Saturday, September 19, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 29

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 12th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 24 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 24

California representatives ask Congress to pass HEROES Act with Bureau of Prisons funding

By Malea Martin

It’s been nearly three months since the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, a $3 trillion stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact.

U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara), along with Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, wrote a letter to congressional leaders asking that they work swiftly to finalize the HEROES Act and include funding appropriated for the Bureau of Prisons.

But this aid can’t be delivered until the HEROES Act also passes through the Senate, a process that U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) believes isn’t happening fast enough. 

Carbajal, along with California U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, wrote a letter on Aug. 10 to majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate to ask that they “expeditiously finalize the COVID-19 emergency response package and include critical assistance for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to respond to the ongoing pandemic.”

The HEROES Act, as passed by the House, would appropriate $200 million for the BOP to address COVID-19 within its institutions, particularly those experiencing or recovering from virus outbreaks. One of those prisons is the Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution, which had nearly a 77 percent COVID-19 positivity rate among its inmates in May. 

“[The funding] would be comprehensive to address the challenge of this pandemic throughout the prison system,” Carbajal told the Sun. “Certainly Lompoc is one of the most challenged institutions in the system, so they would definitely be one of the institutions that would receive funding.”

Carbajal said the funding would support testing, protective equipment, and “everything that is needed to help the prison system better handle and address this COVID-19 emergency.” 

A key concern raised in the Aug. 10 letter is the BOP’s inconsistency in conducting universal COVID-19 testing of its inmates, particularly at institutions with large outbreaks. At the Lompoc institutions, for example, the correctional institution received universal testing—after which the positivity rate skyrocketed—but the nearby U.S. Penitentiary never implemented universal testing. 

The letter also points out that Lompoc prison staff were not provided with on-site testing, which increases the chances of community spread outside of the prison. The letter references findings from an investigative report conducted by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

“While the BOP has not communicated plans to provide testing for their staff on-site, the OIG report highlights that only 53 of 416 staff members at Lompoc [Federal Correction Complex] were tested for COVID-19 in May,” the letter stated. “Of those that were tested, approximately 60 percent tested positive.”

For these reasons, Carbajal said, the swift passing of the HEROES Act is critical—not just for the prison system, but for any American affected by COVID-19. 

“The House [has] been waiting for three months to negotiate the HEROES Act, and the Senate just a week ago decided that they would step up to the table to negotiate,” Carbajal said. “We need to pass an economic relief package to address the needs of workers, unemployment, businesses, families, local governments. … This is not a game. We need to get this done right away.” 

Weekly Poll
Should the county Public Health Department help elementary schools apply for the state’s waiver program?

Yes, that’s what the department is there for.
Schools shouldn’t open at all right now, nevermind with the county’s help.
If the state thinks schools are ready, what’s the problem?
Schools should have to fend for themselves; it shows whether they’re ready to handle reopening.

| Poll Results

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