Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For Big, Bold And Swift Action To Respond To The Health And Economic Crisis Caused By The Coronavirus Pandemic Including Help For Truly Small Businesses And A National, Comprehensive Testing Strategy

May 7, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor to push for a big and bold plan to help Americans through the struggling economy, calling on the Trump administration to immediately and significantly expand coronavirus testing and contact tracing as part of a national, comprehensive testing strategy. Senator Schumer also urged the administration to set aside money being returned by big publicly traded companies to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for lending to truly small businesses, as well as other underserved, rural, minority-owned and women-owned businesses. In addition, Senator Schumer condemned President Trump’s call to repeal the Affordable Care Act amid an ongoing health crisis. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Tomorrow the Bureau of Labor Statistics will publish its monthly jobs report for April. Some experts are projecting that it could show well over 20 million job losses in the past four weeks. The preliminary report today suggests there will be over 30 million newly unemployed Americans over the past seven weeks. That's a tenth. One out of ten people losing their job. A tenth of the population.

We are looking at what seems to be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Small businesses have shuttered. Some larger businesses have filed for bankruptcy. Millions of workers, through no fault of their own, are being laid off or furloughed and losing their paychecks; they are worried about keeping their homes, feeding their kids, accessing health care. Once this crisis is over, we can’t snap our fingers and have everything return to normal. 20-30 million newly employed Americans won’t immediately return to their old jobs—hopefully many can, but many jobs just won’t be there.

This disease has washed over our nation like a flood. Once the waters have receded, there will be a great deal of damage left in its wake.

We need a big, bold answer to this. We need to marshal a broader spirit of action. The American people need an active and engaged and forceful government to lift them up and carry them through these dark times. 

Speaker Pelosi and I are working on a big, bold plan that will deal with the magnitude of the problem.

So I am appalled that Republican Congressional leaders and President Trump are saying that we should delay more assistance to the American people. A week ago, Republican leader, Leader McConnell, said that we need “to push the pause button.”

Tell that to someone who's losing their job. Tell that to someone who has worked so hard to create a small business over decades and sees it falling apart. Tell that to the family who has a member that's sick with COVID, or something else, and can't get adequate health care. To say that we should wait and see what's happening, as Leader McConnell has said—that maybe we don't need to do anything more—is ignoring what's going on around us.

Over 30 million unemployed and certain Republican leaders are saying let’s hit the pause button on future government support. The Republican leader of this chamber called us back into session, despite the obvious health risks, not to consider new relief or respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, but to process nominations. He has been coming to the floor to draw lines in the sand, pledging not to support another emergency relief bill unless it extends legal immunity to big corporations.

Today he gave a very long speech on national security. Now, that's very important, but the number one immediate crisis facing us is COVID-19. And this speaks as sort of a metaphor for what Senate Republicans are doing this week on COVID: virtually nothing. Senator Cardin and I, and Senator Shaheen, went to the floor and simply asked for a simple bill to pass that would require accountability in PPP, and it was blocked by the majority. So this is just amazing.

There has been large support in Congress to stabilize the big financial markets, support larger industries, and keep capital markets from crashing. There will be $4 trillion available when the Fed and Treasury are through with it. We must do the same, if not more, to help average people: workers, families. The contrast is glaring. The contrast is glaring. Larger companies know they have a floor. The big markets know they have a floor. But an unemployed worker has no floor until we do things for them, like we did with pandemic unemployment insurance. There are many more people—average Americans—who need the same kind of help, a greater degree of help, a different kind of help, and many of these average folks are in worse shape.

Democrats have strived to make as much of our congressional relief effort flow to workers and average American families as possible. It’s still not enough. State and local governments, which employ teachers and firefighters and police officers and bus drivers, who might be laid off, still need help. Our essential workers deserve hazard pay. Minority-owned and women-owned businesses still need more access to lending. Renters and homeowners need relief.  And millions of working people need enhanced nutrition benefits. Thousands and thousands of people are overwhelming our local food banks.

