The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents a major challenge to our nation and our state, but I know it is one we will get through together. Our first priority is to protect the health and safety of our families and communities, which will require a dramatic scale-up of our testing capacity and ensuring our hospitals and health workers have the resources they need as we work toward the development of treatments and a vaccine. But this crisis is also having an enormous impact on our economy, and we need a long-term economic vision to help American families and workers weather this instability. As we begin taking steps to re-open our country and try and return to our lives before this crisis, we must continue to be guided by facts and science. Congress has taken important steps to get relief into the hands of the American people, but we have more work to do, and I will continue fighting to make sure that help is going to those who need it.
As Minnesota’s senator, I will continue to focus on these priorities:
Protecting our Nation’s Health
Protecting the health of all Americans and slowing the spread of this virus is paramount as we combat this public health crisis. In order to do that, we need:
- A Real National Testing Strategy: In order to re-open our economy and have Americans start feeling safe going about their daily lives, we must significantly increase our testing capacity. That also means providing states the resources they need to effectively administer testing programs, hiring people for fast contact tracing so we can identify additional cases quickly, and collecting data on those who are affected by the virus. While there are serious questions about the Administration’s early response to the virus, we must remain focused on working to ensure that every American who needs one can get a free test.
- Resources for our Hospitals and Health Workers: We need to ensure that our nation’s hospitals and health workers on the front lines of this crisis have the resources they need to do their jobs efficiently and safely. I have called on the Administration to expedite the delivery of critical medical supplies including ventilators, masks, shoe covers, gowns, and gloves so we can make sure our health workers can do their jobs and keep people safe.
- Supporting Innovation: To get ahead of this virus and tackle this public health crisis, we need to support medical innovation that will lead to a vaccine and other treatment options. I am continuing to push for significant federal investments to dramatically increase medical research across the country as we work toward the development of treatments and a vaccine. My husband – who has recovered from COVID-19 – donated plasma as part of the national Expanded Access Program to collect and provide convalescent plasma to patients in need across the country, and we need to encourage others to donate.
- Expanding our Health Care Workforce: With our health care system under extraordinary stress from this pandemic, we need to expand our health care workforce, so that we have doctors where they are needed the most. I have led bipartisan legislation for years to increase the number of doctors in rural and other medically underserved areas through the Conrad 30 program. I have also called on the Administration to waive restrictions that prevent doctors on certain employment-based visas from providing medical care at locations or in specialties other than those specifically approved for their immigration status. As our health care system continues to confront the pandemic, these are commonsense steps that should be implemented without delay.
- Complete Demographic Data: We know that this pandemic is disproportionately affecting minority communities, and I have called on the Administration to provide complete, high-quality, national demographic data so we can understand how this virus is impacting all communities and prioritize getting resources to those who need them most.
Strengthening Our Economy
In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus pandemic upended the financial security of most American workers and their families. Millions of Americans have already lost their jobs and the economy has been transformed. This crisis will continue to present challenges that require additional action at all levels of government and we must take bold action to protect the economic security of the American people.
- Supporting Workers: The coronavirus pandemic has created a jobs crisis unlike any we have ever seen before. In passing the CARES Act, Congress provided direct financial support to American families and greatly expanded unemployment insurance benefits to reach millions of workers, including nontraditional workers, independent contractors, and those in the gig economy. But more work remains to be done to make sure working men and women are protected. As we continue to ask workers to stay home to care for themselves and their family members, we need universal paid leave that covers all workers, including those at the largest private employers. And as businesses reopen, we must ensure that workers are returning to workplaces where they can do their jobs safely.
- Protecting Our Small Businesses: Small businesses and their workers are under incredible stress right now, and we have to do everything we can to help them stay in business, and keep their workers employed. The CARES Act and the interim relief package that Congress passed in April collectively provided significant emergency relief to help small businesses pay their workers and remain in operation. I led 21 of my colleagues in pressing the Administration to implement measures to make sure that this critical funding goes to small businesses that truly need it—rather than providing a windfall for those that do not. I also introduced the New Business Preservation Act to help newer businesses weather the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
- Providing for our Rural Communities: The coronavirus pandemic affects every American no matter where they live, but we also know rural counties are often less equipped to handle the consequences. We need to respond to the pandemic’s spread in rural America by strengthening rural hospitals and health care systems and supporting farmers to protect the continuity of the agricultural supply chain, as well as helping small businesses, workers, and other parts of the rural economy. I worked to ensure that the CARES Act included emergency relief for farmers, rural communities, and families. I have also called on the Department of Agriculture to provide equitable access to farm credit and direct payments to Minnesota livestock producers, and create a “Rural COVID-19 Task Force” to help ensure rural needs are met.
