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TRANSCRIPT: On Press Call, Schumer Announces Senate Dems Will Unveil COVID-19“Heroes Fund” Proposal For Essential Workers On Frontline Of Nation’s Pandemic Response

Brooklyn, N.Y. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today held a press call, announcing that Senate Democrats will propose the COVID-19 “Heroes Fund,” a provision of pandemic premium pay to reward, retain, and recruit essential workers. Below is a transcript of Leader Schumer’s opening remarks:

Thank you very much and thank you all for getting on the line. I'm proud to be joined by my colleagues, we all put this together: Senators Murray, Casey, Udall, and Peters. Senator Brown is also a sponsor but couldn't join us this morning so you'll hear from each of us and then we will take questions on this topic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has reached alarming new levels, our health care system is being strained to the max. Our economy is strained to the max. Doctors and nurses, and medical personnel of all types, are putting their lives on the line every single day to fight this disease and save others. And so are people who are not in the medical profession but in essential services: grocery store workers, truck drivers, drugstore workers, and pharmacists.

For these Americans, working from home is not an option. Social distancing is not an option. They are in the line of fire, day-in and day-out, to save others. In many cases, that means longer shifts, in fewer numbers, and in an even more dangerous environment than normal.

I just read the story of a family doctor outside Syracuse, who, every day after work, has a new routine when he gets home: he parks in the garage, changes out of his work clothes, puts them in a garbage bag, disinfects them, then he heads straight to the shower before saying hi to his wife and his three daughters. One slip up could bring the pandemic home. And he is not unusual.

And, on some occasions, our frontline workers have paid the ultimate price already. Just yesterday, we here in New York City learned that FDNY Deputy Chief Inspector Syed Rahman died of COVID-19.

Remember: not all heroes wear capes; some wear masks, some wear scrubs. These Americans are the true heroes of this pandemic and we need to make sure they are taken care of. They are there for us; we must be there for them.

So this morning, Senate Democrats are proposing a bold, new program to provide a significant boost in hazard pay for America’s essential, front-line workers. We’re calling it a “heroes fund” because that’s who it’s for—our heroes. And officially in the bill it’s called the Pandemic Premium Pay.

Our proposal has two main components:

First, a premium pay increase for essential workers—up to $25,000—from the start of the public health emergency until the end of the year. That’s equivalent to a raise of $13 an hour.

And this is not just medical personnel on the front lines. We have janitors who disinfect our medical facilities, truck drivers who deliver supplies where they need to go, grocery store clerks who keep food on the shelves of American pantries, transit workers who keep the trains and buses running, and many more. They will all be entitled to this premium pay as our heroes, as hazard workers. 

Second, an essential worker recruitment incentive—of $15,000—to attract and keep the medical workforce needed to fight the pandemic.

We need to retain and recruit the workforce needed for the long months to come. This incentive would help do that job.

These funds will be backed by the federal government, and would be provided to eligible employers—states, localities, tribes, and certain private sector employers—so they can directly pay eligible workers.

Our proposal will also be retroactive—it will apply to those already working on the front lines. For those who have died in the fight against the pandemic, our proposal would provide benefits to the families.

Establishing a Heroes Fund is a way to ensure that our essential workers are there when we need them. But more than that, it’s the right thing to do. It’s the moral thing to do. When America has a crisis, we all pull together and no one has pulled together more than these essentials workers who deserve hazard pay. We are asking these workers to take on great risk; they should be compensated for it.

Already, there are discussions. And you know every evening at 7 o’clock, I open my window of my apartment and applaud the healthcare workers. That has happened across New York City. The applause [is] well-deserved, but giving them hazard pay—giving them this Heroes Fund—is also something that is most necessary. Applause [is] great and important, but so is giving them the financial reward that they need and deserve. Now already there are discussions about what kind of legislation Congress should pursue next in COVID4.

We believe that that a Heroes Fund should be a part of the next phase of the Congressional response to COVID-19. No proposal will be complete without addressing the needs of our essential workers by giving them hazard pay, a Pandemic Premium Payment.