Congress Members, Inundated by Constituent Concerns, Hold Virtual Town Halls

April 6, 2020 Updated: April 7, 2020

Senators and Representatives have vacated Capitol Hill. Their recess began last week, and the projected return date to their Washington offices is April 20. Meanwhile, to address constituents’ concerns and questions about the effect of the pandemic on daily life and the pending financial relief, many are leading virtual town halls from their homes.

Hours before leaving for their districts, Congress approved a monumental $2.2 trillion pandemic response bill that designates funding for individuals, business owners, and federal agencies fighting the pandemic.

Consequently, lawmakers are bombarded with constituents’ questions about how the funding might help ease their financial burdens.
For most of the Congress members, this is their first time running back to back events virtually, and some are dealing with technical issues.

Representative David E. Price, communicated via Twitter on Monday: “We are experiencing technical difficulties with our live stream. I apologize for the inconvenience. We will post a recording this afternoon. You may join our second Virtual Small Business Town Hall on April 6, at 1 p.m.”

He also shared information about another major event, “I am hosting a virtual nonprofit town hall, Tuesday, April 7 at 2 p.m. with @ncnonprofits to talk about newly available resources. Space is limited to the first 500,” wrote E. Price on Twitter.

Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-Pa.) told Twitter users that she is holding a town hall on April 9, with a panel of medical, public safety, education, unemployment, and senior service experts. They will answer questions about the “state’s efforts to protect public health and the economy during the coronavirus (CCP virus) public health emergency.”

The recent legislation earmarked $4.3 billion, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to assist federal, state, and local public health agencies in their efforts to coordinate a response to the pandemic.

“Join me for a LIVE Tele Town Hall on Friday, April 10, at 1:00 p.m. Joining me will be the Chief Medical Officer of Geisinger, a rep from SEDA-COG and a rep of the United Way to discuss health and economic issues related to the COVID-19 crisis,” Wrote Senator John Gordner (R-Pa.).

Some Senators are teaming up with state and local officials to lend their expertise to answer questions about the complicated $2 trillion legislation.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is teaming up with Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis of New York to answer questions for her constituents who are concerned about their small business.

“Please join me tomorrow (Monday) at 2:00 p.m. for a Telephone Town Hall with Senator Marco Rubio, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business, to discuss FAQs about the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program,” wrote Assemblywoman Malliotakis.

Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) hosted a Facebook Live Town Hall on April 3 to answer questions and receive feedback on efforts to combat the pandemic.

Many of the questions from Montanans were about how to apply for unemployment insurance (UI) and small business relief. The senator also clarified how direct payments would be distributed, and he discussed what he is doing to get healthcare workers the equipment they need to combat the virus.

One of the initiatives of the phase 3 legislation is to expand UI from three to four months, and provide short-term unemployment compensation of $600 per week, which is in addition to regular state and federal UI benefits.

“These are difficult times for all of us,” Tester said. “Folks are worried about their loved ones and about their livelihoods and their businesses. This is a situation unlike anything that has hit our country in more than 100 years. But the fact is we will get through this. We will defeat this virus, and we will do it by working together and doing what all Montanans do and looking out for each other.”

Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) held a telephone town hall focused on seniors in Iowa. The late March event was the second town hall that week. The senator was joined on the call by the state director of AARP Iowa, Brad Anderson, and the dean of the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa, Dr. Brooks Jackson.

“During these challenge times, town halls look a little different—we’re hosting them via telephone. But it’s still a tremendous opportunity for me to connect with my fellow Iowans and hear directly from folks across the state about their concerns and needs during COVID-19,” said Senator Ernst.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has put on three telephone town hall events on March 18, March 25, and April 1. The goal was to keep Hawaiian residents abreast of news about steps being taken to mitigate the effects of the CCP virus. She was joined at these virtual town halls by state, federal officials, and community leaders.