Schumer Floor Remarks Announcing Interim Coronavirus Legislation That Invests In Needed Testing, Delivers For Our Hospitals And Expands And Protects Small Business FundingApril 21, 2020
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor, announcing the interim coronavirus legislation that invests in desperately-needed testing and supports and protects hospitals and small businesses. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
In the month since I last addressed this chamber, life for nearly every American has been upended. Stay-at-home orders have swept across the country. The monthly toll of new unemployment claims are measured in the millions. Our health system has been strained to the breaking point. American workers and businesses are suffering financial hardship not seen since the Great Recession. Almost 800,000 of our fellow citizens have tested positive for COVID-19. And most heartbreakingly, America has lost more than 37,000 precious lives to this Coronavirus, many, many of them New Yorkers.
Over the past two months, the Senate has come together on three occasions to pass legislation in response to this multifaceted crisis—to rescue our ailing health system, to cushion the blow to American workers and businesses, and prepare our country for a more prosperous future on the other side of this pandemic.
Our last legislative effort, the CARES Act, was unprecedented in size and in scope, the largest stimulus in American history. Remarkably, on such a large and complex bill, the Senate came together 96-0 to pass this crucial emergency relief, getting ayes from Sen. Sanders, to Sen. Cruz, and everyone in between.
It shows that even with the partisanship here—as tough and harsh as it can be—we can come together unanimously in times of crisis.
And still, the depth of the crisis we now face meant that funding for certain programs in the bill has already been depleted, and a number of required fixes had to be made to make sure these programs work as intended. An interim bill, COVID 3.5, is necessary.
My friend the Republican Leader tried to bypass negotiations on such an interim measure. He tried to jam through a bill that would have increased funding for one small business lending program but not others, when they were all running out of funding. His proposal did not attempt to fix the dire lack of lending to small business that are truly small, unbanked, underserved, minority or woman-owned. And his proposal included nothing at all for our health care system, nothing to address the national shortage in testing, nothing to help state, local, or tribal governments who are breaking their budgets to fight this disease.
All of us want to help our small businesses—all of us—but this emergency demands we take action on many fronts. So we have spent the last week negotiating with the administration—Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, Chief of Staff Meadows, as well as Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats with us the Senate Democrats—to improve the legislation. We reached a final agreement earlier today.
Now, there are plenty of disagreements between our parties these days, but once again we are coming together to pass this legislation by unanimous consent—not a single Senator objecting.
I want to thank Secretary Mnuchin—I spent hours and hours with him at all hours of the day. I want to thank someone I didn’t know very well—Chief of Staff Meadows—who is very good at making sure an agreement can come to fruition even in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, I want to thank my dear friend and partner Speaker Pelosi. And I want to thank Leaders McConnell and McCarthy who at the end of the day did not let partisan disagreement stand in the way of doing what’s right for this country.
Again, just like the CARES Act, the hard work of bipartisan negotiation paid off. The fact that Democrats said, ‘you need to talk to us, not try to steamroll us,’ once again made a huge, and positive difference.
This legislation is significantly better and broader than the initial proposal offered by the Republican Leader.
Republicans asked us to funnel more money into a program that wasn’t working the way it should. We negotiated a bill that not only provided support, but made it more effective, more inclusive, and addressed other urgent national priorities as well.
The legislation before us now contains 220 billion more dollars, including new funding for small businesses through community financial institutions, new funding for our hospitals and health care system, and a substantial down-payment on a national testing regime so desperately needed and asked for by one and all.
Let me repeat that: the legislation now includes an additional $220 billion: $120 billion for small businesses, $100 billion for our health care system, divided among health care providers and a need for testing and contact-tracing.
The new money includes $50 billion in additional emergency small business loans and $10 billion in additional business grants.
That includes $60 billion in new funding specifically set aside for small lenders. If you don’t know a banker, if you’re not a relatively large-sized company, you were left out. Two out of three loan requests in New York were ignored, by the mom and pops, the small businesses, the restaurants and the barber shops, the hardware stores, the butchers, and small start-ups—both servicing and manufacturing. They couldn’t get in. Now they will, because of our work.
Our bill will help rural small businesses, minority small businesses, women-owned businesses get the money they need. I believe every member of our caucus heard from businesses in their states who could not access federal lending because they didn’t have a prior relationship with a big bank.
