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Motion to Discharge--S.J. Res. 77

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 9, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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Mrs. SHAHEEN. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to really highlight the important work that has been underway by Members on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and Members on both sides of the aisle in the House to try to come up with an agreement to deliver urgently needed relief to address the challenges from the coronavirus that people are facing across this country. I also hope that we can work together to get this across the finish line and that Senate leadership will be willing to join in that effort.

I think most of us are painfully aware of the devastating impact this pandemic has had in communities across our Nation, but the numbers do bear repeating. More than 15 million Americans have been infected with the virus, more than 285,000 Americans have now died from COVID, and we recently hit a new record high of 102,000 people hospitalized with COVID. Just to provide some context, our largest city in New Hampshire is Manchester. It has 112,000 residents. So we have enough people in the hospital across this country to fill the city of Manchester.

The situation is dire. People need help. Every one of those numbers that I have referenced is much more than a number; it reflects an American life, an American family, our communities. The human toll of this crisis is crushing, and we are up against the clock as our hospitals run out of beds.

This crisis has been all-encompassing. In addition to the severe strains on our healthcare system, so many others are being battered by this pandemic.

Small businesses are closing, and even more are on the verge of collapsing if we don't get them some help.

Our transportation networks, from buses to airplanes, have been forced to lay off staff, cut routes, and in some cases just discontinue service altogether.

American families are going hungry. We have all seen the long lines on the news at night showing the number of people waiting to get food from food banks.

Too many people are facing homelessness. In New Hampshire, in the city of Manchester alone, we have 35 homeless encampments--35. Two years ago, we did not have that number of homeless.

Parents are struggling to help their children continue their education at home, sometimes with no access to broadband or really bad access. We know women are leaving the workforce because of the strains of trying to provide support to their children and deal with the other challenges of COVID.

State and local governments have been stretched to the maximum. In New Hampshire, we are facing severe budgetary shortfalls, and many of our communities may have to make some difficult decisions to cut first responders or teachers or other municipal workers if they don't get help.

We hear every day the number of people who need our help, and they can't wait any longer. This is the holiday season, the end of the year. We are headed into the worst months of winter. In New Hampshire, we have restaurants that can no longer be open because they don't have outdoor seating. We have small businesses that are worried about getting through the next few months.

For the past 3 weeks, we have had a group of bipartisan lawmakers in both the House and Senate--so bipartisan and bicameral--who have been engaged in good-faith negotiations to get a relief package out the door as swiftly as possible. We were able to reach an agreement on a broad bipartisan framework last week, and we have continued negotiations around-the-clock since that was announced.

In New Hampshire and throughout this country, our small businesses have been some of the hardest hit by this pandemic. In New Hampshire, we are a small business State. They are the lifeblood of our economy. They account for 99 percent of all of our businesses and more than 50 percent of our workforce. In the country as a whole, two-thirds of our jobs are created by small businesses.

In the bipartisan framework that we are negotiating, we have another round of the Paycheck Protection Program, which has been instrumental for so many of our small businesses since back in March when we passed it and created the program in the CARES Act.

Overall, our bipartisan relief proposal would provide significant financial assistance for our small businesses, for our restaurants, for our live venues, which in many cases have been shut down completely, and for our childcare centers.

In New Hampshire, if we don't get some help for our childcare centers, at the end of this pandemic, we will have lost fully 50 percent of our childcare centers. That means the families who depend on that childcare so that they can go to work are not going to have any safe place for their kids.

I hear frequently from New Hampshire businesses that have used the PPP program effectively to keep workers on payroll and make rent that they still need more assistance if they are going to get through this winter.

Our tourism and hospitality industries are particularly hard hit, and they are vital to New Hampshire's economy. They are our second biggest industry.

Restaurants in New Hampshire account for nearly 70,000 jobs and for $3 billion in sales, according to the National Restaurant Association. We have to provide some help for them.

The future of our small businesses in New Hampshire and throughout the country hang in the balance. If we fail to act, we fail them.

For many American families, the past 9 months have been the most difficult economic challenges of their lives, and the bleak jobs report last week reaffirms what we have been seeing in our communities. Nearly 10 million jobs have been lost since the start of the pandemic. That means people are out of work, struggling to put food on the table for themselves and their families, struggling to keep a roof over their heads. The eviction moratorium is about to expire. That is the story for 10 million families.

