WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) held a Facebook Live on Monday to discuss the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—as well as the two previous economic stimulus packages—and answer live questions from constituents on how these packages will help Connecticut families and workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the negotiations of the third congressional emergency relief package also known as the CARES Act, Murphy said: “It's geared towards trying to not only fund the COVID-19 response, which means putting money in the hands of hospitals and health care providers, as well as states and municipalities, but it's also geared toward trying to address the economic crisis. That means putting money in the hands of individuals, taxpayers, families, small businesses.

“None of that is easy. And because this had to be done urgently, we wrote the bill quickly. And so I think we are going to find out as we implement the bill that it may not work as intended, and we may have to come back and make amendments. But the first version of the bill introduced by Senator McConnell was unacceptable, in that it was geared towards corporate bailouts with not enough money to actually allow us to beat back this virus.

"So we spent about 48 to 72 hours negotiating a better bill that is geared toward helping the right people. And to the extent that we're putting money into industry and corporations, we do it with strings attached."

On how the CARES Act will help workers and families, Murphy said: “The biggest elements of this bill are a state stabilization fund: $150 billion going to states like Connecticut, New York and New Jersey that are having to spend billions of dollars confronting this crisis. $100 billion dollars to hospitals that are going bankrupt as we speak right now testing and treating COVID-19. Rebate checks for individuals. Those checks will be mailed within the next three weeks. Could be for a family with children making under $75,000 – $2,000 to $3,000.”

On how federal funds will help small businesses and those that have become unemployed, Murphy said: “And then beefed up unemployment benefits. The reality is we're going to see 10% or more of Connecticut residents be unemployed. Those benefits are going to be substantially bigger than they were pre-COVID-19. And then finally a major small business relief package. A small business relief package that gets money into the hands of small businesses fast, so that they can either keep paying their payroll – or if they can't continue to pay their payroll, at least pay their non-payroll expenses so that they can bring their workers back when the crisis passes and when businesses reopen. There are a lot of other elements to the bill, but those are the major ones. And I want to make sure that folks in Connecticut have all the information that they need in order to make sure that you take advantage of what is available to you."

On the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in Connecticut, Murphy said: “So, I was with Governor Lamont in Connecticut on Thursday night. I joined him for his daily briefing. And in that briefing on Thursday evening, the governor announced that on Friday and through the weekend, Connecticut would actually be scaling back testing at our drive-thru sites. And the reason for that was because we didn't have enough PPE – personal protective equipment, masks space shields, gowns – in order to both cover all of the workers who are for deployed in the drive thru-sites, but also the inpatient wings of these hospitals. That is unconscionable, that is unacceptable. And as many of you know, I've been working for the last two weeks on trying to convince the administration to use the powers that it has in an emergency to both command industry, manufacturers to produce more personal protective equipment, but then also to organize the supply chain in a way that gets that material out to the places that need it most."

On the need to federalize the medical supply chain, Murphy said: “Right now, the problem is twofold. One, we don't have enough manufacturers that are making personal protective equipment and tests. And two, that equipment isn't ending up in the right hands because the equipment goes to whoever will pay the most, or whoever has a political connection with the distributor, not to the places like Connecticut, and New York, Washington, California that need it the most. And so I have been on the phone with the administration, trying to convince them to take control of both manufacturing and supply. They are not doing it, largely because the Chamber of Commerce, the industry lobbyist groups in Washington are making a profit off of the current system, and they don't want to lose this profit center. That is, it's immoral. It's barbaric. And the administration has to take control of this system.”

On how unemployment benefits will work, Murphy told constituents: “So you, under current law get a percentage of your income in unemployment benefits and then that expires. Under this legislation, those benefits will last for four additional months beyond the current expiration period. And your maximum benefit is plussed up by $600 per week. And the average unemployment check right now across the country is around $380. So that means that the average check can go from being around $380 to being $1,000 a week. That's significant. For many workers it won't get to $1,000. But what we're trying to do is make sure that workers remain whole. And then because that restaurant is eligible for small business assistance, the restaurant, even if it's laid off or furloughed workers, can then apply for money and use that money to pay rent, to pay lease payments, so long as they pledge to hire back their workers.”

On how small businesses can attain grants and loans during COVID crisis, Murphy continued: “So the small business dollars are structured as grants and forgivable loans, meaning the business doesn't have to pay back that money. But they only get that money as a grant or forgivable loan if they pledge and they actually follow through on hiring back their workforce. Now, some businesses didn't fire folks. I was talking to one bookstore owner in Connecticut who actually has kept her workforce, and she is going to use the grant and loan to pay her workers. Other businesses will furlough or layoff their workers, and they'll use the grants to pay non-payroll expenses. But again, they can only do that if they pledged to hire back their workers.”

On whether the self-employed qualify for federal unemployment assistance, Murphy said: “Yes, you do. And this is a change. Traditionally people who are self-employed have trouble qualifying for unemployment. We made a change for this moment because there are so many people who are self-employed who have lost their income. You know, take a hairdresser who, you know, isn't employed by the salon just rents the chair. That hairdresser who lost all her income needs to be eligible for unemployment and you are now.  So do not hesitate to reach out and seek unemployment even if you are self-employed and have lost your income. And you can do that through the Connecticut Department of Labor. All of this is happening so fast that you have to have a little bit of patience. The state of Connecticut is right now sort of rejiggering its entire computer system and inputting the new eligibility rules from the federal government to make sure that we qualify everyone who is qualified. So, just please be patient with the Department of Labor.”

On costs for COVID-19 tests and treatment, Murphy said: "So one of the previous bills does require the testing to be free, so you will have no out of pocket expense for the testing. I believe that COVID-19 treatment should be free as well. And I organized a bunch of my senate colleagues to send a letter to the CEOs of every major insurer asking them to make the change on their own. If they don't make those changes, I believe that Congress should legislate that all COVID-19 treatments should be cost free, meaning that you don't have to go into your deductible, there shouldn't be any copays for COVID-19 treatment."

Murphy continued on the important of insurers to put patients first: “I just got off the phone this morning with the CEO of Cigna, a Connecticut based insurer. He told me that both Cigna and Humana are announcing today that they will not require their patients, their customers to pay anything for COVID related treatments.

"That's great news. And my hope is that now that Cigna and Humana have made that announcement, other major insurers will follow suit. But if they don't, then I believe Congress should pass a law requiring insurers to make COVID related treatments cost free. Remember, you’re only talking about suspending the deductibles and coinsurance, it’s not going to break the bank for insurance. But cost is always a barrier to treatment. And so there are a lot of people out there who are not going to seek a diagnosis and treatment for COVID, if they worry that they're going to go bankrupt because of that expense. One-quarter of Americans report going without necessary medical treatment because of the cost. And if that's the case for COVID, then it ultimately could be all of our downfall if people choose not to get diagnosed and treated."

Click Here to View the Full Video of Murphy’s Facebook Live