Schumer Outlines Senate Democrats’ Priorities For Third Coronavirus Response Legislation; Says Any Economic Stimulus Bill Must Put Workers First

March 19, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor, outlining Senate Democrats’ priorities for a third coronavirus response package and demanding that any plan puts American workers first. Senator Schumer also detailed the need for a “Marshall Plan” for our public health system to put workers first in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

In the space of less than twenty-four hours yesterday, the number of coronavirus cases in my home state of New York more than doubled. The spread of the virus has been rapid consequences, severe. The coronavirus is slowing our economy to a near-standstill, promoting widespread layoffs and the likelihood of a deep recession that will be felt painfully in households from coast to coast, from New York to California, and every other state.

We are living in a time of public emergency: in our health care system, our economy, and indeed, in our society itself. Separated from one another, we are going to have to pull together in spirit. The American people must sacrifice their routines. They don't want to, but we have no choice if we want to stay healthy and arrest the spread of the disease. And our healthcare workers, every day, are being asked to perform daunting and heroic tasks, for which we are all, already, in their debt.

The anxiety, fear, and confusion that New Yorkers and Americans feel today is palpable, but I would remind them that there has never been a challenge too great for our country to overcome. I remember the dark days after 9/11, so many were prepared to write New York City off the map. They said it would never come back. But we did come back, stronger and more resilient than we were before.

So many were prepared to write New York City off the map. They said no one will live or do business in the southern part of Manhattan. They said the whole city and its suburbs would never come back. But we do did come back. Stronger, more resilient than we ever were before. We can and we will do it again—in New York and throughout the nation.

But we must act urgently and boldly now during what may still be the early days of this crisis.

Regarding the business before the Senate right now: yesterday, we passed the second phase of legislation to respond to the coronavirus, which included important provisions to extend paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, and provide free—free—no co-pays, no deductibles—coronavirus testing. Free coronavirus testing for all Americans.

That bill was a first step, I’m glad it is now done. I'm glad it got support from both sides of the aisle. I believe 90 votes on passage and the aid will begin to flow.

Now Leader McConnell has just outlined and will soon announce plans of what Senate Republicans believe should be included in the third phase of legislation to confront the coronavirus. We are ready and eager to look at what Republicans put together and to work with them to put together a bipartisan project. But we believe that any proposal that emerges—and it will be bipartisan—that it must be a “Workers First” proposal.

Workers First. That's our motto in what we're proposing. That means help for all workers: service workers, industry workers, factory workers, office tower workers, small business workers, gig workers, freelancers, bartenders, retail workers, airline attendants and so many more.

We owe a great deal of gratitude to the working people of America, whether they be blue collar or white collar, whether they work in high office towers, on the farms, or in a local drugstore. Those who clean our buildings and streets, those who are still working to collect the garbage and keep the power on and, of course, our health care workers who are risking everything to keep the rest of us safe. Workers first: that is the motto that I have—and I believe Speaker Pelosi—has as well, as we Democrats seek input into the joint bipartisan package that will be put together.

Our goal is to make sure no one—no worker, no family, no one—loses a paycheck or goes into financial ruin as a result of the coronavirus. And that will take strong, bold, immediate action. That's why we must work so quickly—but carefully as well—to put together a bipartisan package. I spoke with Secretary Mnuchin several times. I think he is of that view. I have heard Leader McConnell has said he will sit down with our democratic senators to come up with a bipartisan package. That's what we must do.

And so let me outline a few of our priorities:

First, if there is going to be a bailout of any sort for industry, worker priorities and worker protections must be included. Corporations should not get a bailout and then be allowed to fire employees or cut their salaries, cut their benefits.

The airline industry just spent billions and billions in stock buybacks in the last two years—liquidity that would come in handy at a time like this. If there is a bailout, there needs to be conditions to make sure the interests of labor are given priority, that corporations can’t buy back stock, reward executives, or lay off workers.

We cannot repeat the mistake that was made in 2008 where the big boys and big girls benefited and no one else did. Workers first.

Second, Phase 3 must include a massive infusion of resources for our health care system, for hospitals and medical supplies. America needs a Marshall Plan for public health infrastructure. In the wake of WWII, America helped rebuild a continent. Right now, we need to rebuild our health infrastructure, on a continental scale. We need a Marshall plan for our health care system.

Without a massive commitment from this Congress, our health care system will not be able to handle this crisis. There are not enough workers, not enough supplies, not enough beds, not enough state and local funding. There is a major concern that as this virus spreads that countless Americans will not be able to access or afford treatment if they get the coronavirus.

It goes from the very big—we need lots of ventilators—to the smaller: one hospital in New York told me yesterday that they didn’t have enough nasal swabs to conduct the coronavirus test. Health care workers in Washington State are fashioning home-made masks out of vinyl, elastic, and double-sided tape.

And one of the most urgent concerns at the moment is the short supply of ventilators.  The need for ventilators, which will save the lives of those who are afflicted by the disease in a severe way, is desperate.

Yesterday President Trump finally took our suggestion and invoked the Defense Production Act. But what is happening now, we don't know. Who's in charge? And which factories are being asked to make the ventilators? And which factories are being asked to do other things as well? We need that kind of information, but, more important or just as important as the information is the urgency of getting these things done.

Machines like ventilators can be the difference between life and death. According to one projection, it’s possible that up to 960,000 Americans will need a ventilator during the coronavirus pandemic. Right now, we have only 160,000 available—and only 12,700 in our stockpiles.

The President of the United States must direct a massive mobilization to ramp up ventilator production and to build. He also must do so to acquire new hospital space. We'll be short of beds, particularly ICU beds. The Army Corps must be involved in helping build temporary hospitals that can take on the new burden.

