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Problem Solvers propose bipartisan benchmarks for economic recovery

Plan calls for expanded testing, creation of a federal contact-tracing database and more

The Problem Solvers Caucus has come up with a bipartisan checklist of public health benchmarks for getting the economy started again and policies to help with the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The six-page plan, shared first with CQ Roll Call, calls for establishing protocols to address viral hotspots, expanding testing, creating a federal contact-tracing database and instituting real-time data reporting on state and local hospital capacity and projected needs for health care staff, personal protective equipment, ventilators and respirators.

“This will require a regional, industry by-industry, incremental, multi-faceted, and data-driven approach,” the introduction to the checklists says. “This isn’t one-size-fits-all vision, but rather a dynamic multi-prong, multi-front strategy combining health, economic rescue, and stimulus plans for our nation’s immediate future.”

The Problem Solvers Caucus is a bipartisan group of 50 House members, 25 from each party, co-chaired by Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Tom Reed, R-N.Y. In endorsing the plan, the caucus had to ensure support from at least 75 percent of its membership.

Gottheimer is among a handful of Problem Solvers Caucus members whom President Donald Trump named to his Opening Up America Again Congressional Group, one of several industry-specific groups advising the White House on appropriate steps for loosening virus-related restrictions and other steps to help the economy. The other Problem Solvers in the group include Reps. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, John Katko, R-N.Y., Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif.

The Problem Solvers Caucus is sharing its checklist with the White House and congressional leadership.

Top among the public health benchmarks on the caucus’s checklist is the establishment of protocols for extinguishing or containing coronavirus hotpots.

Next on the checklist is “a robust, rapid testing system” that includes “both proven serological testing for those who have developed antibodies and sound diagnostic testing to monitor the virus in our communities.”

The caucus also recommends that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention establish a federal contact-tracing database to track and distribute test results in a manner consistent with privacy and civil rights laws.

The checklist also calls for “adequate supply chain resources and logistic delivery capability for personal protective equipment” for first responders, front-line health care workers and employees in essential sectors, as well as establishing plans for redeploying resources if there are disruptions in the supply chain. Protective masks should also be accessible for children and teachers when schools reopen, the checklist says.

The caucus says the national stockpile should include “certain levels,” which the checklist did not detail, of PPE, ventilators and pharmaceuticals before restrictions are lifted and that congressional oversight should ensure stockpile levels are maintained. They also suggest stockpiling syringes and other materials that will be needed once a vaccine is operational.

The checklist suggests real-time collection and distribution of data on base and surge hospital capacity and projected hospital staff and equipment needed under those scenarios.

Rapid testing, operational protocols, PPE and health capacity monitoring plans should also be in place for “outpatient facilities, tertiary care networks, long-term care, nursing and veterans homes, inpatient hospice facilities and similar health services,” the caucus says.

Before workplaces reopen for businesses, the caucus suggests they configure workspaces to maintain required physical distancing and ensure that they have PPE resources and sanitization materials needed to maintain a safe work environment.

“Certain industries with large group gatherings or tight settings such as restaurants, airlines, theaters, and public transit will have to follow stricter standards to operate,” the checklist says.

The CDC should document and share best practices from regions that successfully reopen for other areas to replicate, the caucus suggests.

The checklist also calls for:

  • “medically-based and evidence-driven benchmarks” for other infected countries that when met would require the administration to immediately halt travel to and from those areas;
  • “established capability to massively ramp up cleaning of public spaces, offices, transit, hotels, factories and other spaces;”
  • strict day-to-day guidance from the CDC for Americans to follow in various settings once stay-at-home orders are lifted; and
  • financial resources for health care systems, with consideration for areas of the country where the virus has had the greatest impact.

Economic recovery

The Problem Solvers’ plan also offers a checklist that policymakers should adhere to as they consider legislative and administrative measures to help the economy recover.

“For the time being, we must support continued aggressive stimulus programs implemented and adopted by recent legislative, regulatory and central bank actions,” the caucus says.

The economic checklist calls for providing more money to states, including counties, municipalities and tribal governments excluded from relief Congress already passed; expanding low-interest loans and tax incentives to help ailing businesses with capital and payroll costs; establishing retraining and job placement programs; and providing recovery assistance for the agriculture industry.

To help address supply chain issues, the caucus suggests identifying products manufactured in foreign hot zones and creating incentives for domestic manufacturing of critical products like medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, as well as strengthening trade relationships.

The economic suggestions also include cutting regulations that prevent life-saving health outcomes and providing relief for renters and homeowners while ensuring the liquidity of landlords and mortgage lenders.

The Problem Solvers also suggest a substantial infrastructure package to help with the long-term economic recovery.

“With zero percent interest rates and jobless claims continuing to rise, there is no better time than now to pass a comprehensive bipartisan infrastructure investment,” the caucus says. “As our economy reopens, we need to make it as easy as possible for our business to compete, a historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure will do just that.”

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