Cantwell Calls on Congress to Pass COVID-19 Relief Package

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, called on her colleagues to quickly take up and pass legislation to provide nearly $2 trillion in funding to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mr. President, I come to the floor to thank my colleagues for all their hard work on this legislation and to urge my colleagues to move forward today, because the state of Washington desperately needs this help. When I think about this package that literally has been crafted since Saturday about 10:00, and people running to collaborate—and yes, there were many challenges to that collaboration—I also think about the people who were on the front line in the state of Washington who have paid such a heavy price. From the factory worker we just lost in Everett, Washington, to the COVID-19 disease, to the grocer at the Leschi grocery store who was trying to deliver groceries to the public, to a pathologist who was a leader in this field but also lost his life, real sacrifice and real crushing blows have been dealt in this disease.

But today, we are responding with more help for our state. We are giving them more money for hospitals, more money for the front line with protective gear, more money for testing, and more money to support them as they continue the effort to try to stop this disease. It's so important that we give state and local governments, and Tribes, the resources they need to be on the front lines in fighting this disease. And I thank our governor, Governor Inslee, for leading that charge every single day in trying to focus our response on this disease. Because we were the site of the first COVID-19 case, we have been at this since January 21st. And the sadness that we have all felt over the Kirkland nursing home where we lost so many patients, we hope will be a lesson for the rest of the nation to pay attention to the seriousness of this virus.

We're here today though, to also—besides giving that frontline support -- that frontline support to states, to cities, to counties, and to other health care delivery system—we’re also here to say we want to try to lessen the economic impacts of a shelter in place or social distancing. Our businesses, small businesses have been hit hard. Our restaurants, our other businesses who shut down, who don't have the same resources to come to Washington, D.C., and to lobby for aid and support, but are counting on us to create a program that small businesses can get both grants and loans. So the $360 billion in this program, I hope SBA will help dispatch with urgency to those businesses who have complied, and have done their best to keep their employees while also shutting down their business.

We also know that the unemployment benefits in this package, which will be for four months, will be a boost to giving people who are unemployed, and the expansion of that definition, to cover those who are part of a gig economy that may not have been covered in the past, is important to give people the safety net to make it through this process. I wish we would have come to terms on even allowing for COBRA enhancements, particularly for the aerospace sector. I'll be filing a bill today to make sure that as we continue to move through this crisis, that we think about those who are going to have a shift—or  laid off—as we have seen in recent days in Everett, Washington, that they, too, could have health care beyond just one month of a COBRA health plan.

It's so important in fighting this disease that not only we take care of unemployment benefits, but we also make sure people in unemployment have access to health care. We can't be in the midst of a pandemic and not give people affordable access to health care. I also thank my colleagues for other provisions of this package that are helping in giving individual taxpayers relief, in the sense of a rebate check. Not only will individuals get a rebate check, but families a rebate check of $2,400 that should help those who have been hit hardest by this disease to help in these sustaining days in which we are sheltering in place in the state of Washington.

There are so many more things that we need to do, and while I support the elements of supporting the aviation industry in this package, I wish that we would have gotten more requirements on the airline industries for the grants section of this bill. I personally believe that in the future, in a healthier airline industry, they should pay money back to the federal government. We certainly should be protecting the workforce during this time period, and that is what is most important. To make sure that an airline doesn't take money from the federal government, or go into bankruptcy, and shortchange the workers or the workforce, as has been done in previous packages to them. I fully support, though, the loan guarantee program and the loan guarantees that are so important and so qualified in this package to have very specific requirements to them.

I also want to thank my colleagues from the banking committee who worked hard on provisions in this legislation to make sure there was more transparency in the process for who got access to the grants—I’m sorry, to the loans in this package. While we think of the processes we've been through before on TARP and the processes we've been through before on other lending, our colleagues here on this side of the aisle made sure that there were better requirements for oversight, inspector generals' accounting of the resources, and to make sure we knew exactly where these dollars were being spent.

I know Treasury will have its hands full, but because of Democrats, we will have more transparency in exactly how those dollars go out the door. So Mr. President, I want to thank Leader Schumer and his staff for working so diligently on this package. It has been a very hectic couple of days. And I would say a special thanks to the Commerce Committee staff, to David Strickland, Melissa Porter, David Marten, Ronce Almond, who literally have been camped out for, probably since last Saturday, working and perfecting the language in these sections related to aviation.

As I said, there's more work to do, and we all know there's more work to do. I know that I want to continue to fight for the aviation supply chain, to make sure that when we come out of this crisis after an economic downturn around the globe, that the United States is well-positioned to return the supply chain workforce to building one of America's best products, airplanes. One of America's greatest—actually, America’s single largest—exports, airplanes. But to do that we're going to have to get through this crisis and protect what we think needs to be continued health care access to those laid off workers.

So let's get these dollars to the front line, to our hospitals, to our states for better equipment, for more supplies. Let's support them in doing what they do best, helping to fight this disease and seeing this through to the other side of America's challenge. I thank the President and I yield the floor.”

Video of Senator Cantwell’s remarks is available HERE.