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Mitt Romney among 10 senators offering alternative relief package in letter to Biden

Utah reports 1,194 new cases, 2 deaths on Sunday

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, questions Homeland Security Secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Joshua Roberts via Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and nine other Republican senators are proposing an alternative COVID-19 relief package, hoping to get bipartisan support.

“In the spirit of bipartisanship and unity, we have developed a COVID-19 relief framework that builds on prior COVID assistance laws, all of which passed with bipartisan support,” the senators wrote in a Sunday letter to President Joe Biden.

“Our proposal reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe that this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support. We request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss our proposal in greater detail and how we can work together to meet the needs of the American people during this persistent pandemic.”

Also Sunday, the Utah Department of Health reported another 1,194 new COVID-19 cases in the state on Sunday, along with two new deaths.

While the GOP senators’ plan will be released in more detail on Monday, they support continued focus on vaccine development and distribution, testing and tracking the virus, treatment and supplies, including more widely available personal protective equipment. It includes the $160 billion proposal by Biden to enhance the United States’ capabilities and support health care workers dealing with COVID-19 on the front lines; as well as $4 billion to bolster behavioral health and substance abuse services.

It also includes economic relief “for those Americans with the greatest need,” the letter states. The plan, however, provides “more targeted assistance than in the (Biden) administration’s plan ... for families who need assistance the most.”

Their plan would extend enhanced federal employment benefits and fully fund the president’s request for nutrition assistance to help struggling families. It would provide additional resources for small businesses and child care, which the letter states “is a critical component to getting Americans back to work.”

The Republican senators — including Romney, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Indiana Sen. Todd Young, Kansa Sen. Jerry Moran, South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis — argue that “billions of dollars” from the last $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, as well as CARES Act money allocated last March, has yet to be spent.

“The proposal we have outlined is mindful of these past efforts, while also acknowledging the priorities that need additional support right now,” the letter to the president says.

“With your support, we believe Congress can once again craft a relief package that will provide meaningful, effective assistance to the American people and set us on a path to recovery.”

Late Sunday, the White House reported that Biden “is grateful that Congress is prepared to begin action on the American Rescue Plan in just his second full week in office.” He said he would meet with the signees early in the week “for a full exchange of views,” according to press secretary Jen Psaki.

“With the virus posing a grave threat to the country, and economic conditions grim for so many, the need for action is urgent, and the scale of what must be done is large,” she said.

The American Rescue Plan — including $1,400 relief checks, a substantial investment in fighting COVID and reopening schools, aid to small businesses and hurting families, and funds to keep first responders on the job (and more) — is badly needed. As leading economist have said, the danger now is not in doing too much; it is in doing too little. Americans of parties are looking to their leaders to meet the moment.”

In a joint statement later Sunday, the 10 senators said they were anxious to meet with the president.

“We appreciate the president’s quick response to our letter, and we are pleased to accept his invitation to the White House tomorrow afternoon to discuss the path forward for the sixth bipartisan COVID-19 relief package,” the group said.

1,194 new Utah cases reported Sunday

With another 1,194 cases reported Sunday, there have now been 346,624 known cases of the disease resulting from the novel coronavirus in Utah, as well as 1,665 deaths caused by COVID-19 since it was first detected in the state last March.

The latest report also indicates an even lower percent of positive tests in Utah than was reported on Saturday. The seven-day average percent of positive tests is 16.9%, with a daily average number of 1,464 cases, according to the Utah Department of Health.

The state has administered 310,692 vaccines, including 10,176 since Saturday’s report. It tested another 6,472 people, bringing the total number of people tested in Utah to 2.02 million.

Hospital numbers also dropped again, to 413 who are currently being treated with COVID-19 in Utah hospitals. Throughout the pandemic, Utah hospitals and intensive care units have treated 13,468 COVID-19 patients.

The latest two deaths reported on Sunday include an Iron County woman older than 85 who was hospitalized at the time of her death; and a Weber County man between the ages of 45 and 64 who was not hospitalized.

For more information on Utah’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit coronavirus.utah.gov.