Schumer Floor Remarks On Bipartisan Agreement To Finally Deliver Emergency COVID Relief To the American People

December 20, 2020

Washington, D.C. — Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the bipartisan agreement to finally deliver emergency COVID relief to the American people. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks:

After weeks of intense bipartisan negotiation, the leadership of both chambers, as well as the White House, have reached an agreement on an emergency federal relief package.

The agreement on this package could be summed up by the expression better late than never, although I know many of my Republican colleagues wished it was never. But after a long and arduous year, after a year full of bad news, finally we have some good news to deliver to the American people.

Make no mistake about it: this agreement is far from perfect, but it will deliver emergency relief to a nation in the throes of a genuine emergency. It should have the votes to pass the Senate, the House and reach the President’s desk to become law. We should make that happen as soon as possible. As soon as possible, even tonight, if we can.

By all rights, a bill of this urgency should have passed eight months ago. The country needed it. But we all know what happened: the Republican majority caused more than 8 months of delay and gridlock. 20 members of the Senate majority wanted no money. And when the Republican leader simply forgets – for months he said let's examine the crisis, let's put it on “pause” while Democrats were demanding more action. And then when he produced legislation, it didn't have what was needed and had poison pills, a provision that would give all corporations, no matter how egregious their behavior, immunity. And nothing to help the unemployed; no direct checks. So the idea that this delay was caused by Democrats is Alice-in-Wonderland history. It was caused by a Republican majority that didn't want to vote the monies desperately needed by the American people.

The significance of this package should not be underestimated. We will deliver the second largest federal stimulus in our nation’s history. Only the CARES Act will have been bigger. Only the CARES Act, which I was proud to negotiate with Secretary Mnuchin, in size and scope, this bill will exceed the Recovery Act passed in the aftermath of the financial crisis. And once this federal relief bill is signed into law, Congress will have allocated well over $3 trillion in relief this year alone, and that is a historic figure to match a historic crisis. It will give the new president a boost, a head start as he prepares to right our ailing economy.

The economy is in a deep, deep hole because of President Trump and the Republican Senate's failure to act in a timely manner. But this at least begins us getting the relief the American people need so that when President Biden takes over he can do more and help us dig out of this deep hole. And the good news, too: the poison pills that so stopped any progress put in by the Majority Leader are not in this bill. It won’t include any provision to limit the legal rights of workers who are put in harm’s way, or any provision to gratuitously limit the authority of the Fed.

Now, it’s remarkable how far we’ve come. As I mentioned, earlier this summer, the Republican Leader admitted that twenty members of his caucus didn’t want to vote for another dime in COVID relief. Before negotiating with Democrats, the majority offered a package of $500 billion that contained poison pills designed to doom the thing from the start. That way, Republican Senators wouldn’t be forced to approve any new spending. Here at the end of the year, reason has prevailed, sweet reason, and we’ll now deliver a package of almost a $1 trillion.

And that matters—not for any one party, it matters for the American people. Because we increased the size of this bill, and expanded its reach, more Americans will receive assistance before the holidays.

For Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, this bill will throw out a safety net. Initially, Republicans were ready to let enhanced unemployment benefits expire. They were ready move on without help for renters. They opposed another round of direct payments. Their starting offer for UI and rent relief and direct payments was zero, zero – and zero again.

But the good news that transcends any of the obstacles we faced is that in the final agreement we will extend all three federal unemployment programs created under CARES. We will provide $300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits for the next 10 weeks.

For families struggling to make ends meet, this bill will cushion the blow. A new round of survival checks will soon be on the way: $600 per adult, another $600 for every dependent in the household. Many of us would’ve liked that to be higher. But at least this is the quickest way to get money into the pockets of the American people. Sending their tax dollars right back where they came from. Of course, like I said It’s not as much as many Democrats, and some Republicans, would have liked. And we hope that next year, the same bipartisan support that emerged behind $1,200 stimulus checks will propel even more assistance to working families.

For the first time ever during this pandemic, Congress will provide $25 billion in direct, rental assistance to help reduce the burden on Americans who have fallen behind on the rent. We also extend a moratorium on evictions to give our fellow citizens more time to get back on their feet.  

