WILMINGTON, Del.– Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined Brian Kilmeade on FOX News Radio to discuss efforts to expand vote-by-mail and expand national service to help re-open the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“[I]n the election that just happened in Wisconsin, you had thousands of people who are older, who are vulnerable, who are immunocompromised because they are cancer patients or they have an existing condition who were forced to make a hard choice between putting on their mask and gloves and going to stand in line for hours to exercise their right to vote or staying home and protecting themselves. I think we should let people choose,” said Senator Coons, who is calling for $3.6 billion in federal funding to expand vote-by-mail. “There are ways by signature confirmation and by ballot tracking that we can do vote-by-mail and eliminate fraud challenges.”

On his effort to expand national service to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, Sen. Coons added, One of the things I am really trying to do is to help our state and Department of Public Health to stand up a group of people to do contact tracing and testing quickly. I’m looking to our national service program, AmeriCorps, which gives people a wage and an education award for doing national service, as a way to get 200 people up and running quickly to help us. The faster we can do contact tracing and testing, the faster we can safely open [the economy].”

Full audio available here. Full transcript available below.

Q: Joining us now is Democratic Senator Chris Coons. Senator, first off on the vote, do you feel it was a good vote? Do you feel good about the $500 billion?

Sen. Coons: Brian, I’m relieved that we have again unanimously passed a significant relief package for Americans, for small businesses, for nonprofits, and for hospitals. There was a significant disagreement between the parties about the urgency of adding relief to states and local governments. That did not end up in this bill. I frankly don't understand why we couldn’t have done both, but at the end of the day, what matters today is that for thousands and thousands of small businesses that are already in the queue waiting for their PPP loans from the FDA that can become a grant. There's another significant slug of about $250 billion in the pipeline for that purpose, and we added an additional $60 billion that's going to go through community-based lenders, credit unions, community banks, CDFIs. I’ve heard from lots of small businesses, sole proprietors, very small businesses, small nonprofits, that they simply were not able to get in line because they didn’t have an existing banking relationship, so I’m pleased that we got that done. Senator Rubio as you know is the chair of the Small Business Committee on which I also serve, and I’m the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the SBA. I do think overall this was a good step forward. We’re going to run out of this money in a couple more weeks. I think the economic pain across our whole country is very deep and very sharp, and we need to be working together right now on what the next bill is going to be and how it’s going to help get people rehired, retrained, skilled and back to work, and, Brian, a key piece of that is having testing. So the bill that just passed the Senate has $25 billion to help increase testing and contact tracing. I think if we can get states really moving in coordination with the federal government on contact tracing and testing, then we can safely reopen more quickly. 

Q: Just reviewing, so the $60 billion for disaster relief loans, that's what you're talking about would go to the nonprofits and the sole proprietor?

Sen. Coons: There’s two different pieces here. There's $50 billion that is a new backstop for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, or the EIDL program. That will leverage $300 billion in loans. These are loans that don't become grants. They’re low-interest, long-term loans. The $60 billion I was talking about is an additional amount of money for the PPP, the Paycheck Protection Program, but it will be lent by small lenders, so your Bank of America, your JPMorgan Chase, they're going to be lending a lot of the next round of $250 billion. But your smallest community banks, they've now got a dedicated funding stream so that their customers don't leave them and go to the biggest banks fearing that they're going to be left at the end of the line. I’ve heard from small business owners up and down the state of Delaware that they’ve got existing relationships with small town banks. That’s who they want to get this loan through. Getting our SBA office that’s been very responsive, connecting to those small lenders, connecting to those small businesses, that's our next step, and I’m excited about getting that done.

Q: Well yeah, I hear that too also the 75 25 is an issue. I know as much as I love employees, I also like employers, and they said if I have to give 75 percent of my money to payroll I can't keep the lights on, I can't pay the lease and that's just not the way their business plan broke down,  especially these gyms they don't put 75 percent of their money into payroll. Hopefully there’s flexibility there because there is a lot of hesitation there about piling on more debt in this shut down. But in terms of the rescue four, listen to what Mitch McConnell said yesterday, cut 28.

[Clip: Leader McConnell] I think the American people are the ones who won, and I think it's also time to begin to think about the amount of debt that we’re adding to our country and the future impact of that. Until we can begin to open up the economy, we can't spend enough money to solve the problems.

