U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran addresses Maricopa city staff and other attendees at an infrastructure roundtable last year.

CASA GRANDE — Congress is still working on plans to help businesses and citizens who have been impacted by COVID-19, U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran said in a phone interview last week.

O’Halleran talked with PinalCast, PinalCentral’s podcast, about the latest bills and measures being taken in Congress concerning COVID-19, a bit about the rioting that was taking place after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and proxy voting.

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Subscribers can listen to the entire podcast interview at https://www.pinalcentral.com/pinalcast.___

O’Halleran said the U.S. House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act and sent the bill over to the Senate, which has not passed it.

The bill includes funding for hazardous duty pay for first responders, more money for vaccine and drug research, money for personal protection equipment and funding to extend unemployment checks to the end of the year as well as funding for economic development, Native American tribes and local counties, cities and towns.

The funding for local cities, counties and towns will go directly to those areas instead of passing through the state, he said.

There were also modifications made to the Paycheck Protection Program, he said. The program was designed to lend small businesses enough money to keep employees on their payroll while businesses were closed during the pandemic. The program has been criticized for lending to larger businesses and an application system that has been swamped with requests.

O’Halleran said the bill extends the length of time under which the loan must be paid back to the end of the year and reduces the restriction that at least 75% of the loan must go toward payroll to 40%.

New safeguards have also been put in place to make sure PPP loans go to small businesses that need them and to allow businesses with 10 or fewer employees and the self-employed apply for the loans.

He’s also hoping for a much smoother transition in unemployment funds to Arizona residents since the state has been working on the computer system that accepts applications and distributes the funds.

O’Halleran also said he voted against the idea of proxy voting in the House.

The measure allows representatives to ask another member of the House to cast their vote for them if they are unable to attend a vote in the chamber.

“I think we should be there,” he said. “I understand there are a lot of members who are concerned about their health.”

There are rules to the procedure, O’Halleran said. A member who wants to vote by proxy must find another representative on the floor of the House that is willing to take on the responsibility of being their proxy. Both the member who wants to vote by proxy and the proxy must register the decision with the clerk of the House.

O’Halleran also said he was disappointed in the amount of violence that followed peaceful protests of the death of George Floyd.

The protests are a First Amendment right and a way to get the attention of the government, he said.

“The message is loud and clear,” he said. And Congress is working on bills to address the situations.

“The violence part is totally unacceptable,” he said.

O’Halleran said he believes that the people who were rioting and looting were not part of the peaceful demonstrators and that it was shameful that bad actors were taking advantage of others’ First Amendment rights to protest.