WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) delivered remarks on the Senate floor following the 90-8 passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in the Senate. Senator Coons noted the key provisions in the bill including free testing for COVID-19 for all Americans, strengthened food and unemployment assistance, increased funding to states for Medicaid, and the establishment of an Emergency Paid Leave Program for impacted workers.
"The folks at my state want to know that we here in Washington are going to put the partisan bickering aside, find answers and get resources out to deal with this significant public health emergency,” said Senator Coons. "We need to be reminded that exactly why people look to this federal government for prompt action and for significant resources is because they look for us to be able to make sure that we see all Americans and that we know that we are all in this together."
Video and audio available here.
Senator Coons’ remarks, as delivered, are below:
Mr. President, the Senate of the United States has just acted; has taken up and passed a roughly $104 billion package of assistance that is going out to American families, American workers, to our health care system, to our states and our communities. And I just wanted to take a few minutes and talk about this important step we've just taken and where we have to go next.
The Delawareans I’ve heard from today and this week, this month are worried. They're anxious. They've been up all night. They are trying to figure out how they are going to care for their children who are home from school and need support, instruction, and education; how they are going to care for their parents who are vulnerable, elderly and sick and are concerned about our hospitals and our health care system and its capacity. They are anxious because their frontline workers, their first responders, their volunteer firefighters, nurses and orderlies who are exposed every day and concerned. They are just average citizens, asking, “how can I get a test, and where?”
I've heard from the presidents of our major universities, the head of our hospital system, our governor, my colleagues and our Congressional delegation. We have talked repeatedly to our Director of Public Health, our Secretary of Health and Human Services, and I have heard from business owners, large and small, who run everything from coffee shops and diners to restaurants and hotels in our state. There is a lot of anxiety and concern. The folks of my state want to know that we here in Washington are going to put the partisan bickering aside, find answers and get resources out to deal with this significant public health emergency. And so, I hope folks take some encouragement from today's action. It passed 90-8. Very little, Mr. President, passes in this Senate 90-8. And I have very rarely seen a bill of this size, scope, and magnitude that goes from an idea to bill text to enactment in such a short period of time, but this moment demands it.
Let me talk through also the priorities that are reflected in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act because the name reflects the priorities. Hubert Humphrey, who was a former leader in the United States in our political community and system, once said, “the moral test of our government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, children, those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly, and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the disabled.” And I'm pleased that the package just passed here in the Senate takes important strides to take care of exactly those folks.
Children home from school who need support for learning remotely and those in particular who rely on school lunch programs for their one good, stable, healthy meal a day will be able to continue to get school lunches delivered, either through their schools or at home, there are significant resources in this bill for that. Those who are on the front lines of this crisis, the individuals who are cleaning offices and cleaning hospital rooms and cleaning Amtrak cars and public buses, those who are putting themselves directly at risk by cleaning the spaces we all count on for our society. Frontline workers, people who are in our first responder community, people who are working in our hospital emergency rooms – this provides support for them. And for anyone who is concerned about the cost of access to testing, this bill makes clear that testing for COVID-19, for this dreaded disease caused by the novel coronavirus, will have a test for free, including those without health insurance.
There are some big pieces in this bill I will briefly mention. Paid emergency leave for workers at companies below 500 employees for two weeks of sick leave and up to ten weeks of additional paid family and medical leave. We just had a disagreement over exactly how that's going to get paid for and how it's going to get compensated and on what timeline, and we are going to work out those details. My office's website will have an accessible, readable summary of what's in this bill up later tonight. The larger point was that we thought it essential that folks who we want to stay home but who may be living paycheck to paycheck know that they will get paid sick leave so they can stay home, and we can slow the spread of this disease. There's also an increase in funds from the federal government to states for Medicaid because a lot of our states are going to see increased costs as folks move to Medicaid as the place, they get health care as they move to unemployment. $100 million in additional resources will go to the State of Delaware alone to provide support for those who may be newly dependent on Medicaid. And then last is an expansion of unemployment benefits, 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, including temporary unemployment caused because of COVID-19. There are more details to how this temporary unemployment insurance will work, but it will last longer and have a higher level of benefit and be more flexible than previous versions of federal unemployment insurance, and it's being delivered in partnership with states.
So that's the biggest pieces of this bill. It's just $104 billion. But the bill we are already hard at work on will be an order of magnitude greater, likely more than a trillion dollars. And if what we have seen in terms of anxiety and concern from families up and down my state and all over our country is any indication, we must take this up quickly and enact it. Small business owners who I have heard from today who want to keep employing the folks who work for them but have lost half their business, since our governor took the bold and necessary step of closing our restaurants and bars to all except drive-through and delivery service. That's 10% of the folks who work in Delaware work in restaurants and hospitality. Folks who want to keep their people on payroll but have no work for them to do face a very hard choice, and we need to find ways that we can both defer the payments that are necessary for students, for homeowners, for businesses, those who have outstanding payments on SBA loans or on federally guaranteed mortgages or on bank loans where we can work out some way to provide temporary relief, and then individual payments that will help students, that will help heads of households, that will help individuals.
So, there is a lot of different pieces that are being debated and discussed here in the Senate. Support for Amtrak, a priority for me because I commute by Amtrak, and it is one of the biggest modes of transportation on the east coast. Support for the airline and hospitality industries because they employ hundreds of thousands of people and have seen their business drop off sharply. Support for long-term structural changes to how we provide access to health care, access to skills and training for our workforce, access to higher education.
I have heard very concerning stories from the folks who lead some of the most important nonprofit and faith and educational institutions in my state, and they are looking to us for bold and decisive leadership. Last, we must not forget those on the margins of our society: people who are homeless, people who are incarcerated, people who are uninsured, people who are undocumented. If we want to make sure that we make our country safe, we need to practice not just good hygiene, not just social distancing, but we need to refrain from moral distancing. We need to remember the words of Hubert Humphrey, and we need to be reminded that exactly why people look to this federal government for prompt action and for significant resources is because they look for us to be able to make sure that we see all Americans and that we know that we are all in this together. Thank you, Mr. President.