U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey told a room of midstate business leaders that he is cautiously optimistic about the country’s reopening, that he expects a fifth COVID-19 relief bill to pass through the U.S. Senate in the coming weeks and that the bill could feature a provision on liability protection.
“The data so far suggest that the recession was not as deep as we thought it would be and the recovery has gone off to a very impressive start in terms of businesses reopening and people getting back to work,” Toomey, R-Pa. said during a forum at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg.
During the forum, Toomey outlined what he and the Senate hoped to accomplish with the country’s four COVID-19 relief bills, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Donna Partin, a franchisee of residential cleaning service company Merry Maids, asked Toomey what he thought of continuing the CARES Act’s Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation provision, which adds an additional $600 per week on top of regular benefits to all unemployment compensation recipients.
Partin, who owns franchises in Mechanicsburg, York, Reading and Lancaster, said while her business has managed to grow since she had to lay off many of her employees during the pandemic, she has found it difficult to find employees, which she accredited to the large increases in unemployment compensation.
Toomey said the provision was a controversial issue on the Senate floor.
“In my view, there is a good reason why throughout the entire history of unemployment insurance programs, we never set the total unemployment compensation at a rate higher than what a person can make,” he said. “What a terrible message for the government to say you are worth more doing nothing than going to work.”
Toomey expects a battle in the Senate as the $600 add-on nears its July 31 expiration date. The Senator said he will refuse to support an extension to the policy and hopes it stays out of the next bill.
Liability protection for businesses was also brought up during the forum. Gene Barr, the chamber’s president and CEO, asked Toomey what his stance was on the Senate voting to increase liability protections amidst the fears of businesses receiving gratuitous lawsuits from customers claiming to have contacted COVID-19 in their facilities.
“We need liability protection and we have to be careful about how we do it and what criteria an employer must meet to have the protection,” Toomey said, adding that he expects liability protection to be featured in the next COVID-19 relief bill.
In his closing remarks, Toomey highlighted the importance of data during the pandemic and the improvements in treating the virus that have occurred since the country first locked down.
The Senator said the country will need to continue to continue to contend with the virus, but will need to do so without once again putting healthy people into quarantine and locking down the economy.
“Sixty eight percent of all of our fatalities in Pennsylvania occurred in nursing homes so clearly we didn’t do as good of a job in hindsight as we would have wished inside of our nursing homes,” he said. “Those people we have to make sure we protect, but healthy and younger people, as long as they take the necessary precautions, can get back to living life.”