As New Coronavirus Relief Legislation is Announced, Merkley Calls for Swift Action in Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley issued the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives released bill text for the next coronavirus relief package. The draft legislation includes many key priorities that Merkley has fought for, including a nationwide testing and contact tracing strategy, cancelling student loan debt, protecting families from utilities shut-offs, aid to state and local governments, increased SNAP assistance, and expanded access to the ballot. The Senate Republican leadership has so far refused to discuss further steps to address the economic cataclysm and public health crisis that has killed over 80,000 Americans.

“Today’s legislation includes critical next steps that Congress can and must take to provide urgently-needed relief across our nation and reopen the country. With over 30 million Americans out of work, over 80,000 Americans dead in two months, and both the economic and health crises continuing to worsen, Congress needs to get assistance into law and out the door as soon as possible.

“This bill delivers on many issues that are keeping working families up at night: It increases payments for SNAP so that it’s easier to keep food on the table. It includes a moratorium on electricity and water disconnections, so that families who are staying home to stay safe don’t have to live without water or power. Across-the-board student loan debt cancellation of $10,000 for borrowers will help people get through and jumpstart our economy. And it has more financial assistance for small businesses and workers who are struggling to make their savings stretch through this crisis.

“We know the only way we can reopen safely is a nationwide testing and contact tracing strategy to stop the spread of coronavirus, and I’m glad to see this bill force the administration to take on this crucial responsibility that they have so far ignored. It also creates a path to nationwide vote-by-mail for this November, so that this health crisis doesn’t also have to become a full-blown democracy crisis. And critically, it helps fill the massive crater in revenue that this pandemic has created for state and local governments. Without this assistance, millions more could lose their jobs, and health care, education, and housing services will be cut across the nation.

“Working families and Main Street businesses can’t afford for the Senate to sit on its hands. At a time when thousands are dying and millions have lost their jobs, it is completely unacceptable for the Senate majority—as Leader McConnell said yesterday—to say there’s no urgency to further address this crisis.

“People can and should debate the particulars of the House bill, but what should not be subject to debate is whether the American people’s elected representatives will take action in the face of a plague killing Americans and crushing people’s savings and dreams.  The bottom line is this: We can’t have massive bailouts for special interests and wealthy executives, and leave working families with crumbs. It’s time to invest much more in the health and economic well-being of our families so that they can get through this crisis. Today’s House legislation is an important step towards that goal, and the Senate needs to get off the sidelines and get to work.”

In the Senate, Merkley has led major efforts to press for a moratorium on utility shut-offs and increase in SNAP payments during the pandemic. He has also joined with his colleagues to push for taking Oregon’s vote-by-mail model nationwide.