TRANSCRIPT: On Press Call Amid Coronavirus Pandemic And Unprecedented Unemployment Claims, Leader Schumer Urges Trump Admin To—Within Two Weeks—Deliver Expanded “Unemployment Insurance On Steroids” To Laid-Off; Demands Hazard Pay For Frontline Workers Fighting Coronavirus

April 3, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Committee on Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) today held a press call, urging the Trump administration to work with states to quickly distribute urgently needed unemployment benefits to Americans. The Senators’ call comes on the heels of a record surge in unemployment claims. Below is a transcript of Leader Schumer’s opening remarks:

Sen. Schumer: Thank you and good morning everyone, I hope everyone is healthy and well. I hope your loved ones are, your friends and family. We're all living through very, very difficult times, but I am confident we will get through it. In fact, I called my parents today to wish them their Happy 71st Anniversary—they're 96 and 91, and of course, there will be no anniversary celebration, but that's minor compared to so many other problems people have in terms of illness, in terms of the first responders, and everything else.

So I'm proud to be joined by Ron Wyden, one of the great thinkers in the Senate, who's always coming up with very good ideas. And he, as you know, is the Ranking Member of Finance. He did a great job working to get so many of the pro-worker provisions in the phase three COVID legislation. 

Now, we all saw yesterday the new unemployment numbers, and they were jaw-dropping.  6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. That number is going up. The purpose of this call, the underlying message is, we need checks in the pockets of those who have lost their jobs in two weeks. 

People are hurting in my state of New York and across the country. They've lost their jobs through no fault of their own, they're worried. How are they going to pay the rent? How are they going to pay the mortgage? How are they going to afford groceries? And the list goes on and on and on. And the best way of course, to ensure economic security is to stop the coronavirus itself, but until that's achieved, we need action to provide economic relief to those who need it most. 

So last week, Congress passed legislation that established strong, comprehensive programs that put workers and people and our public health system first—like our plan that we call “unemployment insurance on steroids.” The legislation, as you know, increases the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 per week and ensures that laid-off workers, on average, will receive their full pay for four months, until July 31st. These benefits will be much easier to access and will be expanded to gig workers, self-employed people, part-time people, and freelancers.

The first purpose of the program, of course, is to get money quickly and regularly into the pockets of people who are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. We feel their anguish. So many of these people have worked for years and decades at a place of work, and they have pride in that work, and all of a sudden, they're laid off. At least they ought to have financial security and not have that as a worry, as well. 

And the second purpose of our bill, is that it will also allow employers to furlough workers so they can stay on as employees, even though the Feds are paying their salary, so that when, God willing, this crisis abates, the business can reconstitute and they can quickly resume work with their employer; the businesses re-assemble. If we had just had unemployment insurance without the furlough provisions, these workers would have scattered to the winds. We all know businesses are organic things, and when you, say, have a restaurant, it's the interaction that's probably been established over a period of time between the manager, and the cook, and the waiters, and the people who clean up the place, that can re-assemble. 

So, Congress, we've established this program. It's unique, it's large, it's one of the most significant new programs that's been created by Congress in decades. So we created it, but what Congress can't do is implement these well-constructed programs. So it’s now up to the administration to execute them quickly, effectively, and in the manner in which they were drafted to help the American people. We Democrats are going to hold the Trump administration's feet to the fire to make sure they get it done, and get it done right. And at the top of the list, the administration must ensure that people must get their new unemployment insurance checks within two weeks. That is very important, and if they don't, the American people are going to hold the president's administration accountable. 

So, this means doing everything we can in public and private. We'll be writing letters, making phone calls to cabinet officials, using social media, hitting the airwaves, speaking directly to the American people. Senators Wyden and I, along with Senator Sanders, spoke with Labor Secretary Scalia the other day about this, we told him that we ensured that the administration has the resources and tools they need to implement the expanded  program. We gave them a billion dollars to help the states, as well, so we can deliver help to those who need it most in the next two weeks. 

So it's imperative that the Department of Labor and the entire administration use every tool at its disposal to get this expansion up and running across the states without delay. It’s their responsibility and we’re not going to accept any excuses. I’ve spoken with President Trump about half a dozen times in the last week, pressing him on a number of issues, including this one. I’ve spoken to Secretary Mnuchin, the head of the Small Business Administration, Ms. Carranza, and other top administration officials. And we can't afford do-overs here. It can't be, say, like how the testing was, where there was a big mistake the first test. If people don't get money into their pockets right away, they're going to have all kinds of problems with staying in their homes, with paying for their bills, paying for food, everything else, you could think of a hundred ways it could go wrong. 

So, before I turn it over to Senator Wyden, I just want to reiterate two points I’ve been making for days: 

First, I really want to thank all of the workers in New York and across the country who are on the front lines. They're amazing people. They're doctors, and nurses, and health aides; they're grocery store workers, they're building cleaners, letter carriers, transit workers. They're putting themselves in danger every single day to help others, and the least that we can do to help them, support them, is to make sure they have all the supplies and equipment they need. In Congress, we made sure they have the funds, but we have to get these materials out to them. They're not getting out now, so, as you know, I want to reiterate my call for the president to appoint a new czar - senior military official or logistics expert who has the expertise to be in charge of both manufacturing and distribution.

There is one person right now, Mr. Navarro, who is supposedly in charge of production. There’s another person, an admiral, who's nominally responsible for distribution, but he told the media a few days ago he was “blind to where all the product is," that's his quote. So, we need one senior military officer who knows logistics, who knows command and control, to oversee both production and distribution, and the president should back him up fully, because we need to get the supplies to people, and just the shortages that we're facing in New York, we'll be facing in cities, towns, and villages across the country. So, this is all hands on deck.

Second, on this score, I believe that the brave frontline workers deserve hazard pay. I am urging President Trump to sign an executive order that would give these federal workers 25 percent hazard pay, the federal workers, and I hope that private industry will follow. I hope he does that immediately and in the COVID-4 we are looking to see how we can help all other workers get hazard pay, like those in the private sector who keep putting themselves in danger to keep us safe.