Sanders to U.S. Senate: The American People Need COVID-19 Economic Relief Now

"Mr. President, this country faces the worst set of public health and economic crises that we have faced in over a hundred years

Photos: YouTube

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) went to the Senate floor Friday afternoon to seek unanimous consent to pass legislation he had introduced earlier in the day to provide direct payments to working families across the United States.

Sanders’ proposal provides a direct payment of $1,200 for every working-class American, $2,400 for couples, and $500 for children. He was joined on the floor by Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who spoke in support of the legislation.

Sanders stated, “If this country means anything, if the U.S. government means anything, it means that we cannot turn our backs on that suffering, and that we cannot leave Washington for the holidays to go back to our families unless we address the pain and anxiety of other families throughout this country.”

Read the legislation here.

Sanders’ speech can be watched here, and his prepared remarks can be read below:

“Mr. President, this country faces the worst set of public health and economic crises that we have faced in over a hundred years.

As a result of the pandemic more people are becoming infected than ever before. Hospitalization is higher than ever before. And more people are dying than ever before. We all hope and pray that the new vaccine will be distributed as quickly as possible and that it will put an end to this nightmare. But, today, the truth is that millions of low-income and middle class families are suffering in a way that we have not seen since the Great Depression.

Today, the reality is that over half of our workers are living paycheck to paycheck – trying to survive on $10 or $12 an hour. The reality is that millions of senior citizens all over this country are trapped in their homes, unable to see their kids or grandchildren, unable to go to a grocery store, and are trying to survive on $12 or $14,000 a year.

In addition, millions more with disabilities are also suffering.

Further, in America today, one out of four workers are either unemployed or make less than $20,000 a year. And, in the midst of this pandemic, because we are the only major country on earth not to guarantee healthcare to all, some 92 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured – unable to go to a doctor when they need to.

In addition, over 30 million of our people face eviction and the hunger rate in America is the highest it has been in decades.

Mr. President, that is where we are today economically.

And if this country means anything, if the U.S. government means anything, it means that we cannot turn our backs on that suffering, and that we cannot leave Washington for the holidays to go back to our families unless we address the pain and anxiety of other families throughout this country.

Members of Congress should also be aware that we are far behind other major countries in terms of protecting working families during this pandemic. Not only, does every other wealthy country guarantee healthcare to all, as a human right, almost all of them are providing far more generous benefits to the unemployed and the struggling in their countries than we are.

Mr. President, several months ago I introduced legislation along with Senator Kamala Harris, now our vice president-elect, and Senator Markey, that, would during the course of this economic crisis, provide $2,000 a month to every working class person in this country. And, frankly, that is exactly what we should be doing.

But, unfortunately, given the conservative nature of the Senate, I understand that is not going to happen.

Yes, at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, at a time when huge corporations were making record breaking profits, the Republican leadership in the Senate was able to provide a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the 1% and large corporations.

Yes, at a time when climate change threatens the planet, the Congress was able to provide hundreds of billions in corporate welfare to the fossil fuel industry.

Yes, just the other day, the House and the Senate were able to pass a $740 billion military budget – the largest in history and more than the next ten nations combined.

But, in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Congress is somehow unable to respond effectively to the needs of working families.

Mr. President, as you know, I have recently introduced legislation to provide every working class American an emergency payment of at least $1,200, $2,400 for couples and $500 for their kids.

This is not a radical idea. This is an approach that President Trump is supporting. This is an approach that President-elect Biden is supporting. This is an approach that, according to a recent poll, is supported by 75% of all Americans, including 77% of Democrats and 72% of Republicans.

Further, importantly, this amount of direct payment is exactly what Congress passed unanimously 9 months ago as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.

Let me repeat. In March, every member of the House and Senate, appropriately, voted to provide a direct payment of $1,200 for working-class adults, $2,400 for couples and $500 for their kids.

Mr. President. That was the right thing to do 9 months ago. Given that the crisis, in many ways is worse today, it is exactly what we should be doing right now.

Mr. President, as a result of the pandemic, the government told restaurants, bars, retail stores, movie theaters, schools, malls and small businesses all over this country: Shut your doors. It is too dangerous for you to be open now.

But what the government has not done, Mr. President, is to provide the workers who have lost their jobs and lost their incomes with the support they need to pay their bills.

The $600 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits that Congress passed unanimously in March expired in July – over 5 months ago.

And during that time – the Republican Senate has done nothing to help working families pay their rent, feed their families, go to a doctor or pay for their life-saving prescription drugs. And, the Senate has not done enough to provide struggling small businesses with the help they desperately need.

Further, Mr. President, as bad as the economy has been in general it has been far worse for African-Americans and Latinos. During the pandemic, nearly 60% of Latino families and 55% of African-American families have either experienced a job loss or a pay cut.

Mr. President, for 9 months, we asked tens of millions of working people in our country to survive on one $1,200 check – with no healthcare, no hazard pay, no rent relief. Nothing.

Meanwhile, Mr. President, I should mention that over this same 9 month period, 651 billionaires in America became over $1 trillion richer.

$1 trillion for billionaires. One $1,200 check for the working class. That is unconscionable. That is immoral and that has got to change.

Now, Mr. President, let us remember that way back in May, the House passed the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act which, among other things, included $600 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits and another direct payment of $1,200 for working class adults, $500 for their kids, and generous support for small businesses, hospitals, state and local governments and schools.

In other words, that $3.4 trillion bill was a serious effort to address the real crises facing this country. I should also add that in July, the House passed another version of the bill – this one for $2.2 trillion.

That same month, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, proposed a $1.1 trillion bill that also provided a $1,200 direct payment for the working class and $500 for their children.

And then, in October, Secretary Mnuchin, in negotiations with Speaker Pelosi, proposed a COVID-relief plan for $1.8 trillion. So, in the last number of months we have had major proposals of $3.4 trillion, $2.2 trillion, $1.8 trillion, and $1.1 trillion.

And yet today, after months of negotiating by the so-called gang of 8, we are now down to just a $908 billion bill that includes $560 billion in offsets in unused money from the CARES Act.

So, from an original House bill passed in May calling for $3.4 trillion in new money, we are now down to $348 billion in new money – roughly 10% of what Democrats thought we originally needed.

Mr. President, in my view, the $348 billion in new money is totally inadequate given the nature of the unprecedented crises that we face.

The American people cannot wait any longer. They need economic relief now.

Every working class American needs $1,200, $2,400 for couples and $500 for kids.

And let me be clear what I am talking about now is money that must not be taken from other important priorities like 16 weeks of supplemental unemployment benefits, aid for small business, nutrition, housing, education and the other important provisions in this bill.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of S. 5063, which I introduced earlier today that would provide a $1,200 direct payment to every working class adult, $2,400 for couples and $500 for their children, that the bill be considered read three times and passed, and the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table.”

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