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Praising plan from new president, Courtney optimistic on COVID-19 relief

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A week after the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, struck an optimistic tone Wednesday as he spoke to Norwich-area business leaders about his hopes for further federal COVID-19 relief.

"This thing may actually move pretty fast," he said. "The House is back in next week, and the goal, frankly, is to get something done in the month of February. Particularly on the vaccination side, we really cannot let that lag at all. We've got to get those vaccines out there in a much more robust fashion, and I think that's a big part of the rescue plan."

He was referring to the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion proposal that Biden unveiled earlier this month, less than three weeks after former President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion relief measure into law. Courtney stressed that chambers of commerce made a difference in the construction of both plans.

In a virtual forum Wednesday afternoon with the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce, Courtney praised various parts of Biden's plan.

For example, the congressman said he supports the plan's funding to support global vaccination efforts, saying the U.S. isn't in a bubble and most Americans understand "that we're not going to be safe unless the herd (immunity) threshold is universal."

Courtney said when his office takes a poll on what's most important to people in a relief package, stimulus checks "are number-one, overwhelmingly, by a landslide margin."

Biden's plan proposes $1,400 payments. Courtney thinks in an ideal world, these payments would be more targeted than going to anyone making under $75,000 a year, but he said having the IRS set up a more fine-tuned system would be a logistical "nightmare in terms of getting those checks out."

Courtney also said restaurants were hoping for more than what they got in the last relief bill and said he thinks Biden's plan will provide more targeted assistance.

Courtney also gave a summary of the $900 billion relief bill passed in December, which included $600 stimulus checks, more Paycheck Protection Program funding, more unemployment insurance, an extension of 100% federal funding for the Shared Work program and an extension of multiple tax credits.

It includes $25 billion in rental assistance, with about $250 million for Connecticut; renters apply but the check goes to the landlord. Courtney said the Connecticut Department of Housing hasn't gotten the funding out yet and he's not sure what entity will administer it in southeastern Connecticut.

He supports money being given to the airline industry, noting that all of it is going to wages and benefits, that "not one penny is for stock buybacks or CEO salaries or any of that stuff." After the pandemic, "air travel is going to come roaring back," Courtney said, "and we want to make sure we have the workforce, the infrastructure, for when that happens."

Courtney said that other than extending tax credits, which he called "nickel and dime stuff," the $900 billion package and Biden's plan don't include recurring spending but are "about getting us through an emergency."

Chris Jewell, principal at the Bozrah manufacturer Collins & Jewell, asked about the long-term economic impact of all this government spending.

In response, Courtney referenced the Federal Reserve's decision Wednesday to keep interest rates near zero, saying it communicates that "if we really want to shorten this recession (as much as) possible, we need to make sure that people stay as connected to their workplace as they can, that people aren't falling behind in bills."

Jewell also said some would argue that large corporations like Walmart and Amazon are profiting heavily from the pandemic, and he thinks the large corporations should "have to ante up a little more."

Courtney's hope is that after passing COVID-19 relief, Congress can move onto an infrastructure bill, which he said would include a broadband component.

e.moser@theday.com

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