We are on the verge—if we don’t act quickly—of repeating the heartbreaking collapse of hospital capacity experienced in Italy. That must not be allowed to happen.

I was glad yesterday that President Trump heeded the call by Democrats on the Defense Production Act, but we need to go further. The president must make this an urgent responsibility.

We need a Marshall Plan for our healthcare system. And that also means getting new workers involved. We’re going to be short of doctors and nurses. And we have to make sure that those in the healthcare system can get to work. The New York City subway system is still needed to carry them there, and in many other cities they depend on one form of mass transit or another. 

The next legislation that we are putting together must include an historic commitment to supporting our healthcare system and our fellow Americans who get sick. We cannot get this wrong; the stakes are too high.

And third, phase-three legislation must address the plight of workers and families struggling with the economic ramifications of the virus. Millions and millions of American workers have been laid off. They didn’t do anything wrong. Neither did the owner of their business. But there are no people coming into the restaurants and the stores and the shops; there may be no customers for businesses that provide services or goods. Storefronts are closed. The service industry is shedding jobs. Small business owners who have devoted their lifetimes to building their businesses are on the brink of collapse. The gears of American manufacturing are grinding to a halt.

There are millions of American workers, home at night, home doing the day. They are doing the right thing, but now they have no income, no idea when the next paycheck will arrive, or when they can return to work.

We must step up to the plate immediately and help these suffering workers who don’t have a paycheck and are wondering about how they’re going to pay the rent, the mortgage, buy the food, the necessities, the medicines they and their families need. Congress must help them. We should enact a new form of unemployment insurance—we call it “employment insurance.” It’s really unemployment insurance on steroids—assistance until these already employed Americans can get back to work. Existing unemployment insurance has a lot of failings; it doesn’t cover enough people to meet this crisis. So many who work part time, who are gig workers and for many other reasons are not covered by unemployment insurance – our new Employment Insurance must cover them all

Second, the payments must be full. The payments should equal, or come as close to equal as possible, to the salaries they got. Most people who get unemployment insurance don’t get close to the percentage they need to live on.

And third, it must be quick and easy. In many states, some by design, it’s very hard to get unemployment insurance—you have to go through the whole rigmarole. That must end.

So our new employment insurance—an unemployment insurance on steroids—must have full payment so lost salaries are totally made up for, it must be quick and easy to access, and it must be broad-based. Democrats will ask for that as one of our most important asks because that goes to the people who need help. That goes to the people who are not getting their salaries because they’ve been laid off or furloughed. That’s the most immediate and quick thing to deal with the problem right at the level it exists.

Another must for us is paid sick leave. Senators Murray and Gillibrand have important legislation on this issue and want to get this done.

And, for small businesses, there must be liquidity. Many of these businesses are great businesses; they were doing fine until two/three weeks ago. But no customers are coming in the door or calling on the phone. In addition to paying their workers through our employment insurance, we must see that these businesses have liquidity to pay their insurance bills, to pay their mortgages, to pay their problems and deal with that, so when, God willing—and I’m confident it will happen—this crisis leaves us, they will be able to open their businesses stronger than ever before.

And there are many other things we want to get done.

Today, Senator Warren, Senator Murray, Senator Brown and I are announcing a bill to cancel—cancel—student loan payments for the duration of the coronavirus emergency and provide a minimum $10,000 payoff for all federal student loan borrowers. This has been going on for a long time. It's exacerbated by the crisis. We've got to help the students and those with big loans on their backs. That legislation or something like it should be in phase-three legislation.

And there are many other things that must be done. A couple of days ago, Senate Democrats announced a $750 billion package. Well, there are other things in there and maybe other things that have to be added, but we've got to look at this crisis in its totality, and address it.

Now some have proposed, and I heard this coming out of the administration and from my colleagues, an alternative to these policies: a one-time cash payment of $1,000. That might help families cover rent, groceries, for a month. But then what? If we're going to do these kind—this kind of payment plan, first, it cannot be a substitute for the things I mentioned, it must be in addition. And I think there's a general unanimous view on our side that that should be the case. But second, if we're going to do it, it's got to be bigger, more generous, and more frequent than some that I've heard proposed from the other side.

We all know that workers and families need assistance. And they’re going to get it. Democrats want to get that assistance as quickly to the American people as possible, and I believe our Republican colleagues do as well. But those who want to limit that assistance to a one-time payment of around $1000 given to everybody—people who make $1 million and people who make $500 a week—that doesn't make sense.

This pandemic requires bold structural changes to our society’s safety net to give people a lifeline for months, not just weeks. It requires the kinds of things I have mentioned, and if we're going to go this route, it's got to be, again, bigger, more generous, more frequent.

Now, I have taken the time to lay these ideas out on the floor because, so far at least, Senate Democrats have not been included in the discussions with Senate Republicans about phase-three.

Leader McConnell is putting together his own plan. He’s talking to his chairman and his members, and then he has said he will present it to Senate Democrats, or even House Democrats. As I’ve said before, the best and fastest way to produce phase-three legislation is to have a four-corners negotiation, House and Senate, majority and minority. If we do it in each step, it obviously—knowing how the Senate and the House work—will take much longer. We've got to move quickly. Make no mistake about it: our entire caucus wants to work in a bipartisan way to get this done quickly, and what we're prescribing are some of the things we think would do the most good.

So, and in reference to that, we are living in a time of emergency. The typical legislative process takes too long and it won’t work. All parties should be in the room, from the get-go, so any final product can pass as swiftly as possible. We are all interested in coming together as quickly as we can.

Time is of the essence.  Let us come together, construct and pass this next bill as soon as we possibly can.