For small business owners, we’re providing businesses the opportunity to take another draw of the popular Paycheck Protection Program. Crucially, this bill will provide $12 billion for minority owned and very small businesses who struggled to access financing during the earlier rounds of PPP. Local newspapers and local broadcasters will have access to assistance, nonprofits too—I worked very hard to see that that happened. And our nonprofit religious institutions, our churches and our synagogues and our mosques. No collection plate, no income but so vital to social services and so needed during a time of crisis, will once again get the help they need, something that I authored in the CARES bill.

I am especially pleased that this bill will provide money for bars and restaurants, and $15 billion in SBA grants for theatre operators and small venue owners through the Save Our Stages Act. These venues are so important to my state and many states across the country—they are the lifeblood of our communities. They were first to close, and will be the last to open. The bill gives them a fighting chance.

And of course, today’s agreement will give a major boost to our battle against the disease itself. There will be more than $30 billion to support the procurement and distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, ensuring it is free and rapidly distributed to everyone.

Today’s agreement includes all this and more: support for child care, food assistance, agricultural relief, the Postal Service, and funding to help families gain access to broadband.

So, the American people have a great deal to celebrate in this legislation. But of course, the agreement we reached is far from perfect. It leaves out state and local assistance, direct state and local assistance.

Despite desperate pleas from governors, mayors, economists across the spectrum, Republicans stubbornly refused to provide direct aid to state and local governments. Over a million public employees have already lost their jobs. It doesn’t matter if you’re working for a small business and get laid off or if you’re working for a government and get laid off, you still need to feed your family. So why is there such a difference? On this side of the aisle between these same people, flesh and blood, because one works for a government, they don't get help. Because one works for a small business, they do. Both should get help. 

State revenues of course are significantly down significantly across the country, in states red and blue. The continued opposition to state and local funding from Republicans remains deeply irresponsible—it will force states to make painful decisions to cut jobs and potentially raise taxes on working families. And it will hurt the economy of the entire country as millions more of government workers are laid off at a time we're struggling to recover, hurting us all.

Still, Democrats refused to let state and local governments be completely left behind. Today’s agreement does include aid for specific state-level expenses: $82 billion education funding, $27 billion in payments for testing and state health care programs, $45 billion for transit systems. I’m very proud of the fact that New York’s MTA will receive the money it needs to keep going. It is so vital to our city’s economy, and something I worked very hard for.

Make no mistake: these funding sources are not a replacement for direct aid to state and local governments. And we Democrats will continue to fight for those in the New Year. But in this case: a rose by any other name smells not quite as sweet, but at least it brings some relief. State and local governments will receive assistance in a number of different ways.

Now when this chamber gavels back in 2021, we must pick up where we just left off. We’ve given the administration a vital head start, but make no mistake about it, our economy is in a deep, deep, deep hole, in part because of the Trump administration’s lack of policy in fighting the coronavirus. Now we will have to help them. This is a good start, but a lot more needs to be done. We must continue to protect people’s jobs—whether they work for a company or a local government. We must do so much more. And we’ve got to start building, stimulating our economy so it gets out of the hole with things like infrastructure, and wiring every home with broadband, and improving our health care and education systems, and so much more, so much more.

So let me be very clear about one thing: once this deal is signed into law, it cannot be the final word on Congressional relief. There is more to do in the new year, with a new administration that has a much more favorable attitude towards giving the American people the help they need. The bipartisan agreement is simply a down payment. It will establish a floor – not a ceiling – for coronavirus relief in 2021.

Over the course of this challenging year, tens of millions of Americans been pushed close to the breaking point. They have lost their jobs, they have lost their homes, many can’t feed their families, many have lost neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family to this vicious, vicious disease. They have such great pain, a pain we can only distantly empathize with, because it hasn’t happened directly to us here. As the pandemic enters its worst phase, we will continue to be isolated from one another. But behind closed doors, desperation mounts for millions and millions of our fellow Americans.

This bill is for them. For them. To carry them to a brighter day.