Reed Discusses Dire Need for State and Local Assistance in Next COVID Package
Mr. President, we are heartbroken for the more than 155,000 Americans we have lost in this pandemic. We are grateful for those on the frontlines—the doctors, nurses, the healthcare workers who have served and sacrificed, and we are committed to finding a better way forward.
There is no excuse for how this virus has spread here in the United States. We have the capacity, the expertise, but we have not demonstrated the coordinated strategy or Presidential leadership to overcome this pandemic and economic disaster. Instead, the President engages in a pattern of denial and delay, downplaying the scope of this crisis. This failed approach has led to thousands of premature deaths, double-digit unemployment, shuttered businesses, and spiking infection rates throughout the country.
The economy will not snap back until we get COVID–19 under control and until States and communities have the resources they need to get a handle on this public health emergency. The costs of fighting COVID–19 is rising. State and local budgets are now under severe strain while demand for essential public services, including medical care, safety, and sanitation, is going up and up and up.
Moreover, schools need additional resources to reopen and support students, and the revenue that is coming in to our States and cities and towns is insufficient. Without more help, they will be forced to make drastic cuts which, in my State, could mean cutting critical funding for hospitals and nursing homes in a State with one of the oldest populations in the country, zeroing out the State’s job training program, closing a prison facility, cutting Medicaid eligibility for vulnerable adults, and reducing childcare reimbursement rates, impacting working families and childcare providers throughout the State. With State and local governments forced to lay off more workers, the unemployment crisis worsens, the customer base for Main Street shrinks, and the economy slides even further away from rebuilding. Indeed, the U.S. economy shrank at a 32.9-percent annualized pace between April and June. We must break this vicious cycle by passing another emergency relief package that is right-sized to the challenge.
The CARES Act is about $1.7 trillion, a huge number—difficult to fathom. It wasn’t enough. Not even close. In fact, the pricetag was smaller than the 2017 Republican tax bill. Those who now claim they can’t afford to help the unemployed and the communities throughout America are the same who quickly passed that $1.9 trillion tax bill in 2017, which largely benefited big businesses and the very wealthy at the expense of the average taxpayer who needs our help now. If there was a will then to spend so much so quickly on an ill-conceived and misdirected tax bill, the majority should have no qualms about spending whatever it takes now to beat this virus that is attacking our citizens and our economy. For starters, we need improved testing and contact tracing, more support for our hospitals and healthcare providers, and an effective approach to vaccine development and distribution. All while preserving as much of our economy as we can to have a strong foundation from which to rebuild and rebound. As Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell said last Wednesday, ‘‘The path of the economy is going to depend to a very high extent on the course of the virus, on the measures that we take to keep it in check. We can’t say it enough.’’ That is why we need additional and flexible Federal assistance for State and local governments that are fighting this virus on the frontlines while also trying to keep their local economies afloat.
I said before the CARES Act passed, we needed $750 billion for State and local governments to do both. The CARES Act included $150 billion, and I have new legislation to provide $600 billion more. We should support our State and local governments because they support our economy and, just as importantly, they protect our constituents from COVID–19. By standing in the way of additional Federal funds for State and local governments, Republicans may force these governments to raise taxes on our constituents, make additional cuts to critical services, or worst, do both. Let’s avoid more self-inflicted pain. Getting a handle on COVID–19 also means keeping families in their homes and avoiding waves of evictions and foreclosures that would lead to a major spike in homelessness, which would likely mean more infections.
At the same time, we should continue expanded unemployment benefits and provide nutrition assistance so people in desperate circumstances, through no fault of their own, can afford to pay their bills and eat. We must provide relief for the hardest hit businesses, many of which will continue to be shut down for the foreseeable future, including relief to the transportation sector. Any agreement should also include more help for childcare providers, public schools, and college campuses to safely reopen, and support for libraries to keep our communities connected. We must do all of this so that once we have gotten a better handle on the coronavirus, we have enough workers and businesses with which to rebuild our economy. We also can’t lose sight of the need to safeguard our election infrastructure.
Our Nation and our economy can’t take any more uncertainty. Hand in hand with that is supporting the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, who will play an integral role in delivering mail ballots and are continuing to provide a lifeline to Americans. For the past 60 consecutive years, Democrats and Republicans have come together to strengthen our national security by passing the National Defense Authorization Act. I hope we can carry this same spirit of courtesy and cooperation as we craft the next fiscal relief package. Indeed, our national security also depends on the critical pillar of a strong and vibrant economy. We need to act sooner rather than later on a comprehensive and robust fiscal package.
With that, I yield the floor in the hopes that we will move quickly to legislation that will satisfy the needs of our cities and towns of all Americans so we can move forward together. Thank you.