SUNDAY TALK: Joni Ernst: Amid COVID-19, All Iowans Have a Role to Play to Help Seniors, Those Most At-risk.

U. S. Senator Joni Ernst

We’re living in challenging times. But it’s in these trying days that we’ve seen the resilient spirit that makes our state and our people so great.

Some of my favorite stories of Iowans helping Iowans have been the heartwarming acts of kindness folks have shown for our seniors and those most at-risk during this pandemic. I think about the folks at the Cherokee Hy-Vee floral shop, who, knowing the care facilities in the area had closed to visitors, decided to bring a little cheer to the residents.

With the help of an overwhelming amount of donations from folks in the local community, they were able to make over 160 fresh floral arrangements and deliver them to the four care centers in the area. And they’re not done yet—they’ve decided to try to do the same for the teachers in and around Cherokee. This really is what we call, “Iowa nice.”

It’s so important we look out for one another in these tough times. We need to abide by the CDC guidelines and what our health experts are instructing us to do, whether that’s social distancing or taking those basic precautions, like washing our hands and covering our coughs. And we need to do it for the benefit of one another.

We’ve heard it time and again – we each play a role in “flattening the curve” and mitigating the spread. Social distancing, though different and difficult, is the right thing to do, especially for our seniors and Iowans who are most at-risk.

But even as we’re apart physically, it’s so important we continue to check in on our family, friends, and loved ones: send a text, give them a call, or, in the case of the folks at the Cherokee floral shop, send some beautiful flowers. Social distancing and being “Iowa nice” are not mutually exclusive. My mom, for example, found her own way to help out her fellow Iowans while staying at home. She’s put her sewing machine to work and has helped make masks for folks in and around our hometown of Red Oak. I even got to help her out one day!

Folks, we each have a role to play to slow the spread and show some kindness. And in my role as our United States Senator, I’ve been fighting hard to make sure our seniors and those most at-risk during this pandemic are getting the relief, support, and protection they need.

In Congress, we’ve passed three major bipartisan relief packages, and in each of these, we’ve worked to help Iowa’s elderly population get through this pandemic.

First, we’ve provided a direct payment of $1,200 each to individuals who earn $75,000 or less, and $2,400 to married couples earning up to $150,000. Now, as you’d probably guess, it took a little push and pull with the federal government to avoid burdensome paperwork and needless bureaucracy in order for our seniors to get these direct payments without a hassle. After hearing about this issue during a telephone town hall I held recently with hundreds of Iowa seniors and folks from AARP Iowa, I pushed the IRS to automatically qualify seniors for these direct payments, without asking them to file additional tax-related paperwork.

On top of the direct payments, we’ve also broadly expanded Medicare’s telehealth services, so seniors can access more care and health services from the comfort of their own homes. Again, with the social distancing guidelines, doctor’s appointments and health care look a little different for folks, so we knew it was important to expand this coverage right now.

I also joined Democrats and Republicans in urging federal agencies to remove any barriers that Iowa’s seniors may face in accessing physician-administered Medicare Part B medications in the home setting. I believe it’s vital that we act right now to ensure that Iowans, particularly those at the highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19, can receive the care and medications that they need in the safest setting possible. I also helped ensure that Medicare Part D plans are required to provide up to a 90-day supply of prescription medication if a senior makes the request during this pandemic.

In addition, in these relief packages, we secured free coverage of a future COVID-19 vaccine for all Iowans, including seniors. We’ve also bolstered the Aging and Disability Services Programs, which support senior nutrition, home-delivered meals, community-based services, and family caregivers. As someone who comes from a rural Southwest Iowa town, I can tell you how vitally important these meals services are to our senior community, so I’m so glad that folks will continue to receive these critical services. We also provided tens of millions in support for development of housing for low-income seniors.

But that’s not all. During this pandemic we’ve unfortunately seen some appalling and disgusting attempts by scammers to take advantage of our seniors. Reports have come out of criminals, right here in Iowa, purposely trying to trick folks into buying a phony vaccination for COVID-19 – when we know that one doesn’t exist yet. When I heard about this, I immediately called for a crackdown on these criminals and to make more information available for Iowa’s elderly and vulnerable communities about how they can protect themselves against this kind of fraud.

Folks, this really is an all-hands-on-deck effort to make sure our fellow Iowans not only stay safe and healthy, but get the economic relief and security they need. As we continue to work through this pandemic, I want you to know that I’m here to help. My staff and I want to make sure Iowans are getting access to the information and resources they need. So, as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out or go to my website—at www.ernst.senate.gov—for more information about the resources available to you.

These are trying times, but—like every challenge Iowans have faced before—we will get it through it together. To my fellow Iowans of all ages, stay safe and stay strong.

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