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. With coronavirus vaccines now being distributed across the country and more promising vaccine candidates on the way, there is now light at the end of the tunnel. As we begin taking steps to return to our pre-pandemic lives, we must continue to be guided by facts and science. Congress has taken important steps to get relief to the American people, but we have more work to do. I will continue fighting to make sure that help is going to those who need it. Minnesotans can find vaccination information here.
As Minnesota’s U.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. To accomplish that, we need:
- An efficient vaccine distribution strategy. In December 2020, the first two coronavirus vaccines were granted emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and in February 2021, a third vaccine became authorized for use. It is critically important that Minnesota has the resources it needs to store, distribute, and administer these vaccines to all Minnesotans—including to our rural and tribal areas. That is why I joined my colleagues in working to secure increased funding for vaccine distribution and in calling on the federal government to work with states to ensure that these vaccines are distributed efficiently. I also led efforts to urge the FDA to issue guidance and work with states and providers to minimize any waste of these vaccines during the process of administering them.
- Advancing national testing. To fully reopen our economy, we must significantly increase our testing capacity. That’s why I supported access to COVID-19 testing at no cost to patients, and advocated for the development of safe and accurate serology blood tests to identify if someone has the antibodies that might lead to immunity against the virus, and supported additional funding in the March 2021 American Rescue Plan to scale up both nationwide testing and the capacity to detect coronavirus variants. I also worked directly with Minnesota hospitals and labs to help expedite the approval of their COVID-19 tests and test-processing facilities.
- An expanded 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 also called on the previous 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. And I led my colleagues in urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to send additional medical professionals to states facing a surge in coronavirus cases. As our health care system continues to confront the pandemic, these are commonsense steps that should be implemented without delay.
- Resources for our hospitals and health workers. We need to ensure that our nation’s hospitals and frontline health workers have the resources they need to do their jobs efficiently and safely. I called on the previous Administration to expedite the delivery of coronavirus testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other medical materials required to manage patient care during the pandemic. I also worked to secure funding for hospitals and health care providers in the coronavirus relief packages passed in March, April, and December of 2020, as well as in the American Rescue Plan in 2021.
- Protecting access to medical equipment. Disruptions to supply chains and unscrupulous businesses trying to take advantage of the crisis by charging inflated prices have made it difficult for many to get supplies they need. I urged the Trump Administration to protect consumers’ access to medical products from supply-chain disruptions created by the pandemic and called on the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to ensure that they are doing everything in their power to stop unconscionable price gouging. I introduced a bill with Senators Blumenthal, Hirono, and Cortez Masto to prohibit these practices and help ensure that people are not taken advantage of during emergencies.
- Prioritizing mental health. No one is immune to the stress that has accompanied the pandemic. That is why in May 2020 I introduced legislation with Republican Senator Todd Young to address the country’s growing mental health and addiction crisis. The Coronavirus Mental Health and Addiction Assistance Act would help people obtain the services and care they need to manage mental health and substance use disorders during the pandemic. I also called on the National Institute of Mental Health to prioritize research on how the pandemic is impacting the mental health of children and young adults to better help policymakers respond to this issue, and introduced the COVID-19 Mental Health Research Act to provide targeted funding to support this research. The relief bill passed in December 2020 dedicated nearly $4.25 billion to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for increased mental health and substance use disorder services while the American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021 included an additional $3.8 billion for these purposes.
- Support for innovation. To get ahead of the virus and tackle this public health crisis, we need to continue to support the medical innovation that has led to the development of coronavirus vaccines and other treatment options. The development of vaccines to protect against the coronavirus represents an historic achievement, and in the past year, scientists were able to develop several safe and effective vaccine candidates in record time. I continue to push for significant federal investments to dramatically increase medical research across the country as we work to respond to the long-term consequences of this virus and develop more vaccines and treatments. My husband—who has recovered from COVID-19—has donated plasma several times 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.
