Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) spoke on the Senate floor tonight about Nevada’s urgent need for more legislation to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Senator Cortez Masto called on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to begin bipartisan negotiations on new legislation to address the twin public health and economic crises faced by communities across the country.
Senator Cortez Masto’s remarks are available in VIDEO FORMAT. Below are her remarks as delivered:
Mr. President, the last time this chamber passed legislation to address the coronavirus pandemic was on April 21, 2020. That was over two months ago.
I’ve heard from thousands of Nevadans who find themselves lying awake at night, trying to figure out how to pay their rent, feed their kids, and take care of family members at elevated risk from COVID-19.
People in the Silver State want to know what more the federal government is doing to help them—and rightly so.
But they do not want to hear us on the floor of the Senate Chambers arguing that liberal states should not get some form of relief right now. I just heard my colleague from Florida identifying that liberal states shouldn’t get funding. What is a liberal state? How do we define that? Does that mean it’s a Democratic state or a Republican state?
We’ve all seen letters from governors across this country—letters signed by Democratic governors, Republican governors, asking for relief and support from this Congress. And it’s not just the governors—it’s the mayors; it’s the county chairmen; the county commissioners—they’re looking for additional support.
And we can’t put a pause on it now. We can’t wait. I don’t understand why we’ve been waiting since April. I will tell you in April, state and local governments laid off 1 million workers across the country and froze or cut the salaries of thousands more.
And in April, in my home state of Nevada, unemployment was skyrocketing to 28%, the highest in the nation. That’s nearly one in three Nevadans without a job. Let me put that in comparison: the highest national unemployment rate America has ever recorded—during the Great Depression—was 25.6%.
On May 25, the House voted for the comprehensive Heroes Act to support state, local, and tribal governments, bolster health systems, provide further stimulus payments, help front line workers, and strengthen the nation’s economy.
At that time, we as Senators could have rolled up our sleeves and worked to find common ground with the House so that we could help. So that we could provide help and assistance to so many people across the country.
But on May 26, Majority Leader McConnell told reporters that the Senate would “probably” pass more legislation.
And now it’s the end of June, and we have no legislation from the Senate on the greatest crisis facing this nation since World War II, even though we are hearing constantly from our constituents and from our states.
And meanwhile, I can tell you Nevadans are suffering. Like almost every other state in the country, Nevada has to balance its budget on July 1, just a few days from now. Forty-six states have similar budgets they have to balance.
And unlike the federal government, states can’t borrow to make up for shortfalls. Every state in this country is collecting less in taxes than it usually would. And every state in the country faces unprecedented and unforeseen expenses because of this pandemic.
In my state, the Governor estimated that there will be a $1.3 billion budget shortfall. Las Vegas alone is facing a drop in revenue of over $100 million, and the city of Reno expects a $30 million hole in its budget.
These are real dollars that are going to come out of essential programs. The thing is, state, local, and tribal governments are absolutely on the front lines of this crisis. The Senate must join the House in passing vital legislation to give assistance to so many in need right now across this country.
You know, states and localities have to pay for EMTs, police, firefighters, and health care providers—those essential people who are on the front lines now of dealing with this health care crisis. According to a study by the National League of Cities, half the cities in the country expect that budget shortfalls will affect public safety.
And state and local governments also fund schools and teachers. In the middle of this pandemic, they have to figure ways to deliver online education to students who don’t have computers or internet and work to support parents trying to help their kids learn. They’re having to figure out how to feed kids in the next school year under inflexible nutrition program rules.
Meanwhile, with these added challenges, in Nevada, the state is having to consider cutting $125 million from higher education and $100 million from elementary and secondary education.
And in Nevada, like so many other places, this is all going on against the backdrop of tremendous economic pain. We have 300,000 people in the Silver State claiming unemployment insurance, and thousands of those still waiting to receive their benefits.
As this economic shock continues, people are going to start losing their homes or be evicted from their apartments. Nevada was already facing a tremendous affordable housing crisis—we need urgent solutions to prevent this wave of dislocations and homelessness.
And equally urgent is help for our small businesses. I was just on a call earlier today with the executive directors of the Chambers of Commerce throughout our state. And I can guarantee you, I’m not alone. In your state and in all of our states, our small businesses are scrambling to find new business models and new sources of revenue. Many of these businesses are the heart of their communities, and if they go under permanently, cities and towns will suffer as well.
Our frontline medical workers, the true heroes, continue to need support as cases climb in Nevada. They’re working tirelessly to save lives and prevent complications, and they need support.
States also pay for Medicaid, so that people who are struggling financially can still get critical health care when they need it. In Nevada, nearly 45,000 people are newly reliant on this safety net coverage.
Without additional resources to cover the costs associated with their coverage, the state will be forced to cut payments to the doctors who serve them—and this is in a state that already had one of the country’s lowest rates of doctors per capita.
Almost three out of four Nevada providers are worried about the financial viability of their practices in the face of the current crisis.
When we talk about funding state and local governments, we cannot forget our tribal governments. They don’t collect taxes—they’re barred by law from doing so. Tribes rely on businesses to fund services, and with Nevada’s economy so hard-hit, they need another source of funding, and they need support.
And this is while many of Nevada’s tribes are still in lock-down, still trying to get access to sufficient COVID-19 testing, PPE, and even key data. CARES Act funding wasn’t even released to tribal governments across the country for sixty days, and the Senate Majority Leader still feels things aren’t urgent?
It’s just wrong. It is just wrong.
The Senate must move urgently to strengthen the very institutions that are delivering essential services to Americans—it’s just a basic necessity.
I understand that many of my colleagues want to make sure that when we spend federal funds, they’re spent wisely, and I want that too.
But the way to achieve that is for all of us to start working now. Nevadans need us to take action. The American people need us to take action.
So I ask Leader McConnell to take up and pass the Heroes Act, or convene on the floor of the Senate or in our committees real bipartisan discussions so that we can pass the next economic stimulus package.