Although he is unable to vote on it, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, praised the U.S. Senate on Wednesday for reaching an agreement on a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that Romney said would benefit Utahns and help the state and national economies rebound.
Early Wednesday morning, Senate leadership announced a deal reached with the White House that includes direct payments to middle-class workers, extended unemployment benefits and loans for impacted businesses.
The agreement, if passed, would be the largest fiscal stimulus package in modern U.S. history.
“In effect, this is a wartime level of investment into our nation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday.
Senate Democrats had previously blocked the stimulus package from passing over concerns about what sort of oversight and accountability there would be over loans for large businesses.
Democrats negotiated with Republican leadership to add a provision to the package prohibiting loans from going to businesses owned by President Donald Trump or members of Congress or the Senate.
“After five days of arduous negotiations, after sleep-deprived nights and marathon negotiating sessions, we have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “This is not a moment of celebration, but one of necessity.”
During a video press conference on Wednesday, Romney said $500 billion in funds intended to help middle- and large-scale companies would be provided through market-rate loans that companies would be required to pay back.
The Republican senator said that a special inspector general position and oversight committee would be established “to make sure that these enterprises are abiding by the legislation and the terms that have been established by Congress.”
Despite being under self-quarantine since Sunday after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, tested positive for COVID-19, Romney said he contributed to conversations about the emergency relief bill before leaving Washington, D.C., adding that he served on a task force that focused on payments to individuals and unemployment insurance, as well as the committee that put together a relief plan for small businesses.
“So I was able to get my input (in) on those elements from the very beginning,” Romney said. “And the final bill has included those elements exactly as we negotiated them.”
If the stimulus package passes, Americans making less than $75,000 a year would receive a check of $1,200 while couples earning less than $150,000 a year would receive a $2,400 check. Families would get an additional $500 for every child in the household.
According to Romney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plans to get checks shipped or deposited to Americans within two weeks.
“I hope he’s right,” said Romney, adding that it could be longer and is difficult to predict since the coronavirus pandemic is “unlike anything any of us have ever seen during our lifetimes.”
The stimulus package would allot $130 billion for hospitals and health centers throughout the country, as well as $350 billion for small business loans.
Additionally, the package includes an expansion of every state’s unemployment insurance programs and salary remuneration for laid-off employees, which Schumer described as “unemployment compensation on steroids.”
The Senate was expected to vote on the stimulus package on Wednesday afternoon. Politico reported that a handful of GOP lawmakers threw up a “last-minute hurdle” over concerns that the revamped unemployment benefits would encourage employees to be fired or laid off.
“So it would create an adverse incentive for someone to try and get fired so they can make more money on unemployment insurance than they can make at work,” Romney said, adding that he shared the concerns of his Republican colleagues. “Clearly that’s not a good idea.”
The Senate had not voted on the stimulus package as of 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
When asked about how he is dealing with self-isolation, Romney said it had little effect on his day-to-day schedule.
“I must admit, it’s pretty much like a normal workday for me, except I’m at home instead of in the office,” said Romney. The most difficult part, he said, has been being isolated from his family.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Romney spoke highly of the three-phase economic recovery plan for Utah unveiled by Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday, which included a call for a special legislative session.
“The state has put together the most comprehensive and effective plan I have seen anywhere for dealing with the implications of this coronavirus,” Romney said. “It’s really a very solid state plan.”
Police Chief Rich Ferguson has seen a lot in his nearly 30 years with the Provo Police Department. But he probably never expected to see his wife, Sally Ferguson, in fancy evening attire, present him with Utah’s Police Chief of the Year Award from the Fraternal Order of Police.
On Wednesday, Ferguson was surprised with a special well-spaced and sparsely attended award ceremony for his contribution to policing in Provo and as an example throughout the state.
Ferguson has been with Provo police since April 1991. He was made police chief in September 2017.
Usually he would have a gala in his honor held in Salt Lake City with all the tin and tinsel to go with it, but the COVID-19 outbreak has stymied such functions.
His ceremony was held in the Provo Municipal Council Chambers with seven other people all standing 6 feet apart. The only hugs he got came from his wife.
He wasn’t full of self-accolades or long speeches; Ferguson just nodded his head and said, “Thank you. I’m very honored.”
In introducing him in a tape-delayed video of the ceremony, Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said Ferguson was very humble and very shy.
“He is one of my favorite people in the world,” Kaufusi said. “I’ve known him for years. He has always been a man full of integrity.”
Kaufusi said the community, including herself, are blessed to have him as chief.
“I have the best chief,” she said. “He is the man of the hour and this is a much deserved award.”
Brent Jex, president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), submitted Ferguson for the award. He said he knew Ferguson to be a good man and has known him for two decades.
Jex said he would have read the nomination but he wouldn’t be able to hold his composure. However, he saw firsthand how the chief handled the night referenced in the nomination.
The full nomination said, “Chief Richard Ferguson has always been a leader. From his days in Major Crimes to rising through the ranks, he has always been a positive role model to those above him and below. He has been a longtime member of the FOP. To watch his leadership when Joe (Shinners) was killed last year was remarkable. He was there for us, cried with us, prayed with us, and made sure we were all OK, well, as OK as we could be in that situation. For those reasons, I submit Chief Ferguson as FOP’s Chief of the Year.”
