Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For Any Coronavirus Response Bill To Address The Public Health Crisis & Put Workers First; Schumer Also Discussed Call With POTUS & How Sen. McConnell’s Proposal Is Insufficient

March 20, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor, urging that any Senate legislation to address the coronavirus outbreak addresses the public health needs of Americans and puts workers first. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The coronavirus continues to challenge our nation in extraordinary ways that were unimaginable a few weeks ago. Our public health systems are coming under enormous strain. Our hospitals and other medical facilities lack the necessary supplies and resources. And, as measures to isolate the public broaden, workers are filing for unemployment at unprecedented rates, small businesses are on the brink of collapse. American families are desperately in need of support until they can resume their normal lives.

And I've heard from these people, the people who are isolated. I've heard from people who have sick loved ones in nursing homes and can't enter to see them. I've heard from small business people, who struggle their whole life to build a small business and finally it looks like it's beginning to succeed—and they may be wiped out. The urgency of doing something now is so, so, so important. 

Both parties in Congress must work together, as swiftly as possible, to get something done that is as big and bold as possible. This is one of the worst crises America has faced. The American people need help fast.

Leader McConnell has proposed what is now the third phase of legislation to confront the coronavirus. We are all eager to work in a bipartisan way to quickly get another bill to the president’s desk, but at the moment the McConnell bill is inadequate.

Leader McConnell’s proposal does not do nearly enough to address the public health crisis, in terms of hospitals, medical supplies, , beds, doctors, nurses—measures to ensure Americans can access and afford coronavirus treatment. The bottom line is very simple: if we don't deal with the health crisis, nothing we do will make the economy any better. So it's number one. 

We have to help our hospitals. It's not anywhere in the bill: help for our hospitals. Many small ones are going to close. Rural ones will close. Big ones will have real trouble. We must do something, and yet there is nothing in Leader McConnell’s bill to help hospitals. 

Now we're told we may do it in a supplemental later. Later is no good. We need a Marshall Plan for hospitals right now, and we need local governments that are also on the front lines to get dollars in their pockets. Many of them will go broke. 

Leader McConnell’s proposal is also too skewed in favor of corporations rather than the workers and families who much more urgently and acutely feel the pain of reduced hours or unemployment.

And Leader McConnell’s proposal includes a few ideas that should not be included at all, such as tax cuts for multinational corporations and restrictions on paid sick leave that Congress just expanded.

This morning, Democratic ranking members of six committees met with the Republican chairs of the corresponding committees to hear the rationale behind the McConnell bill and begin a bipartisan dialogue. Democrats will soon respond with policies we believe must be included in the legislation, and things that we don't think belong in this legislation. 

Our goal is two-fold: address the public health crisis and put workers first. As we do it, Democrats want to do as much as possible to prepare our health care system for the growing storm it faces, and we want to help the working Americans who are most immediately affected by the economic slowdown—and help them in real and significant ways. 

In that respect, Democrats have five important priorities that I'll speak about now, among others. We have many other priorities as well and we are sending all of our priorities over to the Republicans soon enough.

Americans need a Marshall Plan, number one.  America needs a Marshall Plan for hospitals and our public health infrastructure. In a few weeks hospitals could be overrun with patients and there is still a great shortage of gloves and masks, ICU beds and ventilators, even and especially testing. To cite just one example, the two biggest hospitals in Albany—Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s Health Partners—have announced they are suspending testing in order to conserve the few they have for health care workers and high risk patients. Access to tests continues to be a problem in other places in my state as well.

And there's a great shortage of equipment. The story that rings in my ear is that certain places that have the tests don't have the swabs so they can undertake the tests. We're short of supplies up and down the line: it's masks, it's protective clothing and gear, it's beds and it's doctors and nurses themselves. We have to do more. 

We need a Marshall Plan right now for our health care system. Two weeks ago, three, four weeks ago, many of us were talking about the problem of testing, the lack of good testing was about to occur. Many of us said three weeks ago, four weeks ago  that if we don't have these tests, everything is going to go down the drain.  No one listened—at least no one in the administration—until recently. 

Well, we are saying now that in two, three weeks, our hospital situation will be the same. It will be massive and deeply, deeply in trouble. That's why we need to act now, not later in a supplemental, but now. 

We also need to dramatically increase unemployment insurance—what we’re calling “employment insurance.” It's really unemployment insurance on steroids, but it keeps people furloughed in their jobs, and so we call it employment insurance. 

