific funding for increasing mental health services. One hundred and twenty five million dollars to increase access to mental health services in communities, including the home health aides that you've described. We have had challenges because that's an example of a job that does require Face-To-Face contact. And we want to try to encourage people to do this social distancing 6 feet from from anyone else. And so you have these frontline health care workers and mental health workers that it's very challenging to maintain those those social distancing while you're being a home health aide for someone with disabilities or mental health or physical health issues.

Laura Knoy:
Well, certainly we heard yesterday, I believe it was about professionals who deal with occupational therapy and physical therapy for children with disabilities, and it is hard to do that online.

Laura Knoy:
I have also heard, though, Congresswoman, that a lot of mental health professionals are now holding sessions with people, you know, over WhatsApp and other types of social media platforms.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Well, this was one of the big changes that we were making at the federal level or what the reimbursement for telehealth and it. Right. I think this will be a change that will be with us for a long, long time to come. I think the expansion of our house has been one of the very rare silver lining out of this bill covered 19 episode. And people are finding success with this both on the physical health side. I talked to a family physician that had done 200 consults and was just amazed at how successful that had been. I've also heard a great deal of success in mental health. And we knew this from our veterans when we had done mental health treatment by telehealth up in the North Country, how much more convenient it was and how successful it was. So I hope that this will will really make a difference in people's lives.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, thank you for that call. And coming up, more of your calls and e-mails for Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster on The Exchange. Stay with us. We'll be back in a minute.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Tomorrow on our show, the challenges of helping those with addictions during the coronavirus health crisis. That's all tomorrow on The Exchange. This hour, Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster joins us. She's a Democrat representing the 2nd Congressional District of our state. And Congressman, right back to our listeners, we've got a caller who says here she is a postal worker and wants to be with us. So good morning. Go ahead.

Caller:
Hi. I'm just curious. I've seen reports that the post office is in need of funding to keep functioning, and there's a lot of us that are the only contact for our rural people. I was just wondering if there was anything in the pipeline for us. Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
Anything from that giant stimulus package for postal workers and she's right. They are in contact with, you know, rural, elderly and so forth. Go ahead.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Absolutely. And it's a lifeline for people. Somebody more people getting their medication by the mail if they are aren't able to go to the pharmacy. People are getting packets of food by mail.

Congresswoman Kuster:
So we definitely have to stay focused on making sure that the postal service survives all this. This was not included in this package, but we anticipate a fourth package, legislative package. And that's when we're already in discussions. We just my colleague Carolyn Maloney, just gave a report to our caucus about the postal service. And we will be seeing support, economic support for the postal service in that next package.

Laura Knoy:
Thank you very much for that call and thanks for delivering the items that people need. I also have an e-mail from Laura in Berlin who says, Is anyone who is receiving Social Security getting a stimulus check? It seems to me nobody is talking about that. Laura says also this does not apply to me, but I am worried with all the children having to be at home. And if a parent is getting snap benefits, they're having to come up with two meals a day, five days a week. So my question is, will there be an increase for them and SNAP benefits? Congressman Kuster, so two good questions there. Now, one, the second one about kids. My understanding from an earlier show that we did last week is that the schools have really stepped up in terms of providing breakfast and lunch for kids. But could you address briefly the the e-mailers question about Low-Income Families who get food stamps and now having to come up with more food?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Absolutely.

Congresswoman Kuster:
So I'll start with that one that was in that very first legislative package was the make or knowing that the schools were clothes, that we would get support, including SNAP benefit through that school out to the families and schools have stepped up as that community organization.

Congresswoman Kuster:
And I want to commend the food bank getting that funding, getting those meals out to children and students who are eligible as well as to seniors and shut in people who are not able to get access to food.

