The Texas Forest Country Partnership and East Texas Manufacturing Alliance hosted a Q&A teleconference with Sen. John Cornyn Thursday morning.

Tim Stacy, plant manager for Twin Disk and manufacturing lead for the ETMA, moderated questions for the senator after he gave a brief address to East Texans.

“This pandemic has been a shock to our country and our world,” Cornyn said. “We’ve been working hard to try to provide an appropriate and urgent response.”

While many people are able to work at home, many people also can’t, and shutting down operations is not an option, he said. He thanked the companies employing essential workers during this time for continuing to provide for communities.

“I can’t remember any other event in my lifetime that has had as big an impact on both the physical health and the economic health of our country,” he said. “I know that our East Texas small businesses have been impacted greatly, as have small businesses all across our state and nation.”

Congress has worked tirelessly and has done things Cornyn never thought they would have to do, appropriating legislation unanimously to come to the aid of U.S. citizens and businesses, he said.

“Now we know that we need to try to safely reopen, slowly, carefully,” he said. “We don’t obviously want a recurrence of this epidemic when we’ve now flattened the curve.”

There is no one-size-fits-all for every county and city, so they are handling the reopening on a locality by locality basis, he said.

“It’s an honor to represent you in the Senate, and I’m happy to answer some questions,” he said.

Q: How has Texas, in particular, benefited from the four coronavirus relief bills Congress has passed?

A: In addition to what I have mentioned, Tim, the Paycheck Protection Program, which we were the No. 1 beneficiary of that first installment of $350 billion (the next $320 hasn’t all been obligated yet, but it’s going pretty quickly. We know it’s meeting a real need), I mentioned the help we’ve provided to our hospitals and front line public health providers. There was also a state and local stabilization fund, which was designed to fill in some of the gaps because, obviously, with our economy shut down, there wasn’t a lot of sales tax being collected, so our local and state government has essential services to provide. Out of the $150 billion we appropriated, $11.2 billion came to Texas. Some of that went to the bigger cities and counties, and the rest of it is being handled through the governor’s office. It should be on a per capita basis.

Q: What are your top policy priorities for the next coronavirus relief bill and what about non-coronavirus legislation?

A: Well, we’re all coronavirus, all the time right now, but there is some discussion about doing an infrastructure bill, which I think would be great, if we can. We know that our roads and bridges are important to our economy and public safety and the environment, and if there’s an opportunity to do that, then I’ll certainly jump on it. I am concerned that even though we’re not counting pennies right now, we are spending a lot of money and unfortunately adding to our national debt. In an emergency, I don’t think you have any choice, but once we come out of this, we’re going to have to find a way to force Congress, and I mean that literally, to vote on some debt reform. That’s part of our discussion.

Q: Do you anticipate support for legislation limiting the liability businesses might face from unwarranted lawsuits filed as a result of some type of coronavirus claims?

A: I touched on it a little bit, but let me reiterate — this is not blanket immunity. We’re not talking about protecting irresponsible, intentional misconduct, but you can imagine the uncertainty people have in this environment, and they need a little reassurance that there’s not going to be a big game of ‘gotcha’ going on. It’s not just about giving the business the confidence so they can safely follow the guidelines, this actually provides an incentive for them to do that. That’s good for their employees and good for the public. We need to get our economy reopened as soon as we can safely do that, and that’s why the gradual approach is a good one. In the meantime, I might add, there are more than 100 different clinical trials for drugs that could be possible treatments for this virus and ultimately work on a vaccine. Hopefully this will relegate the coronavirus to the same category as the seasonal flu.

Q: There are a number of manufacturing plants that have already announced closure. With others indicating that they are at risk of closure, what plans are being discussed to strengthen our manufacturing facilities?

A: One of the things I think we have learned from this virus is we can’t depend on our global supply chains for a lot of critical equipment. Things like medical equipment, PPE, pharmaceuticals, it’s a long list. We just simply have let ourselves become vulnerable to things like this, and let’s be honest, countries like China don’t have our interests at heart. So what we’re going to try to do is gradually or as quickly as we can, begin to bring a lot of that manufacturing back on shore. There’s things we can do in Congress to provide incentives to do that. … That’s going to be one of the best things that comes out of this. We’re used to buying cheap stuff from China because their cost of operations is lower, but we’ve come to find out that that comes at a heavy price when it comes to these essential items.

Q: As you know, we’re in a rural area here, and, in particular, we have a concern about rural broadband. Will that be addressed in the next relief bill?

A: This is another lesson we’ve all learned. I know a lot of school districts have been teaching students using their video conference capabilities, but if you don’t have broadband, you don’t have a computer, you don’t have access to the internet, you’re going to be basically left behind. At one point, maybe, you could say this was a luxury or not a necessity. I don’t think you can say that anymore. I actually was on a video conference with AT&T yesterday, and they asked me the same question. They said it’s not commercially viable in some places, so Congress needs to step up. I think there are already some pieces of legislation that have been filed that we’re looking at. I think that message has been brought home very clearly that we need to make sure people have access to internet and broadband.

Q: Do you have any suggestions to companies or our employees with regard to how we can help those struggling with the impact of the coronavirus?

A: What’s always impressed me about Texans in a time of crisis is just helping one another, whether it’s churches or it’s businesses or it’s a good Samaritan helping to pick up groceries for somebody who is maybe vulnerable or elderly and can’t get to the grocery store. There’s a lot that we can do that doesn’t emanate from Washington, but I know the one thing we can do in Washington is to provide resources, which we’re trying to do, in a responsible way, and also provide some guidance and expertise when it comes to best practices. This really does require everybody at every level, individual responsibility, local government, state government and federal government working together in order to get through this. This is the modern day equivalent to war, in a sense. We need to make sure we win the war, No. 1, and then we need to make sure this never happens again, to the extent humanly possible.

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.

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