“It’s not that we’re turning on a switch and bringing people out. It’s about making sure that we can reassure people that they’re safe to go out.” That’s how Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) described why the federal government must step up its efforts to help state and local authorities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and lessen the public health emergency in order to ensure a safe reopening of businesses and society in general.
Reps. Lee and Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) joined several of their House Democratic colleagues earlier today to promise to continue fighting for a “CARES 2.0” relief package that includes more aid for state, local, and Native American tribal governments.
So why again is “CARES 2.0” needed?
Since March, we’ve been tracking how COVID-19 has affected our public health, the economy at large, and our state government’s budget. Last week, Applied Analysis’ Jeremy Aguero forecasted a deficit ranging from $1.7 billion to $2.9 billion this biennium (or Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021). And even though the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has projected $832 million in CARES Act funding for Nevada, its fiscal policy team have also called for more federal aid for state and local governments to weather this coronavirus storm.
Especially once we take into account that much of that projected $832 million is already being put to use for COVID-19 response and relief efforts that are needed right now, and that the $484 billion supplemental package was only narrowly tailored to the “Paycheck Protection Program” for small business aid and additional funding for health care needs ($75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing), Nevada will need more critical care from House Democrats’ pending “CARES 2.0” package.
During a press call with Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Colorado), Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), and Greg Stanton (D-Arizona), Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford reiterated their promise to fight for more and better relief efforts in “CARES 2.0” and specifically promised to advocate for more relief funds for state, local, and Native American tribal governments.
“This is about funding essential services and funding essential workers during a public health crisis. That Mitch McConnell suggested letting states go bankrupt […] It’s irresponsible. It’s dangerous. It’s not the kind of rhetoric we should hear from our leaders.”
– Rep. Steven Horsford
During his opening remarks, Horsford noted, “Our state is one of the hardest hit states economically due to the COVID-19 crisis. […] They’ve seen a tremendous loss of income due to the economic crisis.”
Horsford then addressed U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Kentucky) recent refusals to expedite “CARES 2.0” with alternating excuses involving suggestions of “blue state bankruptcies”, Republicans’ on-and-off “concerns over the deficit and debt”, demands for blanket corporate liability protections, and further advancing of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees.
When asked later in the call why none of their House Republican colleagues were joining them here, Horsford pointed back to McConnell’s intensifying intransigence: “This is about funding essential services and funding essential workers during a public health crisis. That Mitch McConnell suggested letting states go bankrupt, and is now suggesting he won’t consider [CARES 2.0] unless we pass corporate liability protection: It’s irresponsible. It’s dangerous. It’s not the kind of rhetoric we should hear from our leaders.”
He and the other House Democrats on the call then rejected Trump’s recent demands that Congress pass blanket corporate legal immunity, a nationwide ban on “sanctuary cities”, a payroll tax cut, and a capital gains tax cut in order for him to allow for further COVID-19 relief aid to proceed.
“In Nevada, we’ve seen over 400,000 people apply for unemployment benefits. The last thing they need is to lose their health insurance.”
– Rep. Steven Horsford
During the call, Lee pointed to the state’s budget numbers to explain why the federal government must take further action. According to Lee, “Our entire state budget is $4.4 billion. What we’re looking at is that about 25% of our state budget is for public education, and another 25% of our state budget is for Medicaid. […] It’s going to have an incredible impact on our students, on our patients, on our front line.”
Lee then offered her twist on CBPP’s proposal for a permanent boost in the FMAP that determines federal Medicaid funding for states. Lee’s proposal aims to tie increased Medicaid funding to states’ unemployment data and include that in “CARES 2.0”.
Horsford then touted his proposal, which House Democratic leaders have already endorsed, to fully subsidize COBRA health insurance for eligible furloughed and laid-off workers. As Horsford explained, “In Nevada, we’ve seen over 400,000 people apply for unemployment benefits. The last thing they need is to lose their health insurance.”
“It’s not that we’re turning on a switch and bringing people out. It’s about making sure that we can reassure people that they’re safe to go out. […] The next step will have to be deploying contact tracing to isolate future [COVID-19] cases.”
– Rep. Susie Lee
When the members of Congress opened the virtual floor to questions, I asked whether Nevada and other states can expect federal funding to help with their contact tracing efforts. While explaining the underlying reasons why America needs more and better contact tracing, Lee pointed to Americans’ urge to feel safe and the government’s responsibility to protect public health. As Lee put it, “It’s not that we’re turning on a switch and bringing people out. It’s about making sure that we can reassure people that they’re safe to go out. […] The next step will have to be deploying contact tracing to isolate future [COVID-19] cases.”
And amidst the mounting conflict between Trump and his Republican allies pushing to rapidly reopen businesses en masse (despite medical scientists cautioning otherwise) and Democrats more openly criticizing the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee commended Governor Steve Sisolak (D) for taking action in March to mandate widespread social distancing. For Lee, “First and foremost, we saved lives. We have not seen our health care system overwhelmed, like we’ve seen in other parts of the country.”
None of the members of Congress on today’s call gave a specific timeline on when House leaders will formally introduce their “CARES 2.0” bill, and that may be due to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-California) efforts to leverage Republican Governors’ and local elected officials’ pleas for help to secure agreement from Congressional Republican leaders on “CARES 2.0”… And for that matter, whether national Republican leaders even see such pleas as “leverage”.