U.S. Representative Gil Cisneros (CA-39) held a virtual town hall via Zoom video conferencing for residents of Fullerton on May 7. This was part of a series of city-specific town halls he will be holding in the coming weeks.
Most of the hour-long event was devoted to answering constituents’ questions, mainly related to the COVID-19 crisis and the federal government’s response. So far, Congress has passed four bipartisan coronavirus relief bills, and they are currently working on a fifth. He stressed that we must “continue to provide more funding for testing.”
Here are some of the questions and Rep. Cisneros’s responses (edited for length and clarity).
Q: It’s been great to see Los Angeles County increasing their testing. I was really frustrated and frankly concerned with the Orange County Board of Supervisors focusing on opening beaches when I feel like this county needs to focus on testing. I read in the Register that Orange County has only done 43,000 tests (out of a population of 3.1 million). I’m just wondering, on a federal level, what can you tell us about how we get more tests in this county?
I feel your frustration. This is something we’ve been pushing back on Orange County about—they need to expand testing. Congress allocated $25 billion in our last package to increase testing throughout the country.
LA, San Diego, and San Bernadino counties have been doing a better job of testing.
We need to keep putting the pressure on the County. We want to make sure that everybody who needs a test is going to be able to have access to a test, and we passed legislation so that nobody should have to pay for one. We haven’t even gotten close to our testing capacity here in Orange County and I will continue to advocate for that.
Q: When our children were put out of school, most of us were also furloughed. My children have childcare because I am home with them, but now that my employer has been approved for the Payroll Protection Plan, I’ll be going back to work, but then my children don’t have childcare. Any thoughts on this?
Childcare is something we need to keep advocating for. We sent out a letter just recently saying that we need to help fund childcare programs. It’s an issue that I know many families are struggling with…As more resources become available we’ll make you aware of them, and how you can handle this problem with your children.
In California’s “Phase 2” of reopening, Governor Newsom indicated that childcare facilities need to increase capacity in conjunction with reopening businesses.
Q: The city of Fullerton recently laid off 153 part-time employees due to budget shortfalls from COVID-19. The last iteration of the CARES Act only included direct relief for cities with populations over 500,000 (Fullerton is around 140,000). Are you advocating in further relief packages for more funding for cities?
The package Congress is working on right now includes direct funding to cities. For cities that don’t qualify for direct funding, they are including in the legislation the stipulation that counties have to pass money down to the cities.
I have had numerous conversations with mayors and city managers about this issue. I’ve also spoken with congressional colleagues like Pete Aguilar (CA-31), vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the need for more funding for cities in the next relief package.
Congress needs to help cities replace lost income from reductions in property and sales taxes.
Our cities in the 39th district are spending anywhere from 65-70% of their budget on public safety—funding for police and fire departments. We don’t want them to have to cut those services.
Q: Big news is flying around about the United States Postal Service (USPS) perhaps going down, maybe needing a bailout. I run an internet e-commerce company, and it would be completely destructive to my business to lose the USPS. I heard the president say that postal rates could increase by 3 to 4 times, which would destroy thousands of businesses, including mine. What is happening in Congress to protect the Postal Service?
The Postal Service is an organization that has been around since the beginning of the country—Ben Franklin was the first Postmaster General—and it’s an institution that we need to make sure continues to stay around.
The House of Representatives has been trying to make sure that there is funding for the Post Office to help it through this crisis. The post office operates like any other business, without subsidy from the federal government, but right now it’s struggling just like many businesses are struggling, and it needs help and support.
Unfortunately, the Senate and the Trump administration have not been so supportive.
I fully support the Post Office. To lose the Post Office would be devastating—it would add so many people to the unemployment rolls, when we have millions applying for unemployment right now. So, I will continue to advocate for the post office and make sure that it gets the funding so that it can survive.”
Q: I lost both of my jobs because of this, and my son got deployed so he’s not here to help me pay my rent. I haven’t got my stimulus check yet. Is that the only stimulus check that’s coming, or are we getting another one if this extends into the later part of the year? My rent is killing me.
Right now that is the only individual stimulus check that has been planned; however unemployment insurance has been expanded. California has had over 3 million people apply for unemployment insurance.
If you haven’t received your stimulus check, some are still being mailed out. You can track the status of your stimulus check at www.irs.gov.
Q: Fullerton School Boardmember Beverly Berryman said, “Based on how California schools are funded, schools are about to experience major cuts to their budgets. I’m wondering how you’ll be able to support education in the next relief package.”
Congress has provided $13.5 billion to education in previous relief packages, but more is going to need to be done. Governor Newsom recently mentioned a nearly $3 billion shortfall for public education in the next quarter, with revenue from sales and property tax going down. There is going to be a hit. This is another area where Congress, the federal government, is going to have to provide relief to support education…We are going to have to make sure that we provide this additional funding.