Jex said, “It was so well-deserved. I’m glad the mayor wanted to recognize his abilities.”
Some of his officers sent comments including: “I have the best Chief,” “He is an officer’s officer,” “He listens to our concerns, and takes them into consideration,” and “He authentically cares.”
Sgt. Nisha King, Provo Police Department spokesperson, said Ferguson’s 29-year career has been characterized by leadership, duty, respect and care.
“Officers describe Chief Ferguson as an ‘officer’s officer,’” she said. “He considers himself as one of the team and a genuine servant leader with a mission to build his department. He hears what cops need because he talks with them constantly. He knows their families. He knows their goals and their concerns. He tries his best to lift people around him and it shows. Chief Ferguson recognizes the service of people around him, so we are pleased and proud he is being recognized.”
Three sisters from Highland are learning about the elder people in their neighborhood through a service project while everyone is self-distancing.
Being at home is not new to Brie England, 6, and her twin sisters Macie and Ivy England, both 5. Their mother, Aubrey England, home-schools the girls. But Aubrey says her daughters recognize that being secluded all day may not be so fun for some people.
So they decided to take the situation into their own “artistic” hands, England said.
“My girls love to do art,” she said. “So, they called a few older ladies in our neighborhood and asked them to share stories from their lives.”
They had the speakerphone on during the interviews and all of them took down notes and then they decided which life story they would each like to draw.
According to England, they interviewed four women to start out with. Each of them will receive a book later on this week.
The idea came from Kayla Brewster, volunteer director at the United Way of Utah County. England called and asked what they could do to serve the elderly in a unique way. The life book art was the answer.
“They had a lot of fun having these stories,” Brewster said. “It’s a way to reach out in a creative, think-outside-the-box way.”
Brewster said families and individuals like the Englands can call the United Way volunteer center or visit the website at https://unitedwayuc.org for all kinds of ways to give service to senior citizens while being stuck at home.
The Englands are particularly prepared for this type of service because of the items they have at home for their schooling.
“We have a laminating machine and bookbinder at our home so it makes some nice books,” England said.
She has her girls do a couple of art projects a week as part of their home-school curriculum. She also has an Instagram page to help parents share ideas on home-school projects.
This particular project is a bit broader in scope, but the girls have really taken to it, England said. Sharing stories about seniors’ early life also has shown the girls how much they have in common with older people and taught them what it was like to be young in earlier times.
“The girls have liked doing this so much they want to continue it,” England said. “The next thing they are going to do is interview their grandparents and great-grandparents.”
The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Wednesday evening that all temple activity churchwide would be suspended at the end of the day to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
“This is a temporary adjustment, and we look forward to the day when the temples will reopen,” the First Presidency said in a press release.
Anyone with an existing appointment to a temple will be contacted by temple staff to confirm cancellation, the press release said.
A new website launched by Utah County and Explore Utah Valley helps residents know which restaurants are still open and are offering delivery, pickup or curbside service during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a written statement on Wednesday, Utah County Commissioners Tanner Ainge, Bill Lee and Nathan Ivie and Explore Utah Valley President and CEO Joel Racker said the site “is intended to support the most economically vulnerable in the community while maintaining safe social health standards.”
Ainge said in an interview that the website, http://dineutahvalley.com, is part of a countywide campaign to encourage residents to support local businesses and their employees who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“This (the pandemic) is going to be absolutely devastating to our restaurant and our hotel communities, and especially to their hourly staff, to the point where many will have to close,” Ainge said.
Other than listing which restaurants are offering delivery or curbside services, Ainge said the website features businesses that are offering deals or have otherwise taken efforts to support the community.
For example, the website highlights Malawi’s Pizza in Provo for offering a “Family Fun Pizza Kit” and Green Panda Cafe, also in Provo, for providing free delivery on orders over $20 within a 3-mile radius.
“Right now, this is just a forum that we are promoting to showcase the deals that the restaurants themselves are offering,” said Ainge, adding that the county would consider taking additional measures if the pandemic worsens.
In the written statement, the commissioners and Explore Utah Valley CEO praised Utah County-based businesses “who took immediate action to tackle community challenge.”
“Whether it’s Fat Daddy’s Pizzeria offering free lunch to school aged kids, software companies like Podium offering a free service to assist restaurants or R&R Barbeque, Mo Bettah(s), and Costa Vida making dinner relief packs available at a special price, we are inspired by the collective heart of Utah County,” the statement said.
The website features Instagram posts of food from local restaurants and encourages patrons to post pictures of their meals using the hashtags #TakeOutCorona and #DineUtahValley.
Ainge said he hoped the $2 trillion emergency stimulus package being considered by the federal government would help prevent restaurant closures in the county and help hourly workers who have been laid off, fired or had their hours cut.
“But we want to do our part locally at the county and with Explore Utah Valley to also try to give them a little bit of a boost during this critical time,” said Ainge.
Ainge said Utah County residents should do their part to support restaurants and hotels, which help pay for parks, trails and cultural programs in the county, as well as the Provo Municipal Airport, through the Tourism, Recreation, Cultural and Convention (TRCC) tax fund and Transient Room Tax (TRT).
“The local restaurant community is an establishment here,” the commissioner said, “and we don’t want to see any of them go.”
Local businesses can request to be featured on the website by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.