Approps. Vice Chair Leahy Remarks On Bipartisan Negotiations To Address the Coronavirus Pandemic

Today, the American people are making sacrifices to keep themselves, their family, and their communities safe.  Health care providers, grocery store staff, state and local government workers, truckers, bank tellers, journalists and countless others are doing important and necessary work on the front lines of this crisis.  As a Senator from Vermont, and a member of this Chamber for more than 40 years, I want to send my profound thanks. 

Right now, we are close to expressing our understanding of the sacrifices of the American people in more than words.  I believe we are very close to reaching a bipartisan agreement that will provide direct and immediate relief to working people and families in our country.

As Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I want to provide Senators with an update on the status of those negotiations in the Appropriations Committee between myself and Chairman Shelby.  There is much we have already agreed upon, and I am confident that we can reach a deal that will help millions of Americans in need. 

Hospitals, community health centers, and the health care institutions we will rely on in the coming weeks and months need to be ready for a potential surge of patients.  In our agreement, we are securing hundreds of billions of dollars in direct assistance for these vital institutions.   

Across the country, we are hearing reports of medical care providers and first responders reusing masks or first responders resorting to covering their faces with bandanas for protection.  It is unacceptable. Increasing their potential risk of exposure to the coronavirus because they do not have the tools and resources they need to do their job will only put further strain on our healthcare system to say nothing of the danger to those men and women.  So we fought hard to include the resources to make sure health care, police officers, National Guard members, scientists and more have access to the personal protective equipment they need.

In times of crisis, it is critical that we support the most vulnerable among us.  That is why I fought to include significant new resources for programs that provide food to those in need, including child nutrition programs, SNAP, and senior meals.  Sadly, as this public health crisis progresses, the demand for nutrition programs will only grow in the coming months.  I also fought to secure resources for the homeless, who without a clean, safe place to go are at a much higher risk of contracting the coronavirus among themselves and spreading it in their communities.

Every member in this Chamber represents a rural community, and we will ensure that they are not left behind by supporting rural business and including help for rural hospitals, who unfortunately will not be spared for the impact of this pandemic, and resources to support broadband access, which will be critically important for keeping people connected as we are encouraging them to stay apart.

We are securing funds to support child care.  We cannot ask communities to close down their schools and still rely upon their first responders, medical providers, and those on the front lines without providing their children with a safe place to go. 

We are providing direct appropriations to support a science-first approach to this pandemic by providing an infusion of funding to back research in therapeutics, vaccines, and treatments. 

It is our communities – state and local governments—who are on the front lines of this crisis, and it is our job to support their efforts.  We will be including billions of dollars to support the services these communities are providing during this crisis.

I have listened to the rhetoric on this floor the past few days, accusing Democrats of delaying critical assistance to America.  This is ridiculous.  Democrats have spent the last 48 hours fighting for funding and legislation that will help people, not just corporations.  We have been fighting for more money for health care, more money for children, more money for hospitals, more money for our schools.  And in the last few days we have secured more funding for all of those things.   

I feel confident we will soon reach a deal.  The Appropriations Committee’s component is only one part of this massive package. But the pandemic we face demands this response. The Senate has a history of being the conscience of the nation, and we must prove that history true again during this crisis whether it is today or tomorrow.  We will get this done, and we will get it done soon. 

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667