Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) spoke on the Senate floor today about the urgent need for a bipartisan, comprehensive COVID-19 relief package in order to protect Nevadans and all Americans who are suffering because of the coronavirus pandemic. She called for additional federal funds for unemployment assistance, state, local, and tribal governments, housing assistance, vaccine funding, COVID-19 testing and tracing, and more.
Senator Cortez Masto’s remarks are available in VIDEO FORMAT. Below are her remarks as delivered:
Mr. President, thank you. I rise today to talk a little bit about what’s happening in Nevada. Last week, I had the opportunity to be home, and I went to one of our mobile food banks in East Las Vegas just before Thanksgiving.
A mobile food bank is one of our food pantries throughout Nevada, and this one is run by Three Square. I arrived around 8:00 a.m. in the morning to a line of cars waiting at the site. And that line sometimes gets so long, police have to direct traffic around it.
Literally, they lined up at 3:00 a.m. The food pantry doesn’t even open until 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning, but they were there at 3:00 a.m. around the block in their cars to stay safe from the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were over 350 of them throughout that morning, and that is not unusual with what’s happening in Nevada right now. That is not unusual, but it should be. But because this pandemic has hit Nevada, and so many states, so hard, we are seeing the consequences of inaction by this body in the Senate.
You know, as I got there that morning, I imagine these people in the middle of the night with their lights and power off in their cars to save fuel in the cold desert night, and they waited patiently. They were quiet because they knew assistance would be there when morning comes. And sometimes that food runs out for those many people that are waiting, and then they have to come the next day.
But because of the inaction in this chamber, most Nevadans who are hurting don’t have that reassurance that there will be immediate, swift relief for them, because they don’t know when federal help will come. And lifeline organizations like Three Square, which are working tirelessly to help families fill the gaps, are running out of resources.
It’s been 223 days since the Senate last approved funds to help all Americans endure this once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe, and meanwhile, too many people in Nevada are languishing in the dark, hoping for economic assistance that hasn’t arrived.
In Nevada, we continue to have the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, at 12%. That’s almost twice the national rate.
Unemployment is so high in Nevada because of the coronavirus pandemic. It has stopped conventions and our entertainment, hospitality, and travel operations in the Silver State and across the country. In August in Nevada, employment and travel and tourism was down 25% over last year.
Nationwide, spending on travel has declined by 42% compared to 2019. As a result, there are 60% fewer travelers to McCarran international airport and 50% fewer travels in Las Vegas. The travel association estimates that without more funding, nearly 70% of hotels may close by the end of this year.
Because of the devastation to what had been a thriving hospitality industry in Nevada, many of the jobs aren’t there right now, and too many workers in Nevada can’t pay their bills. More than 175,000 people in the Silver State continue to claim unemployment insurance. People without jobs are struggling right now to pay rent or mortgages or health care.
Let me just tell you, housing assistance from the CARES Act helped tens of thousands of Nevadans and millions of Americans keep a roof over their heads. And that was legislation we passed immediately in a bipartisan way—one of four [relief bills].
But those funds have run out. They’re gone, and they need to be replaced. When the limited CDC eviction moratorium expires on January 1, Nevada is bracing for 250,000 to 400,000 possible evictions. That’s more than 20 times the national number of evictions in 2019.
Families and seniors can’t get enough to eat. In August and September, 234,000 Nevadans said their households were experiencing food insecurity. That’s 11% of Nevada households going hungry, the second-largest share in the country. 129,000 said that the children in their homes didn’t have enough food.
The longer we delay passing additional economic relief, the more jeopardy we create for our entire economy nationwide.
And don’t take my word for it. Just listen to Chairman Powell of the Federal Reserve, who has been saying this over and over again, most recently in a Banking Committee hearing that I’m a member of. The Senate must do more to help people, not just in my home state, but across the country, especially now as case counts are climbing.
We’re only months away from being able to give the population-at-large immunity to this deadly virus. We have to do everything we can to help people get to that time. To ensure that for coming months Nevadans can stay in their homes, they can take care of kids, they can keep their businesses running, knowing that they will have an opportunity to open them in the future, and they can protect themselves from this virus. The only way to do that is to get them the relief they need now.
That relief simply has to include more money for state, local and tribal governments, which had to cut back on critical services in the middle of a pandemic.
It should include extended unemployment benefits and pandemic unemployment assistance, as well as more loans for our small businesses and for PPP.
It must have housing assistance to prevent a wave of homelessness and illness, and it should do more to protect workers, fund education, and stave off hunger for families.
