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Gaetz: Pandemic relief bill doesn’t have enough votes to pass

Jim Little
Pensacola News Journal
Northwest Florida Daily News

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz said Thursday that he doesn't believe the next congressional relief bill for the coronavirus had enough votes to pass a week away from federal pandemic unemployment benefits expiring.

"In my conversations with the White House and the Senate, it does not look like that there is another major legislative package with substantial agreement enough to pass," Gaetz said.

Members of Congress and the Trump administration are in negotiations to pass another aid package in response to the coronavirus. Democrats have pushed for an extension of the $600 boost to weekly unemployment benefits, but Republicans have argued the extra unemployment benefits disincentivize many people from returning to work.

The additional $600 in weekly jobless benefits provided by the federal government is officially set to end July 31.

Gaetz offered that if no bill is passed, the funding already approved from the federal government could still help states.

"There's more than a trillion dollars in appropriated funds from Washington that have not yet been spent throughout the country or programmed, and so maybe there are ways to have more flexibility for states with what we've already appropriated, if there is not another agreement on another tranche of money coming," Gaetz said.

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Gaetz made the comments during a Facebook Live town hall on Thursday that featured state Rep. Alex Andrade. Gaetz has endorsed Andrade in his re-election campaign for the Republican nomination for Florida House District 2 against Gaetz's former 2016 and 2018 GOP rival, Cris Dosev.

The event lasted about 30 minutes and consisted mainly of Gaetz asking Andrade questions about the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andrade said his office has helped "several hundred" constituents with their unemployment claims. He said 21,000 Escambia County residents have applied so far.

"We've been able to help several hundred work through their issues and make sure that they get their claims revised to make sure either if they don't qualify for the standard state unemployment, they will very likely still qualify for the pandemic unemployment assistance," Andrade said. "So there's hope if you contact our office we can work to escalate the concerns that you have and escalate your application through the process."

Andrade said one of the biggest problem he has heard is people with acute illnesses not seeking medical care — something he blamed on fear caused by media coverage of the coronavirus.

"They've been afraid to actually go to the hospital, they've been afraid to go to ERs, they've been afraid to contact their physicians, because of their, in large part, over-responsive fear to COVID-19," Andrade said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Escambia County have remained flat for the last two days after doubling each month over the last two months. As of Thursday, COVID-19 patients made up about 21% of all hospital patients in Escambia County.

Gaetz agreed with Andrade and added that hospitals can't function financially without providing elective surgeries.

"We've got to build confidence again in people that they can receive that health care and ultimately that will allow the system to flourish," Gaetz said.