More help is finally on the way

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

More help for New Mexico's hospitals, public health systems, and struggling New Mexicans is on the way. Congress finally reached a new bipartisan agreement at the end of last year to support our health care workers and millions of families who are struggling through no fault of their own. The emergency COVID-19 relief package extended unemployment insurance, rental assistance, small business loans, and nutrition assistance for hungry families. The agreement also included new direct financial assistance payments for most American households.

With the major breakthroughs in vaccine development, we secured critical resources for states, Tribal, and local governments to effectively and equitably distribute vaccine doses in the weeks and months ahead. Any delays or shortfalls in vaccine distribution could prove very costly. The sooner we start to see vaccinations go up, the sooner we can finally put an end to this.

I fought hard to provide $325 billion in new assistance for small business owners. That includes first and second Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans, with dedicated funding set aside for very small businesses and lending through community-based lenders like Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions. We made key modifications to PPP to better serve the smallest businesses and struggling non-profits and restaurants. We also passed $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions.

The challenges families have faced in accessing virtual learning this year have only reinforced the importance of bringing high-speed internet service to all of our communities. I am proud that the agreement includes substantial broadband investments for rural and Tribal communities and benefits to help millions of students, families, and unemployed workers afford internet service during the pandemic.

The agreement also provides emergency support for schools, including a provision that I championed. Remote learning has left far too many students behind and can never fully replace the rich experiences teachers provide in their classrooms. The latest science shows that creating safer indoor environments is necessary if we want to safely reopen school campuses. That's why I introduced the Keeping Schools Safe Act and fought so hard to pass new funding to help schools replace their HVAC and air filtration systems-putting them one step closer to safely reopening for in-person instruction.

While I'm relieved we finally came to this agreement, nobody in Washington should be patting themselves on the back. Americans shouldn't have to wait so long for their elected leaders to do the right thing. As we begin the next congress and look toward working with the incoming Biden administration, I sure hope we can make these partisan battles and last-minute deals a thing of the past.

There is still so much more work ahead to help our communities heal, to help families recover, and to help rebuild our economy. Before vaccines are widely distributed, the best thing all of us can do to make it through this next difficult stretch is to keep looking out for each other. That means washing our hands, wearing our masks, and avoiding gatherings that lead to more infections. I also encourage everyone who is able to safely support our local businesses in New Mexico who are struggling mightily to stay afloat. We can still order online from many local vendors or place takeout orders from our favorite restaurants.

This past year has been trying for all of us, and there are sadly still difficult days ahead. I am always here if there is any way that I can help you or your family. You can call my Las Cruces office at (575) 5236561 or visit my website at Heinrich.Senate.Gov. Please don't hesitate to contact my office if I can be of assistance.