Congresswoman Kuster:
So that was from the very beginning, something that we were focused on, and I think that has been successful. The second issue, by the way, should have mentioned this right off the bat, or one of the most important part of this bipartisan agreement is the direct cash payment to Americans. That will be. Twelve hundred dollars per adult, 24 hundred dollars per family, an additional $500 per child. The full amount will go to earners under $75000 gross income. One hundred fifty thousand for families and $75000 per person. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars per family. And the payment is gradually phased out for earners between seventy five thousand and ninety nine thousand. So those funds will be coming directly. We also have a new low income families in the package. And so I think I appreciate the question from Berlin. (crosstalk) That individual will getting these direct cash payments and that you have funded this facility and it also covers low income pregnant women and mothers with young children, helps our local food banks. And as I said, to help low income seniors deal with food.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Laura, glad you wrote in because we had not talk specifically about those stimulus checks. And that's a really important point. So thank you. Brian from Laconia sent us an e-mail. He says he has any thought been given to how this enormous debt being created, both from the Federal Reserve and the Congress is going to be paid for. Please be specific.

Laura Knoy:
Brian, I really appreciate the e-mail because, you know, a month or two ago, which seems like a century ago, Congresswoman, people were saying Congress and the president have been overspending, given that the times were good, that most economists say, you know, you do stimulus spending when times are bad, but when times are good for the economy, you don't deficit spend. And yet Washington has been deficit spending. Now, here we are in this situation where you got a two trillion dollar stimulus package, the economy seems to be in freefall. So I really appreciate Brian's attention to this issue. Thank you, Brian. What do you think, Congresswoman?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Well, thank you. I appreciate that. And we had a special briefing this week from Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke about the Federal Reserve and about this whole situation with the economy. What my understanding, I'm not an economist, but I listen and learn from the economists is that given the freefall of the economy, that the devastation would be so great and we just can't even predict what the outcome would be if we did not have stimulus spending at this point. And in fact, urgency and the time being up. Yes. And that there is a broad conclusion among economists coming from both the left and right and you can see it in this package, with a very broad conclusion of Republican leadership, Democratic leadership, that we absolutely need this economic stimulus spending and we've had a lot of discussion about the parameters of this spending.

Congresswoman Kuster:
I think that was one of the issues that was being negotiated. And I can say for my Democratic caucus and Speaker Pelosi, we felt very, very strongly that to the extent there was corporate stimulus spending, that the parameters be in place, that that be focused on job and income and earning rather than any kind of stock buybacks and benefiting the wealthiest among us. So my understanding of this is that we've spent a lot of time looking back at the 2008 stimulus with those funds. The TARP funds were paid back by the companies to the federal treasury.

Laura Knoy:
OK, so that partly answers Brian's question. Yeah. Brian, thank you for raising that point. That's definitely something we're going to be looking at as this continues. We've got a caller from Newfields. Paula is on the line. Hi, Paula. Go ahead. You're on the air. Thanks for being with us.

Caller:
You're welcome, thank you for taking my call.

Caller:
My concern and my question is what is the status of the evacuation of. I believe it's about 4000 U.S. citizens who are stranded in Peru. My son is one of them. They're trying patiently to wait. But it's been, you know, over a week now that they are not able to get out of the country.

Caller:
I know a few people have left, including the U.S. embassy is gone.

Caller:
So I think they're really feeling stranded there and wondering what anyone is possibly doing to help them get back.

Laura Knoy:
Paula, your son is not being permitted to leave by the Peruvian government. Is that what you're telling us?

Caller:
Peru has been closed down. The country is completely, Nobody in, nobody out. Since March 16th, he had a long awaited flight to come home on March 18th. But nobody, but the country is in complete lockdown. Curfews, police on the street. I mean, they're taking this very, very seriously because the health care in that country is not great. And they're really trying hard to protect their citizens, which I understand. But they do need to let people go home. I mean, elderly people, babies, people running out of medication. There's a great Facebook page called Americans Stuck in Peru and telling people's really heartbreaking stories of of wanting to get back to their families in the United States.

Laura Knoy:
Paula, my heart goes out to you. Thank you for calling. And I'll wish the absolute best for your family. This sounds like Congresswoman Kuster. State Department intervention is needed.

Congresswoman Kuster:
And it has been. Yes, we've been aware of this situation. I know Senator Shaheen has been working on this. I've at a number of inquiries regarding not my constituents, but constituents of other congressional offices that have a connection to New Hampshire, including a family friend and two nieces are stuck in Peru. So my understanding is that the State Department is arranging for transport.