It also needs to include billions that states have asked for to help with vaccine distribution. We are going to be rolling out millions of doses of vaccines, all of which will need to be stored, handled and tracked across 50 states.
Health care workers not just in Nevada but across the country will need training to administer the vaccine, and the public needs education about vaccine safety and access. We’ve witnessed an amazing feat of human ingenuity in developing a vaccine faster than we’ve ever done it before, but the federal government and this Chamber still haven’t set money aside to make sure that vaccines get to those who need it.
And it also has to include money for testing and tracing so that we can contain the spread of this virus and get more people back to work.
Mr. President, nobody should be standing in the way of a comprehensive, bipartisan relief package to help Americans hold out until they can get the vaccines that we know are coming. They need relief now.
And that’s why I support the bipartisan proposal that our colleagues in the Senate put together just recently. In that proposal, which they look at in a comprehensive way for all of our states, it includes money for state and local and tribal governments.
It includes additional unemployment insurance.
It supports funding for small businesses, including the Paycheck Protection Program, EIDL disaster loans, and stages. What I mean by stages are the live events in the hospitality industry that have been devastated and have not received any relief during the time we have appropriated funds to address the pandemic.
It includes CDFI and community lender support. It includes transportation for our airlines, airports, buses, Amtrak, and our workers there.
It includes vaccine development and distribution and testing and tracing.
It includes money for health care provider relief.
It includes money for education, for student loans and, yes, the housing assistance and rental assistance that is needed now.
It also includes money for nutrition, for the food insecurity that I just talked about that I witnessed that morning in Las Vegas and that we hear about constantly, not just in Nevada, but across this country.
It includes money for child care, for broadband, for the U.S. Postal service, so many things.
And it was well-reasoned and compromised and thought out, and it was our colleagues coming together—Republicans and Democrats coming together for the best interest of this country.
Now, Mr. President, I will tell you, we do not need unanimous support for this proposal. What we need is a vote on the floor of the Senate. And that’s why I’m asking Mitch McConnell to allow this proposal to come to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
Some of my colleagues don’t want to support any more relief; then they don’t have to vote for it. But I would guarantee, and I would suspect, that there are more than enough of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that want to pass relief for the many Americans across this country in our states who are suffering right now. But they have to be given the opportunity.
Now, I get that right now there’s only one person that gets to decide what goes on the floor of the Senate. I don’t agree with that. That’s the way the rules are set. And Mitch McConnell decides every single day what legislation comes to the floor of the Senate, what can be debated and what amendments can come.
And I’ve watched for years as Mitch McConnell—instead of including the Democrats in bipartisan negotiation on some of these important bills, he puts them together in closed doors with only Republicans and maybe the current administration, and then puts them on the floor of the Senate for the first time.
He bypasses our committee hearings, where there’s bipartisan support usually for bills—bypasses that, puts them on the floor of the Senate without any compromise, without any of the Democrats’ involvement, and expects us to vote for it.
And then holds the Democrats accountable—accountable!—because we didn’t have the opportunity to fight for our states and put important funding in there for state and local government, for broadband, for our health care workers, for our hospitality industry, for you-name-it.
And that’s not the way the Senate should be operating, Mr. President. You know that, and I know that.
We have to get back to a time when we compromise. When we all come representing our states. We all have equal votes. There’s two of us from each state. We are fighting for our constituents in our states, and we should be able to have that debate, that conversation on the floor of the Senate in a fair manner.
And that’s why I ask Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on this proposal. You know, I had the opportunity to watch one of my colleagues talk about this, and I absolutely agree with him, Senator Angus King.
He said I sit in these committees, in bipartisan committees, and I vote for relief for disasters. Hurricane disasters, fire disasters, fire in the Western states that I come from—where you know so well that the fires are devastating our Western states.
But for the hurricanes that happen in Texas, Florida, you name it, I vote for relief because I know those constituents in those states are suffering. I don’t look at them as blue states or red states. I look at them as Americans who are in need right now, and I’m going to support that relief.
So why aren’t we doing that with this coronavirus relief package? I do not understand. It’s not what the American people expect of us. It’s not what they want, and it’s not what they deserve.
So Mr. President, I cannot stress this enough. It is time for the Senate to get back to work on behalf of the American public. And that means we are willing to compromise. That means we are willing to do what is right and what is needed in our communities because I guarantee you, any one of us that goes home to our state, we all see it.
We’re all suffering. And that’s what the American people expect of us.
So I’d hope Mitch McConnell allows a vote on the floor for this bipartisan compromise that the Senators have worked on.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.