Donna Shalala

Donna Shalala

Rep. Shalala is an unusual House freshman due to her vast experience. She was U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services from 1993 to 2001. Past president of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Hunter College in New York City, she was president of the University of Miami from 2001 to 2015. From 2015 to 2017 she was president of the Clinton Foundation and a professor at the University of Miami.

The Congresswoman began the call talking about COVID-19 testing. She said, “There aren’t enough tests for everyone but there is testing at twenty-one sites in Miami-Dade. Tests for the virus need to confirm the community is on the downward slope for fourteen days before things reopen.”

Older homebound people can get tested according to the Congresswoman. “Call the fire department. They will come and give you a test. We’re trying to put more tests into neighborhoods so people can walk to get tested,” she said. “And if you’re over 60 you’re eligible for Meals on Wheels too so call 311 and you’ll get hot meals.”

“By the way, don’t feel shy about taking this; it’s your money!” Rep.

Shalala said. “You’ve paid taxes over the years. All I’m doing as a member of Congress is bringing your money back.”

The Congresswoman was asked about Florida’s broken unemployment system. “The Governor appointed a new head of the Unemployment

Compensation office,” she said. “They clearly weren’t ready. Paper

applications are at 26 local libraries. Every elected official in the state is putting enormous pressure on the Governor not only to get the system working but to allocate enough staffing to make sure applications are being reviewed as quickly as possible.

“It’s a national problem, too,” she continued. “The money is there. It’s nonpartisan. We’re telling all states to allocate resources to get money out. It’s a lot of money - $275 from the state plus $600 from the federal government.”

Asked how long the benefit lasts, the Congresswoman’s staff said Florida unemployment only lasts 12 weeks but if unemployment exceeds 10.5% as it has, it automatically extends for an additional 13 weeks.

“The Governor has agreed but not yet implemented the policy that the money goes back to the initial date of unemployment,” said Rep. Shalala. “It’s

covering a lot more people than the state would normally cover.”

Self-employed or 1099 employees should apply too. The Congresswoman’s staff said the Florida system was not set up to take self-employed people. Those who initially applied and were rejected should reapply to get the benefits they’re entitled to.

“There’s not enough money to last into fall,” she added, “so at some point government will have to pay for a transition to ramp up bringing all employees back.”

Rep. Shalala also said, “If you haven’t received your federal check yet ($1200 for most), something’s wrong, so call my office.”

The Congresswoman led the discussion on business loans and federal funding under the stimulus acts. Several large corporations got loans yet returned the money as it was not needed.

“Treasury asked them to return it but there’s not a lot of authority to tell them to do it,” Rep. Shalala said. “This is a shaming operation more than anything. But the real culprits are the big banks who took care of their own clients before they took care of small business.”

“I expect the money to run out very soon and we’ll have to make a reinvestment,” she said. “We must make sure banks are giving it out to the

neediest in the community and the big banks should hang their heads in shame. The program’s been expanded to add smaller banks and other funding sources.” Her staff added that Treasury said loans over $2 million would be closely looked at and offered guidance on returning the money.

For small business loans, the Congresswoman said, “There’s a small business center at FIU that can help people fill out the application. Smaller banks are actually stepping up and doing that too.” Her staff offered a practice tip that there’s no harm in applying more than once. “You can’t take the money more than once but you can apply to various banks and take the first one you get,” Jessica Killin said.

“I’ve just seen a tranche of drafted legislation for the next round and I want to demand in legislation that the President use the Defense Act,” said Rep. Shalala about making masks, test kits and ventilators. “He said states are on their own. It’s like the Wild West out there. He has appointed a testing czar in Department of Health.”

The Congresswoman said it would be almost impossible to send people back to work without adequate child care.

“The challenge is space,” she said. “Many are crowded and most are small businesses we must help expand and do testing and get sanitation and pay people better and pay more of them to reduce the number of children in a space. We’re going to have to put a lot of money into child care.”

She praised a recent report by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) as to what the schools needed to do to reopen and urged people to read it. 

“Large events may have to wait until we have a vaccine,” Rep. Shalala said. She added that the cruise industry would not open soon and had to be extremely careful that they can keep people safe before selling cruises.

The Congresswoman talked about reopening area businesses. “There is liability for employers if they open and don’t meet the government guidelines,” she said. “Every business opens at its own risk. The problem is can we test everyone who walks in. Our leaders need to think this through; Miami-Dade has task forces thinking about this.”

The Congresswoman thought the first pro sports to return might be baseball because of the limited amount of contact. She thought the biggest challenge was not on the field but what kind of audience could participate to fill the stadiums.

For agriculture, Rep. Shalala thought it was wrong to continue importing produce from Mexico during the crisis. “Everyone should go to the grocery store and see where the produce comes from,” she said. “Stores are starting to buy local but here’s a perfect role for the Department of Agriculture to make sure we’re not leaving agriculture behind.”

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