Congresswoman Kuster:
We've had this issue with a number of countries, but Peru is definitely one of the most problematic and that they will be either charter or military flights. But it's important that your son be registered and that they stay in close contact so that when those flights. And I think I was just reading yesterday that there was one that was supposed to happen. But I'm happy to look into it and find out, you know, what the what the timing of this all is.

Laura Knoy:
So it sounds like she should be working with them, with Senator Shaheen's office, perhaps has been taking the lead on that. Is that what you saying?

Congresswoman Kuster:
Yes.

Okay. Paula, my very best to you. Good luck. Christine wrote us an e-mail. This relates earlier to our conversation about telehealth. And you said that may be one of the few silver linings out of all this. Christine says. Please be sure reimbursement for telehealth is equal for video and voice calls. She says many people in the North Country do not have video capacity, Internet or fancy phones. Please consider that those providers with resources don't always need higher reimbursement than those without. And I think that's a great point. Not everybody in the North Country has the ability to do a lovely video interface with their doctor. So thank you, Christine. Here's another e-mail from a listener that I'd like you to.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Can I just respond on that one?

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead. Briefly. Yeah.

Congresswoman Kuster:
Yes. No, thank you, Christine. And yes, we that's one of the issues that that I get this let this letter on rural health with my colleagues. And I'm working with the minority whip, majority whip, Mr. Clyburn, on a broadband task force where we are getting language in the legislation about access to broadband in rural communities. But I absolutely agree with you on this reimbursement issue and and we're pursuing that. So thank you for thank you for the comment.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. Christine, thank you. It's important to remember that another listener emails and says, I am a nurse. I'm willing to go to work and put myself and my family at risk by taking care of coronavirus patients. However, this person says I resent and I am not willing to take unnecessary risk because our leaders are unwilling to have courage. An issue is shelter-in-place order, this listener says. I'm surprised to hear Annie say that she is not in favor of a shelter place order because of the economic repercussions. Economic issues. This listener says are important, but must take a backseat right now. Our economy will be even more devastated if we have hundreds of thousands of cases and deaths. The only thing that will slow the explosion of cases is staying home. This nurse says, Congresswoman, please listen to the doctors and scientists. I wanna thank that person for writing. And like I've been saying all hour and all week, an extra thanks to all the health care workers who are really putting themselves out there. Thank you for writing, Congresswoman. Please listen to the doctors and scientists.

Congresswoman Kuster:
So I totally agree. And by the way, I am not opposed to a shelter in place order. I am not the person to make that order. And I was trying to explain what the decision making is that goes into that and the conversations that I had with the governor. I have no objection to a shelter in place order. And I was simply trying to explain what the economic dislocation would be and that lives could be lost from people losing their jobs, losing their housing, losing their source of food, etc.. So my role in all of this is to make sure by passing this economic stimulus package that we will protect people's well-being. That and when that the governor can then go forward with this decision to shelter in place. I hope that clarifies. I am certainly not opposed to it.

Laura Knoy:
Sure. Well, and our guests in our first hour, though, said it's time for a national shelter in place. Never mind this 50 state patchwork. So do you have a role, Congresswoman, as a member of the U.S. House in getting that done, or is that something that has to come from the White House?

Congresswoman Kuster:
That's the president's decision from the White House. And again, I would not object.

Laura Knoy:
Ok, Congresswoman Kuster, thank you very much. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Thanks. We really appreciate you joining us today.

Congresswoman Kuster:
I should just add, our number is 6 0 3 2 2 6 1 0 0 2 or kuster.house.gov for anyone that does have a question or concern or if we can help them in any way. And thank you, Laura.

Laura Knoy:
Thank you very much. And we'll put that information on our Web site for sure. So thank you, Congressman Kuster. Stay safe. That's Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster. She's a Democrat representing New Hampshire's 2nd District. Listeners, if you have a moment, please fill out our survey at NHPR.org. Tell us how you're doing in this moment and how the coronavirus has affected you. Your input helped shape our coverage. We really appreciate it. You're listening to The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.