- Oversight of Existing Funds: Congress has passed four important pieces of legislation – including the largest economic relief package in the country’s history – that together have provided funding for a crucial scale up of testing, support for our hospitals and health care system, and resources for our small businesses. This is a good start, but we must make sure that this relief is actually getting to those who need it the most in this country. We did not write blank checks for large businesses to take advantage of and we must have strict oversight of where government funds end up.
- Mobilizing Nonprofit Communities: Nonprofit organizations on the front lines of this crisis – providing housing, food aid, counseling services, child care, and disability assistance to those who need it most. We need to ensure that nonprofit organizations have the resources to not only continue to operate during this pandemic, but to hire new employees to scale up their delivery of services while also putting newly unemployed Americans back to work and helping them gain new skills while serving their communities.
Protecting our Nation’s Most Vulnerable
This is a challenging time for all Americans, but there are certain communities who are at an increased risk from this virus and its effects.
- Tackling Racial Disparities: This pandemic has shined an even brighter light on the systemic inequalities in our health care system and our economy, with preliminary data indicating that the virus is disproportionately impacting communities of color. In addition to getting high-quality demographic data to help target resources, we need to address the underlying causes of these disparities including pervasive inequalities in access to health care, discrimination and unequal opportunities in housing, underinvestment in public transportation in minority communities, and the existence of food deserts where people do not have sufficient access to grocery stores. In the interim relief bill, I supported including funding specifically for small lenders and community-based financial institutions that serve the needs of unbanked and underserved small businesses—including minority- and women-owned businesses. As Congress considers future relief packages, we must do more to overcome historic disenfranchisement by considering the particular needs of minority communities.
- Protecting our Seniors: The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly devastating for our nation’s seniors, who are at increased risk of serious complications from contracting this virus. Protecting our seniors during this crisis should not come at the expense of their access to quality health care and maintaining ties to family and friends. I introduced the ACCESS ACT to expand telehealth services and to support “virtual visits” at nursing facilities so that seniors can remain connected to their health care providers and loved ones while staying safe.
- Ensuring Students and Low-Income Families Stay Connected: As this pandemic has forced businesses and schools to close across this country, access to high-speed internet is crucial. I introduced the Keeping Critical Connections Act with Senator Cramer of North Dakota to help small broadband providers continue to provide internet services to students and low-income families during the pandemic, and I will continue working to ensure that students and low-income families – regardless of their zip code – are connected.
- Preventing Fraud and Abuse: Soon after this pandemic began, consumers across the country began reporting excessive prices from some sellers for everyday products like hand sanitizer, face masks, and everyday disinfectants. People are at their most vulnerable during times of crisis, and unfortunately, there will always be those who seek to make a profit from the despair of others. That’s why I introduced legislation to prohibit this type of price gouging and to help protect consumers from unscrupulous practices during this crisis and future ones. I have also called on the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to ensure that they are doing whatever they can under existing law to stop price gouging during this pandemic. And following reports of a surge in coronavirus-related scams targeting seniors, I called on the Federal Trade Commission to take action to protect seniors from those attempting to financially exploit them during the pandemic.
- Aiding Others at Increased Risk: The coronavirus pandemic has left victims of domestic violence at increased risk, as people have stayed home to help limit the spread of the virus. I have urged the Administration to ensure that organizations that help victims and survivors of domestic abuse have the resources and information needed to continue to provide these critical services during the pandemic. I have also led the effort to increase federal funding for victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault during this public health crisis. In addition, as federal prisons have reported an increased number of coronavirus cases, I urged the Bureau of Prisons to use its existing authority to transfer nonviolent people to home confinement or to grant compassionate release, particularly for those who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. When the Bureau of Prisons suspended in-person visitation at federal prisons, I led the successful effort to push the Administration to help incarcerated people stay in contact with families and loved ones by waiving phone charges. And since data shows that the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting certain racial and ethnic minorities, I urged the Bureau of Prisons to release demographic data on the people in the federal prison system who have been affected by coronavirus.
Protecting our Democracy
- Ensuring All Americans Can Vote: During this pandemic, Americans should not have to choose between their health and exercising their right to vote in upcoming elections. Whether that is voting by mail, early voting, or safely voting on Election Day, we need to provide voters with the options that work best for their health and safety, as well as the safety of our election workers. I introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, which would guarantee that every voter can apply for a mail-in ballot and would expand early voting to help avoid crowds and long lines at the polls. The legislation also provides resources to help states protect poll workers and make polling places safer. We need a plan and I have urged my colleagues in the House and Senate to ensure that funding to make our elections more resilient is included in future relief packages.
This is a difficult time for our country, but what gives me hope is ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things – the people who are taking care of their neighbors, or calling to check in on others. And the front line workers who are risking their own health to save lives. I know we will get through this together, and I will keep fighting to make sure help is going to those who need it.