And why do we need it? Because so many workers have been forced home and are prevented from working regular hours. You work in a restaurant and if there are no customers, you're not going to work. Your boss who you've worked for and worked so well with for years can't afford to pay you. To go on existing unemployment insurance won't work.  It's hard to access. It doesn't cover a whole lot of people. And furthermore, it does not pay back workers at the full wages they were earning. We need to change all three of those things so that, one, every worker who is unemployed gets a paycheck equal to what they were earning before this, paid for by the federal government. That way, the business—small, medium, large—can put them on furlough. And then when the crisis is over, they're back, but there's money in their pockets. 

No worker, no family, no one—should lose a paycheck or go into financial ruin as a result of the coronavirus.

This is a very important provision. I talk to people all across my state and the country. When they hear about it, they love it. It's not giving money to everybody. There are some people who, thank God, they're still employed. But there are many, many who have lost their jobs, and one check—when they may be out of their jobs for three, four, five months—isn't going to be enough. 

Unemployment insurance gives money for the whole period of time the crisis exists, at your present salary level and it covers just about everyone. It makes the most sense of any program that I've heard in dealing with those who are losing their jobs and in terms of dealing with stimulating the economy, because we'll bring the economy back to where it was. All these unemployed people will be getting paid the same amount of money. 

Now, third, paid sick leave is also a must. We need to be expanding paid sick leave, not restricting it as this current proposal suggests. Senators Murray and Gillibrand are working in conjunction with their colleague Congresswoman DeLauro in the House, who put together a good bill. It should be in this big proposal. 

Fourth, we need to put our workers first. If we are going to consider bailing out industries, they cannot then be allowed to turn around and cut jobs, cut wages, cut benefits. They cannot be allowed to use the money for stock buybacks, they cannot be allowed to give salary increases to executives. Phase three needs to put workers first, period—these are our values.

And finally, we need to rescue small businesses. Many of them have been asked to close their doors for the sake of public safety. We need to help businesses access the necessary liquidity to pay their insurance bills, to pay their rent or mortgages, to pay their expenses, so that when this crisis ends, they can rebound stronger than ever.

Democratic ranking members are already discussing these priorities with their Republican counterparts.

And of course, there are other priorities as well. It would take too long to highlight all of them, but they’re all in a white paper we have sent to Leader McConnell and to the Republican chairs. And in almost all the cases, Democrats have already prepared and drafted the legislative language on these priorities. We are ready to go.

About two hours ago, I spoke with President Trump about the five priorities.  I mentioned them all, and President Trump told me he was open to these ideas. In fact, the president explicitly told me he would oppose companies using bailout money on buybacks, even though such a prohibition is not in McConnell’s bill.

I also urged the President to immediately employ the Defense Production Act and harness industry to get ventilators and other critically needed medical equipment to those who need it. He told me he would do so and then, saying it to someone who must have been in the Oval Office or wherever he was, get it done.

So I think we are on the road, because we can’t waste a day in terms of getting the DPA going.  Congress will make whatever resources are needed available to the Department of Defense very quickly.

More broadly, I told the President we need to come together and cooperate in this time of national crisis, and he agreed. We need to work with uncommon speed and make this next bill what it needs to be. We need it to be workers first, with a Marshall Plan for hospitals.  Democrats are already at work with our Republican colleagues to get this done.

Now it has been twenty days since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in New York. Today, 20 days later, 7,000 cases, more than a third of the total number in our country. In a time of public emergency, New Yorkers have been asked to make extraordinary sacrifices. The Governor has just mandated that, excepting essential services, 100% of New York’s workforce must stay home. The city that never sleeps is, for the moment, dormant.

To all of my fellow New Yorkers: stay strong. We will beat this back, and on the other side, we will come back stronger.

To the thousands of New Yorkers and more across the country who have volunteered to join our medical reserves to help sick patients: thank you, God bless you. The nation owes a debt for your courage and willingness to answer the call to serve.

Our medical workers are already performing a herculean task. It will only get more daunting in the days to come. But know this, workers: the country is with you. We support you, we respect you, we love you. And we are already working on policies that will ease your burden, as much as that can be achieved.

And finally, to my Senate colleagues: What we must do in the next few days is unlike anything any of us has done in our time in Congress. This is a crisis without modern precedent. We are going to have to flex some muscles that may have atrophied. We are going to have to cooperate in ways that we may not be accustomed to. We are going to have to work across the aisle and across the span of this Capitol to produce momentous legislation in the span of a few days.

We will do it because we must do it.

The American people are suffering. Our businesses are shuttered. Our factories lie idle. Our workers are without work. Let us come together and do what’s necessary to protect the American people in this time of historic challenge.

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