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Lawmakers look for ways to get PPE, testing to local governments and small businesses

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Two lawmakers from opposite coasts and different parties want to ease the burden on local governments and small businesses of operating during the pandemic by helping them purchase personal protective equipment and rapid testing equipment. 

The Getting Americans Safely Back to Work Act, introduced Monday by Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger and California Republican Young Kim, would create a $1 billion block grant program for such purchases to be administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments. A quarter of the funds, $250 million, would be set aside to help small business like restaurants fully reopen. The bill was first reported by CBS News. 

"In conversations with Central Virginia small businesses, restaurants, and local governments, a major concern remains the continued cost of PPE and COVID-19 testing supplies," Spanberger said. "While these costs are high, employers recognize the importance of making these investments for both the safety of their employees and the health of our communities." 

Her cosponsor, freshmen representative Young Kim, who is a former small business owner, said it was "an immediate and urgent priority" to distribute rapid tests and personal protective equipment, both of which could be purchased with the grant program created by the bill. Funds could also used to implement any other workplace safety measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.  

These costs have largely been borne by local businesses, who often see those safety measures as necessary to get customers back in the door. 

State and local governments around the country are also facing major budget shortfalls because of the declining tax revenues and the costs they have incurred to fight the pandemic. But they've been largely left out of COVID relief efforts — including the $900 billion package passed in December — because of Republican opposition. 

A spokesperson for Spanberger also said the congresswoman is "actively working" to include the provisions of the bill in the upcoming COVID relief package proposed by the White House that is working its way through the House and Senate. 

Chesterfield County, Virginia Sheriff Karl Leonard said the legislation was a "necessary step" to reduce the risk for law enforcement officers and other employees in his county, including those who might have to contain a virus outbreak in a prison or jail.  

"This bill benefits our essential workers and our community as a whole," he said.  

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