Our nation passed the grave milestone of 4 million COVID-19 cases this week, and federal health officials have estimated that the actual number of cases has been many times greater. Despite our best efforts in New York and other states that have followed science and public health guidance, infections and deaths in other parts of the country continue to grow at truly alarming rates.
Yet in a stunning display, the Senate gaveled out of session this week without advancing legislation that would support millions of Americans who have already been pushed to the brink during this crisis.
Disagreements and infighting between Senate Republicans and the White House have apparently caused a delay in announcing a proposed bill to next week. This lapse ensures that millions of Americans who rely on unemployment insurance will see their benefits expire mere days before rent is due and bills must be paid, with the final week of federal unemployment coverage ending this Sunday (yes, tomorrow).
This benefit is not a gift, it is a lifeline. The amount is not lavish and has been barely enough to keep our neediest families afloat, while also providing valuable infusion of activity for our nation’s economy. Economists estimate that, without this benefit, 5.1 million fewer jobs would be created in the next year.
Still, that benefit and the others we have delivered so far are only the down payment to help America survive this crisis. Until we have a comprehensive, federal response that unites America in the face of the pandemic, our results will remain subpar, and our pain and loss will continue to be far greater than is necessary.
More than two months ago, House Democrats recognized this growing challenge and passed the Heroes Act, a comprehensive rescue plan that delivers critically-needed aid for our frontline and essential workers, as well as our struggling families and communities across the nation.
Since then, more than 2.5 million Americans have become infected and 55,000 souls have been lost to this virus. The Senate needs to stop the delay, step up and advance the evidence-based solutions in the Heroes Act including:
• $75 billion for the testing, tracing and treatment we need to reopen safely and help ensure that every American can access free coronavirus treatment.
• Strong support for our heroes to prevent devastating layoffs and service cuts, with nearly $1 trillion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments on the frontlines who desperately need funds to pay the health care workers, firefighters, emergency responders, teachers and other vital workers who keep us safe and are in danger of losing their jobs. The Heroes Act will also establish a $200 billion Heroes’ Fund to ensure that essential workers receive hazard pay.
• Money in the pockets of workers with a second round of direct payments to families up to $6,000 per household, new payroll protection measures to keep 60 million workers connected with their jobs and extending weekly $600 federal unemployment payments through next January, and critical supports for renters and homeowners.
• Along with a real, comprehensive rescue plan for the nation, our Heroes Act provides valuable support for our Capital Region including:
• More than $1.3 billion in crisis-response aid will be allocated to New York’s Capital Region and a combined $49.5 billion to New York State overall.
Also included in the bill is a long overdue fix to the broken Medicare Wage Index formula that unfairly shortchanges local hospitals and providers from receiving earned federal reimbursement. For more than a decade, I have fought alongside our Capital Region hospitals to change this unfair formula. This vital addition to the Heroes Act would result in $100 million in new federal funds to our region annually, so that local hospitals can better support patients and our communities.
If the Senate refuses to advance a serious rescue plan that is up to the task, then I ask, how do they intend to pay the far greater costs that will come if we fail? Every day more Americans lose friends and loved ones to this horrible virus, to say nothing of the millions who have lost jobs and suffered setbacks to their health and their livelihoods. During this unprecedented time, the cost of inaction is so much greater that the cost of action. I implore the Senate and President to come together, just as we came together to advance the CARES Act that has carried us this far.
For the families, workers and communities depending on us, we must rise to the occasion. Division and delay are no longer an option. Congress and the White House must now show the same courage that the American people have shown, and continue to show, throughout this crisis.
— Congressman Paul D. Tonko