TRANSCRIPT: On MSNBC, Schumer Calls For Hazard Pay For Frontline Workers And Urges Trump To Appoint A Military General To Coordinate Mask And Ventilator Distribution To States

April 1, 2020

Schumer Also Calls For Big, Bold, Green Infrastructure Bill And For Trump Admin To Get Funding For Expanded Unemployment Insurance To States Immediately 

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today appeared on MSNBC and called for hazard pay for frontline workers and for President Trump to immediately appoint a military general to coordinate personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilator distribution to states under the Defense Production Act. Below is a transcript of the interview:

Katy Tur: Joining me now, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Senator Minority Leader, thank you very much for joining us. First off, I wanna to talk about this new talk of an infrastructure bill in Congress to get people back to work. What would that look like? Who would it put back to work, and are you taking into consideration green jobs, green infrastructure?

Sen. Schumer: Yes. The COVID4 can probably be more forward-looking at the economy and if we're going to do infrastructure—because there’s nothing better than getting the infrastructure going and going in a big, strong way—we need it big, we need it bold and we need it futuristic, which means green. There's traditional infrastructure—roads, bridges, highways—we need that, but we also need new green infrastructure for the future. So we should do that, but, Katy, we’ve got to look at some specific things more immediately before we get up to that bill, which will not be three, four weeks from now—although I’m strongly for it. And I hope the president means what he says when he says he wants a $2 trillion bill. Last time Speaker Pelosi and I confronted him with this, he sort of got up out of the room and didn't want to do it. So let's hope he's sincere. But, immediately we need two things.

We have some very, very brave front line workers, whether they be nurses, or doctors, or health care workers, and they are risking their lives, just like the firefighters and policemen and construction workers risk their lives after 9/11. These are our heroes. They need hazard pay.

Today, I am urging President Trump to give all of the federal front line workers hazard pay, and I would think a very important thing in our next bill is to require hazard pay for all of the front line workers. A 25% pay increase.

Here's the second thing we need immediately. We produced a really good program called “unemployment insurance on steroids.” That means that people will get their salaries—most people will get their full salaries for four months if they're furloughed or laid off by their employer. That puts money in the pockets of the people who need it the most, the people who are out of work.

We need this administration to make sure that that money starts getting to these states and to the people within a couple of weeks. That is the strongest stimulus to the economy, as well as dealing with people. You mentioned people can't pay their rents. If they get their salaries, they'll be able to pay their rents. And we’ve also put in COVID3 a forbearance on mortgages and evictions for anyone with any kind of federal mortgage. And if you live in an apartment, if your landlord has a federal mortgage, which most do, no evictions. But people need that money right away,

And the third thing we need: these front line workers don't have supplies. They don't have the masks. They don’t have the PPE. We need President Trump and the federal government to set up a czar for the distribution of the materials under the Defense Production Act.

The bottom line is very simple. And that is the Defense Production Act allows the federal government to come in and say we need—it's like wartime. And the president just said that. I agree with that, we need these many ventilators here, this is what the greatest need is, we need these number of masks here. And we don't really have anyone as best I can tell, and I've called a few people in the administration. A czar; It should be a general. Generals are great. The quartermaster corps in our federal military—which is so good—is very able to get whole lots of equipment to different places very quickly and at once. We need to appoint somebody like that ASAP because lots of the materials are not getting to where they should be. When our mayor has to try to call up Sweden to get ventilators or our governor has to go to someone in California, and they say I've sold it already to someone else—that’s not good when our state needs this stuff so, so immediately.  

Katy Tur: Let me go back to bills and people who are suffering economically right now for a moment. As I said, rent is due today. You were talking about federal mortgage forbearance. Is there a consideration being made to freeze all bills from the bottom on up—starting immediately, people don't have to pay rent, they don’t have to pay their utility bill, they don’t have to pay their loans either for their cars or for their house? A freezing of that sort of thing so people aren't in fear of getting kicked out of their homes. They have that stimulus money to buy food for their families because who knows how long this is going last and then maybe an injection of stimulus money or relief money at the very top to those lending institutions like the banks and also to local governments, to state governments, so that money gets re-injected back in, but everybody at the bottom isn’t worried about losing everything during this time and can stay at home.

Sen. Schumer: Yes, our bill does a good deal of that. When we Democrats said we weren't going to go along with the bill that Mitch McConnell put forward, we made it workers first. So there is this unemployment insurance. There is  forbearance as you said, but a greater step would be to say, ‘freeze everything.’ That's complicated. You don't want to freeze the salary of someone driving food over to the supermarket. You don't want to freeze the salary of the guy who runs [inaudible]or the payments to them. So it's a complicated issue, but obviously we have to go deep and big and strong. COVID3 does a good deal of that. It helps working people, it provides a Marshall Plan to health care to our hospitals. But we can do a lot more and that's something to look at. But it is complicated.

Katy Tur: Well let me ask you this. I know it's complicated, but there are projections that the unemployment rate may hit 32%. That’s a projection from the Fed, 32%. That's a whole lot of people who will be out of work. How quickly can you look at thinking bigger when so many of our lawmakers are now sitting at home. When should people expect a fourth COVID bill to be passed by Congress and then signed by the president?

Sen. Schumer: I believe we definitely need a fourth COVID bill and I think probably the end of April is about the right time. But we have a month to get the money in people's hands. Get those unemployment checks, which are full salary. That's big. That's the biggest, probably, federal program putting money in people's pockets, that we've had in decades: get it working. Make sure that the lending to small businesses and the money so that small businesses can pay their workers even if no customers are showing up, gets out there.

We have to make sure that this administration implements what Congress has done. We came together in a very good, bipartisan way—96 to nothing. But the second step is getting them to implement this and that's what we're looking at. The distribution of these materials needs a much stronger federal look. That's why we need a czar for distribution. We have to make sure the small business money gets out. We have to make sure the unemployment money gets out. We have to make sure these loans get out. That’s the job in the next few weeks.

Then we should come back and do a bold COVID4 that will be aimed at two things. Things we didn't do in this bill. One thing we haven't done is protect how are we going to vote. How are going to vote in primaries and general elections? We're probably going to need vote by mail and electronic voting and ways to get there. There are other things. We didn't do paid family leave or paid sick leave. That's important to do. But, first job, make COVID3 work in the next few weeks and that's the administration and we’ll be watching carefully.

Katy Tur: I have a thousand more questions. Just more immediately, what do you say to those whose rent, who need to pay rent today? Do you tell them to not pay it? Should they keep that money in their pocket and just wait it out?

Sen. Schumer: Katy, I believe the vast majority, the law we passed, COVID3, provides forbearance, no evictions for, I think it is four months, and that will be most of the people who rent because there are federal mortgages involved. For most low income, median income renters, it applies. For the high-end, it may not, but they can do fine on their own.

Katy Tur: Senator Chuck Schumer, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer thank you very much for joining us. Please come back again soon, a lot of questions to ask you.

Sen. Schumer: Yeah, it's a huge crisis and a big job both now and on into the future and we’ve got to tackle both.

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