Schools are not going to be the same way as they were before, and I have been in talks with educators at both the K-12 and the college level about the future of the classroom.
Students will be spread out, there will be fewer students in a classroom, so they’re going to need more classrooms, more teachers, more resources to make this happen.
I have also been advocating for a national broadband program—to make Internet access a public utility. Everybody, both in urban and rural areas, should have access to high-speed broadband. Some kids are being left behind because they don’t have that…We have really got to modernize our education system, and we have got to provide the funding to do that.
Q: We have to borrow a tremendous amount of money (with the $2 trillion CARES Act) to do what we need to do to survive, and I know the federal government is doing that. It seems to be an almost philosophical question: How much does that matter? How much does it matter how much we go into debt?
It does matter, but the alternative of doing nothing would be devastating to human life.
The only way we’re going to be able to get through this crisis is to first focus on health and safety. Once we do that, we can really start focusing on growing the economy again and doing what we need to do to get out of this debt. These are not normal circumstances that we’re living in right now.
Q: I have a question regarding the PPP loan. Right now you only have 8 weeks once you receive it to spend it. I know there’s a proposal to expand it to 12 or 16 weeks. I got the money recently, so I need to know sooner rather than later if I can spread this out over more than 8 weeks, which would be beneficial for my employees and my company.
That’s something we’re working on right now in this next package. That’s a thing we’re looking to fix. When we passed the CARES Act, with the PPP program we didn’t have any idea how long this was going to last or what the situation was going to be like in two months. We’re finding out it probably is going to last longer than we initially thought…I’m hoping we’ll have an answer in the next two weeks…That’s an issue that has bipartisan support because we don’t want any of our small businesses to suffer.
Q: Do we have a plan in place for compensation of loss of doctors and medical workers? It takes many years to train these people. Do we have some kind of plan to expediently have more doctors available?
Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was facing a shortage of doctors and nurses, largely due to the high cost of medical school. We need to do a better job of funding medical and nursing school. There are a lot of people who dream of going to medical school, but then they look at that price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars and decide to do something else. The government should make grants and incentives available for people who want to study medicine
There’s also talk of a new bill which would allow those who are licensed to practice medicine in a foreign country to have an expedited path to start practicing in the U.S. to help out with the coronavirus. I will continue to advocate for better programs that will make it more economically beneficial for individuals to go to medical school—so they don’t have to mortgage the rest of their life in order to do it.
Q: I am a supporter of the No Labels movement and the Problem-Solver’s Caucus (with both Democrat and Republican lawmakers). I wonder if you are finding more interest in bipartisanship to get things done.
The Problem-Solvers is a great caucus made up of both Democrats and Republicans who come together to find issues they can work together on. They are doing a lot of great work. I believe in bipartisan work, and I’ve been doing bipartisan work. Over 60% of the bills that I’ve co-sponsored have been bipartisan bills.
Republican Don Bacon and I worked together on a letter that we sent out along with asking for the Department of Defense to invest in small businesses to help build up the national stockpile of Personal Protective Equipment, swabs, ventilators and other necessary items.
I am a part of the For Country Caucus, which is a bipartisan caucus of veterans working together on veterans and defense issues. There is another bipartisan bill that I co-sponsored to provide additional support for 501(C)6s non-profits, Chambers of Commerce.
Q: Does St. Jude Medical Center (in Fullerton) have Remdesivir and/or Hydroxychloroquine in stock and are they administering those types of drugs to patients?
I don’t have a count of which prescriptions St. Jude has, but that is a drug that’s typically been used to treat those with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus [also malaria]. While the President has suggested its usage, from the research that’s been done, it really hasn’t had that positive of results.
This drug is actually needed for those who suffer from lupus (like his mother-in-law) and other diseases, and these patients have had some difficulty in obtaining it due to the rise in demand because so many people were trying to get their hands on it because they thought it was going to be the miracle cure. Unfortunately, the science and the research haven’t shown that. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Department of Defense are conducting research to find both a vaccine and effective treatments.
We’re finding new things about the virus every day. Right now they’ve discovered that there are two different strands—one that came in through Asia, and one that had gone through Europe. Hopefully sooner than later we’ll have both a vaccine and a treatment.
Rep. Cisneros concluded by reminding everyone to take the time to fill out their Census form if they haven’t yet. The deadline has been extended due to the COVID-19 crisis. To learn move visit www.census.gov.
“It’s very important that we get every person in our district counted,” he said. “We use this data to figure out how federal dollars will be spent—how we’re going to fund education, public safety, etc. It only takes about 10 minutes to fill out.”
Those who have further questions may contact Rep. Cisneros’ office at (714) 459-4575 or visit cisneros.house.gov.