The COVID-19 crisis is unique and historic because it is both a public health crisis and an economic crisis. When this crisis began, Congress and the White House acted quickly to tackle both of these threats, and as a result, our country is on the road to recovery.
Early on, President Trump took several critical steps to prepare for this crisis. The president shut down foreign travel, quarantined travelers, and shut down our economy. He also kickstarted the world’s leading testing system and used the Defense Production Act to ramp up our supply of protective equipment. These actions bought us critical time to assess the situation and come up with a plan to keep people safe and protect our economy.
In March, Congress passed three phases of relief totaling $2.9 trillion. The largest of these packages, the CARES Act, has been instrumental in getting our country through both of the major crises we face.
To protect public health and provide immediate relief to businesses and individuals impacted by COVID-19, I helped secure over $47 billion in direct aid for Georgia. Our state’s health care providers have received over $6.5 billion for critical purposes like expanding hospital bed capacity, buying life-saving ventilators, and equipping health care workers with protective equipment. It also helped to support telehealth programs, including Augusta University Medical Center’s virtual health care programs.
To help identify and isolate new cases, $262 million went to expand testing in Georgia. This helped launch over 180 free testing sites across our state.
These relief packages also included $32.1 billion for the development of treatments and vaccines. Much of that funding is going to researchers, including at Emory University in Atlanta, who are working around the clock to develop a safe and effective vaccine. In addition, Georgia has already received roughly 4,900 cases of Remdesivir, a drug that has been proven to ease some of the worst symptoms of COVID-19. This will help treat over 32,000 of the most vulnerable Georgians.
To protect public health, we shut down the economy, something that had never been done before. While this helped keep people safe as we learned more about the virus, it has had tremendous consequences for our economy. Many small businesses were left on the brink of insolvency, and many Georgians worried they’d receive a pink slip.
The Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress created through the CARES Act, has been a critical lifeline for small businesses and the people they employ.
The PPP gave small businesses access to forgivable loans that could be used to keep their businesses afloat and pay their employees. Over 174,000 Georgia businesses received these loans, amounting to $14.7 billion of capital. As a result, over 1.5 million Georgia jobs have been saved.
I recently visited Vinings Bank, a community bank in Smyrna, and personally met with small business owners who received PPP loans. They told me directly that thanks to the PPP and Vinings Bank, they were able to stay afloat and continue paying their employees during this crisis.
Success stories like these are happening across our state and country. In fact, we have already brought back 10.6 million jobs since the start of the pandemic.
While we aren’t through this yet, our country is rebounding faster than many people thought possible. However, this experience should serve as a wake-up call for our country. We need to look at what we can do in the future to ensure a crisis like this never happens again, including tackling our national debt and reducing our dependence on foreign medical supplies.
In order to avoid having a major fiscal crisis on our hands, we have to be cautious with the spending proposals we are debating today. It’s crucial that we take a prudent look at what we’ve already allocated, what has worked, and how CARES Act relief has impacted our overall economy and local communities.
I am confident that if we come together in a bipartisan way, like we did early on in this crisis, we can safely get people back to work and beat this virus.
David Perdue is Georgia’s senior United States senator. When Perdue was elected, he was the only Fortune 500 CEO in Congress. He is serving his first term in the United States Senate, where he represents Georgia on the Armed Services, Banking, Budget, and Foreign Relations Committees.