WASHINGTON — On Tuesday on the Christian Broadcasting Network, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called for critical funding to support state and local governments in the upcoming COVID-19 relief bill.

“Over 1.5 million public employees have already been laid off due to the dramatic revenue shortfalls that state and local governments are facing,” said Senator Coons. “These aren’t just faceless bureaucrats in gray buildings. They’re teachers, they’re police officers, they’re paramedics, they’re nurses. There’s no money in the HEALS Act proposed by the majority here in the Senate, and there is robust money, about $875 billion, in the HEROES Act that the House passed more than two months ago. Somewhere in the middle, there’s got to be a point where we can come to agreement.” 

When asked about timing of the upcoming relief package, Senator Coons stated,“I’m hoping and praying for this week because, frankly, my phone is blowing up with folks from Delaware who are calling to ask when are you going to get this done? I know how urgent this situation is for folks who are facing eviction. Something like 30% of Delawareans are facing the possibility of eviction because a moratorium on eviction either in many states or from federally-insured mortgages has come to an end, so the combination of all of these factors, Jenna, the loss of the unemployment insurance, the loss of protection for eviction, continued job loss as the economy continues to sink is creating a lot of pressure on families. My hope is we’ll get it done this week.”

Full audio and video available here. A transcript is provided below.

Q: As negotiations for the latest relief measure continue, what are some of the key sticking points you and members of your party don’t see any wiggle room on?

Sen. Coons: Well, one of our core concerns is more support for state and local governments. Over 1.5 million public employees have already been laid off due to the dramatic revenue shortfalls that state and local governments are facing. And Jenna, these aren’t just faceless bureaucrats in gray buildings. They’re teachers, they’re police officers, they’re paramedics, they’re nurses. There’s no money in the HEALS Act proposed by the majority here in the Senate, and there is robust money, about $875 billion, in the HEROES Act that the House passed more than two months ago. Somewhere in the middle, there’s got to be a point where we can come to agreement.

Q: On extra employment aid, some Republicans say we’re paying some people more to stay home which hurts the workforce and the economy. Senator, remind everyone how lawmakers originally came up with that $600 figure.

Sen. Coons: Well it was a bit of a mess, Jenna. I’ll remind you that four months ago when we passed the CARES Act, the economy was in freefall, millions of people were losing their jobs, and we tried to craft a more responsive solution that varied from state to state because some states have an unemployment insurance program that provides just $275, which is the lowest in the country. That’s in Florida and Alabama. Other states, Delaware is in the $400 range. Some in the $600 [range]. New Jersey and Massachusetts are more like [$700] or $800, so there’s a very wide range of unemployment insurance benefits across the country. We tried to come up with a program where no one would get more on unemployment than they got at work, but the federal Department of Labor and state departments of labor told us that their IT systems are too outdated to make that work, so we took an average. $600 is an average of the gap between what folks were losing as they were losing their jobs in terms of their earned income and what they were getting from their states to try and encourage people, frankly, in the first weeks of this national pandemic to stay home. Now, here we are four months later, and we need to find a solution that works. 

Q: Senator, when do you think we might see an agreement. Should we be looking out for a specific day or week?

Sen. Coons: Well, I’m hoping and praying for this week because, frankly, my phone is blowing up with folks from Delaware who are calling to ask when are you going to get this done? I know how urgent this situation is for folks who are facing eviction. Something like 30% of Delawareans are facing the possibility of eviction because a moratorium on eviction either in many states or from federally-insured mortgages has come to an end, so the combination of all of these factors, Jenna, the loss of the unemployment insurance, the loss of protection for eviction, continued job loss as the economy continues to sink is creating a lot of pressure on families. My hope is we’ll get it done this week.

Q: One thing you’ve championed in this relief package is expanding national service programs like AmeriCorps. Talk about your effort there and why it’s so important.

Sen. Coons: Well, the CORPS Act, which is being led by Senator Roger Wicker and I – Senator Wicker is from Mississippi, a conservative Republican. He’s joined by seven other Republican cosponsors. They’ve joined with a group of Democrats, myself and Senator Duckworth of Illinois, Senator Booker of New Jersey, Senator Klobuchar of Minnesota. Many of us have seen the very real impact that national service has on communities, on the young people who typically serve in AmeriCorps. This is a state-directed program that is a partnership between nonprofits of all kinds and the federal government. The federal government provides support for their living stipends, for an education award that they earn through service to our country, and that it’s designed and run locally, so nonprofits of all kinds engage younger Americans in dealing with hunger, in helping rebuild homes, in supporting public health and outreach, in strengthening our schools. There are 75,000 young people serving in AmeriCorps right now. Our bill would double that number, and in a year when millions of Americans have seen either their job prospects or their path toward higher education going sideways or backwards, this would be a great way to recognize the importance of giving back to our country and to provide an opportunity for folks to gain some skills.

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