But now that assistance to big industries has gone out the door, Republican leaders are saying let's wait and see. The unemployed worker doesn't want to wait and see; the small business that might go under doesn't want to wait and see; the mom or dad who needs to feed their hungry children does not want to wait and see like our Republican leaders seem to be. Now is not the time to wait and see. Now is the time to move forward.

Our history is replete with examples of what happens when the federal government doesn’t rise to the occasion in a time of national emergency. In the early days of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover was reluctant to use national resources to combat a national crisis. His failure to act contributed to the length and severity of the depression. If our Republican colleagues, if President Trump, respond with the same timidity of President Hoover did, I fear the nation could suffer the same consequences as it did in the past, and many economists agree.

If we do nothing more, like some of our Republican colleagues, seem to feel we should, a good number of economists believe we will have our Second Great Depression. Hervert Hoover redux, on the Republican side, if President Trump and Leader McConnell say “let's wait and see.”

Republicans weren’t worried about the deficit when we spent billions to keep their businesses from folding, but all of the sudden are worried about it when we’re talking about families keeping the roofs over their head and putting food on the table? We need a fourth congressional relief bill that mirrors the size and ambition of our previous relief efforts. Working people, truly small businesses, are taking the blunt effects of this crisis on the chin, and we cannot, cannot and must not leave them behind.

Now, there are plenty of things that the federal government can do in the interim, even before another round of legislation in Congress. I want to mention one idea this morning, there are many more.

Several big, publicly-traded companies that received small business loans have started sheepishly returning the money to the Treasury Department. Rightly so. Many have much greater access to other capital than true small businesses and they shouldn’t crowd out lending of those small businesses that truly need it. Secretary Mnuchin has told me that roughly $10 billion in loans have been paid off or returned by these large companies.

$10 billion happens to be the same amount of money we’ve asked the Treasury Department to set aside exclusively for lending by community development financial institutions and minority depository institutions.

So this morning I’d like to urge the Treasury Department to immediately set aside the money being returned by big publicly traded companies in the PPP for loans to businesses that are truly small, the very small businesses with under 10 employees, and other underserved, rural, minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

Too many big companies rushed in to secure small business lending in the early days of the PPP program while smaller businesses were shut out. The administration should have been far more careful about who got the lending and should have put out stronger guidance to the banks in the early days—something I believe they were trying, they are trying, to correct now. We can begin to right those disparities if Treasury would simply re-direct the returned loans to truly small and underserved businesses using community-based lenders. I hope Secretary Mnuchin will agree to this.

Another issue that cannot wait for another bill, of course, is testing. Testing is the key to finally defeating this disease and it's the key to safely re-opening the country.

President Trump promised on March 6th, his words, “anybody that wants a test can get a test.”

That was President Trump two months ago. It is still not even close to being true. President Trump seems to think by saying something, it happens. By saying it's a hoax, he thinks it was a hoax. By saying it's going to go away, he thinks it will go away. This COVID virus does not listen to President Trump's cheery and false words, unfortunately.

President Trump, when it comes to testing, what is the plan? Where are the tests?

Countries like South Korea and Germany, New Zealand and Australia were able to flatten the curve much more quickly than we have by rigorously testing their populations, contact tracing, and isolating confirmed cases. But as the coronavirus spread initially, unfortunately the U.S. lagged far behind these other countries.

Some experts believe we need to have at least 2 million tests a day. Today, we are testing less than 300,000. For the administration to pressure states and businesses to re-open without a plan for a dramatic increase in testing is like sending them out the door with a blindfold on. It’s dangerous.

Congress has required the administration to produce a national strategy on testing by May 24th. Instead of wasting energy praising his own performance, lashing out at supposed enemies, the president should roll up his sleeves and get to work on testing. The patience of the American people is wearing very, very thin.