Around the country, there’s only one issue right now. Or, more accurately, there are a myriad of issues stemming from one root cause: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since “social distancing” is the best method to fight the virus, those members of Congress seeking to stay in touch with their constituents have to get creative.
Take U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean for example, who held a telephone town hall on Friday night dedicated to the disease and its economic impact.
Dean is a freshman Democrat who represents the 4th Congressional District, which consists of most of Montgomery County as well as a slice of southern Berks. This puts Dean in a unique situation since the bustling suburban Philadelphia county currently is dealing with 68 cases of the virus by last count. That’s more than any other county in the state.
“It was only two weeks ago that we had our first case in Montgomery County,” Dean said. “We were the first case in the state. Sadly, we appear to be an epicenter.”
Dean was joined on the call by doctors, experts and government officials. One of which was Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry Jerry Oleksiak, who lives in the district.
Oleksiak described the unprecedented unemployment numbers that are currently flooding into the office.
“We have been preparing for this for weeks. We’ve had regular meetings with the Governor and the Cabinet,” Sec. Oleksiak said, before going on to note that “It’s a very fluid situation, it’s an evolving crisis situation.”
“We’ve had a record number of unemployment compensation claims,” he continued. “We can’t yet release the full numbers, they’re embargoed until next Thursday under federal law.”
Oleksiak first revealed this restraint on Friday morning after a surge of 121,000 applications over two days received national attention. Earlier this week, it was revealed that the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had warned Senators that the national unemployment rate could hit twenty percent.
While Oleksiak was careful not to break this new embargo he did reveal the discouraging news that the weekly claim numbers they’re currently seeing are outpacing what they typically see in a month.
Meanwhile the first question of the night went to Rep. Matt Bradford, who serves as the ranking Democratic member on the House Appropriations Committee, who asked about the federal response being worked on by the Congress and to what extent local governments are being considered.
Dean reassured him and everyone else on the call that “support for municipalities is one of the foremost things we talk about.” She went on to note that this was not Congress’ first bill aimed at the crisis and she predicted it would not be their last.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” she pledged.
Constituents spent the next 45 minutes or so on questions ranging from how small businesses can stay afloat, will property tax rebates still be on time and how a couple can manage the current perils of self-employment. Uncertainty was the common thread connecting them all.
“I need to know what you are experiencing in order to argue for the best policies that will help you and your families and your businesses,” she explained.
Amidst all the fears and concerns, Rep. Dean advised listeners to remain hopeful and attentive.
“We are in this altogether,” she said “This is going to be a long haul. A journey we’ve never been on before. Each of you, make sure to take the time to take care of yourself.”
Correspondent Nick Field covers Philadelphia and its suburbs for the Capital-Star.