So what we have done is set aside lending for smaller, community-based lenders, and dedicated half of that new funding—$30 billion—to Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions. We insisted that this money be separate from the competition with the bigger companies, so that mom and pop stores, restaurants, nail salons, start-ups, and minority-owned businesses can get some access.
Unlike Leader McConnell’s proposal, this bill also includes $100 billion in new money to fight the coronavirus itself. We're not going to cure the economic problem unless we can cure the health problem. We can give loans to small businesses, but if there are no customers walking the streets to go into their stores, what good is that? So we insisted that $75 billion go to our hospitals. Our hospitals are going under water. Certainly, the big ones in cities like mine that have been an epicenter of Covid-19, but smaller hospitals in rural areas. Talk to our rural representatives: they are telling you their hospitals might go under. And medium-sized hospitals in New York State, St. Joe's in Syracuse, St. Peter's in Albany—each laid off 700 people this week. They're going to get help because of what we did.
The experts are clear: to fight this disease, and re-open the economy safely, we need to dramatically—dramatically—expand testing capacity and frequency. We don't have enough tests. That cry rings from one end of America to the other—urban, suburban, rural, North, East, South, and West: we don't have enough tests.
Well, now help is on the way because Democrats stood and fought for it: $25 billion—$11 billion to go to the states to help them test and do the contract tracing they need, money to help create a manufacturing and supply chain that will have adequate tests—and adequate supplies for those tests—so we can finally get them going. We need them desperately.
One of the last provisions secured in these negotiations at midnight last night was a requirement that the administration report on a national strategic testing plan--on how it plans to increase domestic testing capacity, testing supplies, and the disparities in all communities.
Thus far, unfortunately, the administration has refused to accept responsibility for the sorry state of testing in our country. Under this agreement, the Trump Administration will now at last be required to report on what its national testing plan actually looks like.
Congress has provided the start-up funds for a national testing program. It is now up to the Administration to prepare a national testing strategy, and implement those funds to proper effect before it is too late.
Of course, this bill is not perfect.
I am sorely disappointed that Republicans refused to work with us to strengthen food assistance.
I am sorely disappointed that Republicans turned a deaf ear to governors, mayors, tribal leaders, and county and local officials, Democratic and Republican, all 50 governors, who have been pleading with the federal government for more help.
And it's not about abstract government. I know we don't like government on the other side of the aisle. It's about policemen, firefighters, bus drivers, hospital workers. They're being laid off because the local governments and the state governments are starving and not getting their revenues. We fought and fought, but unfortunately on the other side of the aisle they resisted. I hope they won't resist in COVID4 where we're going to need a large, large amount of money to help our localities so police officers and bus drivers aren't laid off. Republicans need to come to the table and work with us to give our states the help they need. They should be eager to do it!
Secretary Mnuchin committed and the president tweeted today that they will support state and local funding in the next round of relief legislation, as well as a—and this is very important—a provision providing the flexibility to use all past and future relief dollars to offset lost revenue. The president signaled his support for this concept as well in a tweet this morning. We should’ve passed support for state and local governments. Democrats will see that it gets done in the next package.
Now finally, I’d remind my colleagues: this is an interim measure. There’s plenty of hard-won provisions that we Democrats are pleased with, but it is ultimately a building block.
In the weeks ahead, Congress must prepare another major bill, similar in size and ambition to the CARES Act. The next bill must be big, bold, and suited to the needs of a beleaguered country.
States, localities, and tribal governments need support. So does the Postal Service. Working Americans need rental assistance. Frontline workers deserve hazard pay: and not just doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical workers, but truck drivers, grocery store clerks, police officers, firefighters, and more.
And we must make sure that our elections this fall are conducted fairly, that states have enough money to run them properly, and that every American can exercise his or her constitutional franchise safely and confidently. This is a COVID-related issue.
So those issues and more will be priorities for the Senate Democratic caucus in the next bill.
Yes, it has been a long few months for the American people—but even now, there are signs that the sacrifices of the American people are beginning to slow the spread of this disease. We are a long way from the end, but this, too, will pass.
Until the day when we can begin to return to normal, it is up to Congress and the entire federal government, to deliver the leadership and resources that only we can provide.
The private sector will not provide the aid our nation requires. The efforts of individual states or individual citizens—heroic as they are—will not be enough, and we dare not abandon them in these dark times. The American people need their government. They need their government to act strongly, boldly, and wisely.
Let us do what we were elected to do and pass this bill today.