President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meat packing plants and other food processing facilities open amid the coronavirus pandemic, a move he has not taken to secure personal protective equipment despite pleas from lawmakers and essential workers.
Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer has made utilizing the Defense Production Act (DPA) to manufacture PPE a key priority as the federal government continues to work to meet the needs of states, cities and individuals.
“I’ve been calling on the President for weeks to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to order the production of personal protective equipment for frontline workers,” Finkenauer said Tuesday in a statement. “If he’s going to invoke the DPA now for food production facilities, he absolutely should do so for PPE.”
Trump already has put the DPA to work during the pandemic, issuing an order in March to compel General Motors to make ventilators. And early in April, the president signed an executive order to stop N95 masks and other PPE from being exported to foreign countries.
“He’s used it for other things, he could use it for this,” Finkenauer said in an interview with Starting Line. “It’s just unconscionable that he hasn’t. It is something that needs to be done.”
The lack of manufacturing and effectively delivering PPE, such as N95 masks, face shields and gowns, to health care workers and others on the frontlines continues to leave Americans vulnerable to COVID-19.
On April 10, the Iowa Department of Public Health issued a PPE “shortage order,” allowing health care workers to use expired face masks and gowns and reuse protective equipment in order to preserve supplies in anticipation of nationwide shortages.
In the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Wednesday, local health care workers were described as at times wearing “raincoats instead of medical gowns and cloth masks over their scarce N95 masks” as Black Hawk County experiences a surge of positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
At her daily press conference Wednesday morning, Gov. Kim Reynolds assured the public meat packing and food processing workers will be supplied with the PPE necessary to safely do their jobs. Reynolds said she had a phone call scheduled that day with Vice President Mike Pence to discuss how Trump’s executive order will impact Iowa’s plants, several of which have sent home hundreds of sickened workers and are struggling to get employees to show up for work because they fear contracting the virus.
“It is critical infrastructure and they are essential workers. We need to make sure that we can keep them up and running to keep the nation’s food supply flowing,” Reynolds said.
On April 17, Finkenauer sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urging the director to issue “industry-specific guidance” on health and safety regulations for food processors as it already has done for airlines and other transit industries. Letters to the U.S. labor and agriculture departments also asked for updated “and enforceable” safety standards at the plants.
“We are losing friends and neighbors in this congressional district who were just going to work trying to do their jobs and expected that they were being kept safe, and they weren’t,” Finkenauer said.
“That’s something that we’re going to continue to fight to make sure that those regulations are in place, those safety standards are in place, and we won’t let up on that because it’s too important. We’ve got to keep fighting here for folks who need it most and the ones who are even afraid to speak out in the first place because of retaliation. We’ll continue to lift up their voices.”
Finkenauer and fellow Iowa Rep. Dave Loebsack also are co-sponsors of legislation from Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan “to force President Trump” to implement the DPA “and federalize the manufacturing and distribution of scarce in-demand medical supplies in order to cure the inefficiencies of 50 states and thousands of hospitals competing against each other for medical supplies.”
As part of her legislative priorities for Congress’ next coronavirus relief bill, Finkenauer wants forgivable loans to be available for manufacturers who shift their product lines to PPE and are helping fulfill much-needed supply contracts.
“We’re trying multiple things here to increase the protective equipment,” the congresswoman said, “but obviously the one that makes the most sense, especially when it comes to logistics of getting them out to our communities and in a way that is coordinated, is the president using the Defense Production Act.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
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