So there's a hesitancy on rescue four, but that's a solid school of thought. I mean if we just keep printing money, when we finally can get our economy going, are we ever going to be able to get out of this debt? Is it going to be paralyzing?

Sen. Coons: We do have a record amount of debt, and we need to be concerned about just how much we are appropriating for public health, for states, for businesses, but frankly this is a crisis that is at the same time a public health challenge and an economic challenge, and you’ve seen these bills move through the Senate unanimously at least so far because all of us are hearing from our communities not just anxiety but grave concern. I think we're going to see record unemployment and record business failures in our in our lifetimes out of this, and the combination of the economic challenge here in the United States and globally is going to make this a hard recovery. I agree that we need to be mindful of the amount of debt we are putting on our kids and on our future, but the only way we end up repaying that debt is by getting our economy back to vibrancy and all of our states and local governments have balanced budget requirements that within a few weeks depending on the cycle - here in Delaware, it’s June 30, by constitution - they're going to start laying off the teachers, the police officers, the paramedics, the nurses and doctors and public hospitals so continuing to provide a backstop so that small businesses can get reopened, large businesses don't fail, and government services can continue, I think is worth our doing. I think, ultimately, you'll see both McConnell and Pelosi supporting a next round of relief. The key question, Brian, is how much longer is this going to go on. The CDC director is quoted this morning in a newspaper, a major national newspaper, saying he is really concerned about a second round in the fall. That's partly why I’m talking to secretaries of state - both Democrats and Republicans - about making sure that we can safely vote in November, and that we can have some clarity about plans for schools, for colleges, for businesses in the fall.

Q: So yeah I know that that’s one of your things, that you think we should be able to vote by mail, and my worry is on the topic of voting by mail is number one when we have these people, I don’t care if their Democrats or Republicans, but there’s talk in California about people going around picking up all these votes for people, their letters, their ballots and dropping them off, that bothers me fundamentally. Number two is if Chris Coons is sitting at his family house and you want to vote for Joe Biden and everyone else in your family said, hey you know Chris you better not vote for Biden you better vote for Trump are you going to feel pressure to change your ballot as opposed to closing that curtain behind you? And that changes the complexion of voting in America, don't you think?

Sen. Coons: Well, Brian, the sanctity of being able to vote privately, secretly, without pressure by family or employers or others is a key part of voting in America. I agree with you. And my strong preference would be for people to be able to vote safely, but I think we also have to recognize in the election that just happened in Wisconsin, you had thousands of people who are older, who are vulnerable, who are immunocompromised because they are cancer patients or they have an existing condition who were forced to make a hard choice between putting on their mask and gloves and going to stand in line for hours to exercise their right to vote or staying home and protecting themselves. I think we should let people choose. There are ways by signature confirmation and by ballot tracking that we can do vote by mail and eliminate fraud challenges. Right now, all American troops who are deployed overseas vote by mail. Several hundred thousand Americans who are in our military or are in our diplomatic or development corps voted every election from overseas, and President Trump I’m told by press accounts has requested an absentee ballot. If it's good enough for our troops and our president, it seems to me we should give people the option. I am not, Brian, advocating mandatory vote-by-mail. I’m just saying there are several dozen states where you can't do it without going to a notary and presenting your I.D. and going and getting signatures. We should allow you to do no-fault absentee voting during a pandemic, during a health crisis.

Q: Gotcha and Senator just quick, how close is Delaware opening up when’s going to be the first loosening of the lockdown?

Sen. Coons: Well our governor John Carney has made hard decisions early and so we right now are about at the peak of our projected curve. We have close to 3000 cases in Delaware. Just a small state, it's fewer than a million people. We’ve got capacity in our hospitals. There is general confidence that we will get through this. I think the governor will make another decision in two weeks. If the numbers go down, I would expect to begin to see some opening in a month, but that really is the governor’s decision based on the input he’s getting from our Department of Public Health and the CDC.

Q: Wow. A month? Are you kidding?

Sen. Coons: And Brian if I could, one of the things I am really trying to do is to help our state and Department of Public Health stand up a group of people to do contact tracing and testing quickly. I’m looking to our national service program, AmeriCorps, which gives people a wage and an education award for doing national service as a way to get 200 people up and running quickly to help us. The faster we can do contact tracing and testing, the faster we can safely open.

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