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U.S. Sen. Rob Portman: Tackling 2020’s challenges

I think we are all ready for 2020 to be over. It’s been a tough year.

The health care and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have changed so much of our lives, and too many Ohioans have lost their jobs, their businesses or their loved ones to this disease. The good news is that the vaccines are coming and I am hopeful they will soon help us turn the corner in this pandemic.

During a challenging year, I have kept my focus on delivering for Ohio, and we’ve had a lot of success in getting things done. Back in March, I helped negotiate the bipartisan CARES Act that was our first major legislation to respond to the pandemic. It helped Ohio workers, families, small businesses and health professionals on the frontlines of this crisis.

Many of the provisions of the CARES Act ended in the summer, while the pandemic did not.

Instead, the virus continued to spread and, as the election approached, partisan gridlock seemed to take over in Washington. Since the summer, I have consistently advocated for breaking through the partisanship and providing needed funding for vaccine development and distribution, and targeted help for our families, small businesses, health care providers, schools, local governments and others as they navigated the challenges of COVID-19. I gave more than 20 speeches on the Senate floor laying out a targeted approach, and joined a bipartisan group of five Republicans and five Democrats Senators to draft our own targeted emergency relief COVID-19 legislation.

On dozens of tele-townhalls, Facebook Live events and Zoom calls with Ohio small businesses, health care workers, food banks and others, I heard from Ohioans about what they needed. And I joined a clinical trial for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine to do my part to help collect information on vaccines and to raise awareness about the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines now being authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

Just before Christmas, after months of stalled progress, Congress finally passed the COVID-19 emergency legislation, using as a basis our bipartisan proposal. It passed the Senate with an overwhelming 91-7 vote. I am proud to have been involved in the effort to bring both parties together to focus on where we had common ground, rather than taking partisan positions that had gotten us nowhere for months. The new law is already getting targeted aid out to those who need it most, including struggling small businesses, the unemployed and our overworked frontline health care workers. It also provides a needed boost to vaccine development and distribution that is so critical to getting us back to a more normal life.

While responding to this unprecedented pandemic has been my number one priority in the Senate, I am pleased that this year we were able to achieve a number of other significant wins for Ohio. In the summer, after years of work, my bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act was signed into law. This landmark conservation legislation will help us finally address the nearly $12 billion backlog in long-delayed maintenance projects at the National Park Service, including more than $100 million in needed repairs at Ohio’s eight national park sites, while also supporting more than 100,000 jobs over the next five years.

In addition, in this year’s national defense bill, I successfully fought for critical funding for Ohio defense installations, including Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton and the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima. I also continued my efforts to respond to the addiction epidemic that has hit Ohio communities hard during this pandemic, securing $96 million in federal grants for Ohio’s efforts to address the opioid crisis. And my legislation to strengthen the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program was finally signed into law, allowing us to better protect our nonprofits and faith-based organizations, including synagogues and churches, from the rising wave of hate-fueled attacks. In total, 10 of my bills have been signed into law in 2020 so far, on a wide range of issues important to Ohio.

(…)Next year, we will continue our work to respond to this unprecedented health care and economic crisis, and I will keep working to find bipartisan solutions to move Ohio and out country forward.

Rob Portman is a Republican and the junior U.S. senator for Ohio. His website is www.portman,senate.gov.