Two months ago, it seemed like there was fairly widespread agreement that the COVID-19 pandemic was indeed a serious crisis in need of serious solutions. Yet as America’s officially confirmed death toll surpasses 100,000, and as evidence grows of a “Greater Recession” taking hold, Congress remains in gridlock over additional relief aid while President Donald Trump continues to prioritize “shock in awe” campaign attacks over effective governing.
As the House-passed HEROES Act remains stuck in the Senate, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Jacky Rosen (D) joined with Nevada AFSCME members and public servants to demand swifter action to prevent any further needless suffering.
So how bad is it, really?
According to the federal government’s own official data, U.S. GDP shrank 4.8% in the first quarter of 2020 while the national unemployment rate hit 14.7% last month. Yet even though economists increasingly suspect a severe recession that won’t be easy to recover from, Donald Trump seems more preoccupied with spreading yet another baseless conspiracy theory, this time targeting MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and a man whose spouse passed away in 2001.
At the same time, despite the House’s passage of the HEROES Act on May 15, the roughly $3 trillion aid package remains stalled in the Senate. Even as Nevada and dozens more states warn of burgeoning budget deficits and severe cuts to the very programs that residents now consider more essential than ever before, the White House and Congressional Republican leaders continue to slow-walk the HEROES Act and suggest they may be willing to pass something before July 4.
Against this troubling backdrop, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen joined AFSCME Local 4041 members on a press call to discuss the current legislative state of the HEROES Act and why Nevada’s frontline workers need the federal government to take further (and bolder) action now.
“It is the workers on the front line who are providing us with health care, with education, with food, with sanitation. They are not only risking their own lives, but also risking their families’ lives, to continue providing us with essential services.”
– U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
During the call, Cortez Masto thanked the frontline public sector workers for continuing to work during these tough times. “I can not stress enough: These are the individuals on the front line right now,” Cortez Masto said. She continued, “It is the workers on the front line who are providing us with health care, with education, with food, with sanitation. They are not only risking their own lives, but also risking their families’ lives, to continue providing us with essential services.”
Cortez Masto later acknowledged that Nevada is facing a $1.7 billion to $2.9 billion deficit for the biennium as she stressed Congress’ duty to act fast to prevent unnecessary suffering in Nevada and other states. As Cortez Masto put it, “We have to be cognizant of the needs of state and local governments, and work on their timeframes.”
Harry Schiffman, an electrician at UNLV and the President of AFSCME 4041, then warned of what may soon occur absent sufficient federal action: “Our state will have to make tough decisions, but our state can not handle another round of devastating cuts like we experienced a decade ago.”
“As public service workers, I’m reminded daily that our work matters. Our work is necessary to keep our state safe and healthy.”
– Daphne Deleon, AFSCME 4041 member and Nevada DETR worker
A little later in the call, Rosen pointed out, “State and county governments are being squeezed on both sides. They are having to spend millions on response efforts, even as they’re losing critical tax revenue.” She then reassured the AFSCME workers, “Catherine and I, we are compelling them to act quickly. Bring the next pandemic relief bill to the Senate floor so we can get these resources to our [state and municipal governments].”
A couple more AFSCME workers then shared their own stories. Daphne Deleon, a DETR vocational rehabilitation project manager and AFSCME 4041’s Washoe Chapter President, noted, “As public service workers, I’m reminded daily that our work matters. Our work is necessary to keep our state safe and healthy.”
As a Dayton (Lyon County) resident, Deleon pointed out, “For small communities in Nevada, budget cuts mean reduction in services. Without action from the federal government, all our services will be on the chopping block.”
“We have to ramp up our testing capacity. We need to ensure there’s enough contact tracing, and that there’s enough PPE for all our essential workers.”
– U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen
Later in the call, Rosen stated, “We have to ramp up our testing capacity. We need to ensure there’s enough contact tracing, and that there’s enough PPE for all our essential workers.”
While the CARES Act and the CARES supplemental bill provided some funding for hospitals, for testing, and for more PPE, Cortez Masto and others in Nevada’s Congressional delegation have acknowledged that Nevada and the nation need more funding for more reliable testing, more PPE supply for more essential workers, and a more coherent contact tracing regime. And yet, even as the official U.S. death toll hits 100,000 (with the real COVID-19 death count likely higher), the U.S. still doesn’t have enough contact tracing and enough support for health care providers to prevent another tsunami of unnecessary deaths and suffering.
Neither an irrationally ebullient equity market nor “weapons of mass distraction” can solve this (still) underlying problem, yet Senate Republican leaders continue to slow-walk the HEROES Act (which includes over $900 billion in assistance for state and municipal governments), possibly to a grisly legislative demise. Cortez Masto rebutted her Republican colleagues’ slow-walking with a relaying of messages from Nevada local elected officials pleading for help.
For Cortez Masto, “This isn’t a partisan issue. Everyone we’ve talked to throughout this state says the same thing: We need this support, just like everyone else.” And when it comes to the Senate Majority Leader who may or may or not allow something to pass, provided that something includes corporate liability immunity, Cortez Masto fired back, “I think Mitch McConnell [R-Kentucky] is misguided. I don’t think he’s even listening to people in his own state.”
If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health District, Washoe County Health District, Carson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square.