In the bipartisan framework that we have been negotiating, we have urgently needed funding for additional unemployment insurance. We provide rental assistance to help not just those people who might lose their housing but also the landlords, who have been hit very hard because people haven't been able to pay their rent. It also increases funding for food assistance programs to combat the surging food insecurity in our communities.

We can't afford further delay in delivering these resources. The unemployment benefits are due to expire at the end of the month, and time is of the essence.

One of the important areas of concern that this bipartisan proposal addresses is the need for Federal funding to help our State and our local communities. They are facing massive revenue shortfalls--at least in my home State of New Hampshire--and that threatens their ability to provide essential services. We can't afford to lose those people who provide those services, who, if they are laid off, may be forced to go someplace else and won't be available when we have the money to rehire them. We can't afford to lose the teachers, and already we are seeing too many teachers who are retiring or leaving the profession because they are worried about safety and exposure, or they don't have the resources to be able to do the online teaching that is required now. If we don't get this funding out the door, we are going to see more of those losses.

In New Hampshire and in our cities and towns, they are being stretched to the limits. We are at the precipice of this crisis. Cases are continuing to go up. Hospitalizations are going up. The death toll is going up. People need help, and they need it now.

In New Hampshire, our nursing homes have been especially devastated by this crisis. We have the highest percentage of COVID deaths in our long-term care facilities of any State in the country. Eighty-one percent of our death toll has been tied to nursing homes.

Our bipartisan relief framework includes necessary Federal support for the Provider Relief Fund, and it allocates urgently needed help for our nursing homes that are on the frontlines.

We also provide help to address substance use disorders and mental health. What we have seen across the country is that COVID-19 has exacerbated what already existed in the opioid epidemic. We were beginning to make some progress in New Hampshire and in many States across the country until the coronavirus hit, and now we are seeing that progress being lost.

Our plan bolsters support for Federal investments in a number of programs that respond to the substance use disorder crisis in our communities, and it also addresses suicide prevention.

This pandemic has created significant burdens for those who are struggling with substance use disorders. And, of course, we have heard the number of mental health issues has been greatly exacerbated.

Our bipartisan plan addresses three of the most important pieces of the strategy to get on the other side of this pandemic: testing, tracing, and vaccine distribution. As overwhelming as this crisis has become, we can't just throw our hands in the air. We have to continue to prioritize robust testing and contact tracing so we can track and contain community spread. Of course, we need to follow the CDC guidelines--wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, staying home as much as possible, hand washing--so that we can help flatten the curve and help our hospitals. And now, as we are, we hope, just weeks away from having a vaccine, we need to ensure that every measure is taken so we are ready to go on day one. The manufacturing and distribution of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine are critical to putting an end to this pandemic, to reopening our economy, and to restoring normalcy in our society. Our COVID framework boosts funding for each of these three priorities.

When the Senate came together during the early days of this crisis, we worked in good faith to deliver the CARES Act that provided relief to Americans throughout the country. We did it before, and I believe we can do it again.

This bipartisan framework is the only bipartisan measure in Congress. It is the only bicameral measure in Congress. It is the only proposal that has an opportunity to clear both Houses.

We aren't done, obviously. Negotiations are ongoing. There are a lot more people who have to see this work and, hopefully, will decide to support it, and we still have more concerns to sort out. But this is a compromise. It doesn't have everything I want to see. It is not what I would have written if I had been able to write it by myself, but it is a compromise that I believe we can get majority support to pass.

Of course, it is step one. It is a relief bill to help Americans stay afloat over these next very difficult months, and our work doesn't end if we can provide this relief. We are still going to need a stimulus bill to get our economy moving again. But, right now, the most urgent need is to address those concerns that individuals and families have.

If Congress fails to act and get this over the finish line, the consequences will be dire. Our hospitals are already overwhelmed. Too many small businesses are closing. Families are going hungry and facing homelessness. Inaction is really not an option. We need to get this done.

There is no reason we can't come to an agreement. We have done it before. I urge Senators on both sides of the aisle to join in this effort. I urge Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer to move forward with us to help us get this proposal over the line so that together we can deliver much needed relief to Americans and do it before the holiday season so that people will have something to look forward to.

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