Senator Bernie Sanders
Editor’s Note: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delivered a speech on Dec. 10 on the Senate floor stating the Senate must pass a $1,200 direct payment for working class adults and $500 for their children as part of any COVID-19 relief package:
Mr. President: This country today faces an unprecedented crisis both in terms of the pandemic and the economic meltdown.
I understand that there are negotiations going on in terms of coming up with an economic package dealing with COVID-19 relief. I applaud the hard work that each of the negotiators are doing. But the truth is that the results up to this point are totally unsatisfactory given the economic desperation facing tens of millions of working families.
Back in March, at the beginning of the pandemic, the United States Congress unanimously – Democrats and Republicans – worked with President Trump to come up with an economic package that went a long way toward preventing absolute misery and destitution for so many of our people. Through no fault of their own, COVID-19 resulted in millions of people losing their jobs and their income. And, in response, Democrats and Republicans in the Congress came together, worked with the President of the United States and, in a very significant way, responded to that crisis.
Mr. President, what I don’t understand is that at a time when, in many ways, the crisis is worse today than it was in March, why we are not responding accordingly. In March, we passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act which included a $600 supplement to unemployment benefits for 4 months, and a $1,200 direct payment for every working class adult plus $500 for their kids.
Once again, we did this unanimously and we did it by working with President Trump.
If we could do it together in March, if we could succeed 9 months ago by working together, there is no reason why we cannot do the same thing right now. And that is why I will insist that any agreement in terms of a COVID-19 relief package must include not only strong unemployment benefits, but a $1,200 direct payment for the working families of this country similarly structured to what was included in the CARES package of March.
And I will be introducing an amendment (on Dec 10) to the 1-week Continuing Resolution to make sure that that occurs – that every working class adult in this country receives another $1,200 direct payment, plus $500 for their kids.
Mr. President, every member of this body wants to get out of Washington to get home to their families for the holiday season. And put me at the top of that list.
But at a time when so many American families are suffering, when so many people don’t know how they’re going to feed their kids or prevent being evicted from their homes, or how they’re going to pay for a doctor’s visit, we cannot leave Washington and return to our families unless we address the economic suffering that so many other families are facing.
When a national emergency occurs the United States government must respond. And we are in an economic emergency today. To get out of Washington, to turn our backs on the suffering of so many of our people would be immoral, would be unconscionable, and cannot be allowed to happen.
Again, we must make certain that every working family in this country receives a $1,200 direct payment, plus $500 for their kids.
Mr. President, let me be as clear as I can be. Today, as a result of the horrific pandemic and economic meltdown, the American working-class is hurting like they have never hurt before.
At a time when so many American families are suffering, when so many people don’t know how they’re going to feed their kids or prevent being evicted from their homes, or how they’re going to pay for a doctor’s visit, we cannot leave Washington and return to our families unless we address the economic suffering that so many other families are facing.
Yesterday [Dec. 9] alone, over 220,000 Americans were diagnosed with COVID-19 and, tragically, over 3,000 died from this horrific virus. In other words, more Americans were killed by the coronavirus yesterday than were killed on 9-11.
Further, Mr. President, the working class of this country is in the worst financial shape since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Tens of millions of our fellow citizens have lost their jobs. They have lost their incomes. They have lost their health insurance. They have depleted their life savings. They cannot afford to pay the rent. They cannot afford to put food on the table. And they are scared to death that any day now they will get a knock on the door from the sheriff evicting them from their homes and throwing them and their belongings out on the street.
In América today, over half our workers are living paycheck to paycheck while 1 out of every 4 workers in this country are either unemployed or make a starvation wage of less than $20,000 a year.
During the holiday season over one-third of Americans expect to lose income and are already having a difficult time paying for basic household expenses.
In América today, hunger is at its highest level in decades, more than 500,000 Americans are homeless and over 30 million tenants are on the brink of eviction. While 15 million Americans have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, over 90 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured and cannot afford to go to a doctor when they get sick.
And 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.
Meanwhile, Mr. President, not everyone is hurting in América. While the middle class is collapsing and poverty is growing, we are witnessing a massive increase in income and wealth inequality. Over the past 9 months, 650 billionaires have seen their wealth go up by over $1 trillion and now own over twice as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of Americans.
That is the state of the economy in América today. The very rich get much, much richer, while tens of millions of Americans get poorer and poorer and face an unprecedented level of economic desperation.
Mr. President. This is the United States of América, the richest country in the history of the world. No one should be going hungry. No one should have to live in fear of becoming homeless. No one should be denied the health care that they need, especially during the worst public health crisis in over a hundred years. But that is precisely what is going on all over América as we speak.
Mr. President. This is an unprecedented moment in American history and the Senate needs to take unprecedented action now to improve the lives of the American people. If we could act effectively in March through the CARES Act, we can act effectively today as we enter the holiday season.
I very much appreciate the hard work that has gone into the current $908 billion proposal being drafted by a number of Democratic and Republican Senators. But, simply stated, given the horrific extent of the current crisis and the desperation that working families all over this country are experiencing, this proposal does not go anywhere near far enough. In truth, rather than the $3.4 trillion which we Democrats called for in the HEROES Act and passed in the House, this bill only allocates $348 billion in new money. The remaining $560 billion are funds transferred from the CARES Act that have not yet been obligated.
In other words, this bill is allocating roughly 10% of what was passed in the House. That’s absurd.
Unlike the CARES Act, which we passed in March, this proposal only provides a $300 supplement for unemployed workers rather than $600 a week. Further, unlike the $1,200 direct payment for every working class individual and $500 for each child, it provides absolutely no direct payment.
Moreover, this proposal does nothing to address the health care crisis impacting tens of millions of Americans who cannot afford medical care and has totally inadequate financial assistance for the most vulnerable.
The American people need help and they need help now. We have got to make sure that every working class American receives at least $1,200 in direct payments and that we do not provide a liability shield to corporations who break the law.
We cannot continue the status quo of coming in at 5:30pm on Monday and leaving at 2pm on Thursday – while nothing gets done to help millions of Americans living in economic desperation.
We’ve got to be working 24 hours, 7 days a week until we pass a bill that provides emergency assistance to the American people in their time of need.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
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