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TRANSCRIPT: On NPR’s All Things Considered, Schumer Calls For Hazard Pay For Frontline Coronavirus Workers

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today spoke on NPR’s All Things Considered about the impact of the coronavirus on New York and called for hazard pay for frontline coronavirus workers. Below is a transcript of the interview:

Mary Louise Kelly: Let's bring in one of those leaders Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. Senator Schumer, welcome.

Sen. Schumer: Good afternoon, Mary Louise.

Mary Louise Kelly: I know you are joining us on the line from your home in Brooklyn. Would you start there? What is it like to be in New York right now—the epicenter as it were?

Sen. Schumer: Well, it's eerie cause the streets are empty. I've only seen four peoplesince I got back from Washington a week ago, Wednesday, and got in my car at midnight. I wanted to get out of Washington get home quick. Got home at 4:30, and I've seen four people—my wife, my daughter and son-in-law cause their apartment’s small, they’re living with us and my one and a half year old grandson. I'm on for two hours a day and chasing him around is as exhausting as anything but—

Mary Louise Kelly: You’re getting your exercise in there it sounds like—

Sen. Schumer: Yes, exactly.

Mary Louise Kelly: You’re doing the whole social distancing? Not shaking hands—all that?

Sen. Schumer: Yes, yes. I do go out for a walk. And my doctor said just stay six feet away from anyone; I probably make it 12 feet. So I'm walking the street a lot of the time, and I hope people don't think I'm upset with them when I see people I know and I just cross the street rather quickly.

Mary Louise Kelly: Yes, yes it’s remarkable—

Sen. Schumer: But the isolation for New York is particularly confounding because we're people who like to be together. After 9/11, we hugged each other and clung to each other. We ride the subways, and we're in close contact with people of every different background and every different type. And here we are, we're isolated. We don't know how long this is going to last. We know we’re the epicenter. You know, I'm on the phone almost 24/7. Today, I asked the president to give us 100% of the FEMA aid. He said he'd look at it. I'm calling on the president also to have a czar for distribution of these hospitals—of the supplies we need, the PPEs and the masks and the ventilators. They have appointed someone under this Defense Production Act, which is the act that allowed during the Truman administration in the government to take over factories and produce. And they're starting to do that, but they're not distributing it well. So our mayor had to call Sweden to try and get ventilators. The governor had a call to someone in California. They said, well, we're sending them overseas. The president should appoint probably a general who's an expert at quartermastering, getting supplies from one place to the other, to take over the supplying and giving the places that need the ventilators and the masks, the preferences instead of everybody just catches as catch can. The one other thing I've asked for istoday I asked the president to pay hazard pay to all of those on the frontlines lines, these nurses, these doctors, health care workers, they're risking their lives, I'm sure when they walk to work or take the subway to work—they still have to get there—they're wondering, will I catch this virus? But they're like the firefighters and police officers and construction workers or heroes of 9/11, these are heroes today and they should get hazard pay. The federal government should give every federal worker hazard pay. And I think in the next COVID bill, we should require it for everyone.

Mary Louise Kelly: Let me shift you, Senator, to the news of the day and the possibility of a fourth rescue package. Speaker Pelosi has been talking about this all week. Over in the Senate, though, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says hey, it's way too early to talk about another package. We haven't even got the programs we funded in the one we signed last week up and running. Where do land on that?

Sen. Schumer: I think they're both right. We should be focusing right away—we passed a huge package. We Democrats played a major role in shaping at the Republican bill did not help average folks and did not have a Marshall Plan for hospitals. We added it, and so getting those unemployment checks you know, the federal government under our unemployment on steroids, has said that we will pay every worker their full salary for four months, and the company doesn't have to fire them they can furlough them, stay on the payroll. So when God willingness crisis is over, these companies, restaurants, or manufacturing places can reassemble having not lost their workers, so they're getting paid and getting furloughed. Well, we need those unemployment checks to be out in two weeks. And I've asked the president to make sure that happens.  That has to happen immediately.

Mary Louise Kelly: Yeah. The president is calling in this next package for another $2 trillion.

Sen. Schumer: Yes—

Mary Louise Kelly: Aimed at infrastructure.

Sen. Schumer: So, I think—

Mary Louise Kelly: But, may I? Let me just put a question in here, which is, do we have another 2 trillion means 2 trillion here, 2 trillion there? Can we afford this with already a giant deficit?

Sen. Schumer: Well, look, I think we will do a COVID4—we have to. And there are certain things we must do. We have to look at election reform. How are people going to vote? And we need to lay out how and we may have to lay out how Congress is going to vote, if we can't, you know, the Senate, they have to fly, the House, from all over the country. I think we have to do things with paid leave, paid sick leave, paid family leave. As for an infrastructure package, when you start looking down the road, and you say, how do we get our economy going and how deep is the hit to our economy? There is no better thing than infrastructure. But I think that the first job is to beat this healthcare crisis and deal with people who have their immediate problems. And I would not at all be adverse to an infrastructure package. I’d want it to be quite green, looking at the future, as well as the traditional infrastructure. But the immediate need—

Mary Louise Kelly: It does prompt the question of how infrastructure would even get done when much of the country is on lockdown.

Sen. Schumer: Exactly. So it's a longer range view of getting the economy back. But job number one, get that those materials to our hospitals and to our health care workers. Get the unemployment checks out to people who need it. Make sure that thousand dollar payment. I talked to the President today and I said, you know, not the President—Mnuchin, rather—

Mary Louise Kelly: The Treasury Secretary.

Sen. Schumer: I’m getting all these jumbled into each other. Yeah, make sure that people who don't have—who haven't paid taxes or don't have some kind of job pay or everyone on Social Security should get one of these checks.

Mary Louise Kelly: And just in the moments we have left Senator, can Congress do anything about that? About getting those checks to people who need to pay their bills, need to pay rent?

Sen. Schumer: I think we did a very good job, not perfect—

Mary Louise Kelly: Just briefly.

Sen. Schumer: But we do need a COVID4, quickly—on laying out what has to happen. Now it's up to the administration to get it done. But we have to watch them like a hawk because this administration is not good at administering.

Mary Louise Kelly: Senator, thank you.

Sen. Schumer: Nice to talk to you. Mary Louise.

Mary Louise Kelly: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer talking to us there from his home in Brooklyn.