- Reducing vaccine misinformation. After experts reported an increase in misinformation and disinformation during the pandemic, I took action to combat the spread of false and misleading information by introducing the COVID-19 Misinformation and Disinformation Task Force Act with Senators Peters and Reed to coordinate the government’s analysis of and response to information that conflicts with official health guidance and pandemic response efforts. In January 2021, I also led my colleagues in urging the CEOs of social media platforms to help ensure that Americans receive accurate, verified information about the vaccines and requesting an update on policies and partnerships that these platforms have implemented to protect users.
- Complete demographic data. We know that this pandemic is disproportionately affecting minority communities, and I pushed the previous Administration to provide complete, high-quality, national demographic data. I will work with the Biden Administration to understand how this virus is impacting all communities and prioritize getting resources to those who need them most.
- Strengtheing our Economy. The coronavirus pandemic upended the financial security of most American workers and their families. Millions of Americans lost their jobs. This crisis will consistently present challenges that require additional responses at all levels of government, and we must take continued action to protect the economic security of the American people.
- Supporting workers. The pandemic created a jobs crisis. In March and December 2020 and in March 2021, Congress passed broad relief packages that provided direct financial support to American families and prevented the lapsing of unemployment insurance benefits for millions of workers, including nontraditional workers, independent contractors, and those in the gig economy. In addition to this direct economic support, these relief packages expanded vaccine distribution and testing, supported small businesses, and supported schools and the child care industry. These necessary actions will help workers and their families get to the other side of this pandemic.
- Protecting 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 December 2020 relief package included my bipartisan Save Our Stages legislation which will provide financial support for small, independent live entertainment venues that have particularly suffered during this pandemic, including many in Minnesota. The help also extends to museums and zoos—often the places that, in the community, were the first to close when the pandemic struck and will certainly be the last to open. I was honored to lead this bill, which provided billions of dollars in relief, with my colleague, Texas Senator John Cornyn. I was also grateful for the work of Dayna Frank, the President and CEO of First Avenue.
When we first passed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help small businesses stay open in March 2020, I led 21 of my colleagues in pressing the previous 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. The American Rescue Plan also expanded PPP eligibility to allow more nonprofit groups—including larger nonprofits and digital news outlets—to access the program. It included direct relief for the restaurant industry to minimize the number of permanently closed restaurants.
- Providing for rural communities. The coronavirus pandemic has affected every American no matter where they live, but rural counties are often less equipped to handle its consequences. To respond to the virus in rural America, we must strengthen rural hospitals and health care systems and support our farmers to protect the continuity of the agricultural supply chain. We also need to help small rural businesses and workers. I worked hard to ensure that the CARES Act included emergency relief for farmers and families in rural communities. I have also called on the Department of Agriculture to provide equitable access to farm credit and direct payments to Minnesota livestock producers, and to create a Rural COVID-19 Task Force to help ensure that rural needs are met.
- Overseeing existing funds. In response to the pandemic, Congress has passed five important pieces of legislation—including the two largest economic relief packages 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 by providing appropriate oversight.
- Mobilizing nonprofit communities. Nonprofits on the frontlines of this crisis provide housing, food aid, counseling services, child care, and disability assistance to those who need help most. We must ensure that nonprofit organizations have the resources to not only continue to operate during this pandemic but also hire new employees so that they can scale up their delivery of services. This will put newly unemployed Americans back to work and help them gain new skills while they serve their communities. The relief packages passed by Congress have helped workers and small businesses, and the American Rescue Plan expanded the Payroll Protection Program to make more nonprofits eligible. Faced with decreased charitable giving and extraordinarily high community needs, nonprofits are being squeezed from all sides and need direct relief. I will continue to press the Biden Administration to prioritize the important work of our country’s nonprofits.
- Protecting our nation’s most vulnerable. This is a challenging time for all Americans, but certain communities are at 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 data clearly showing 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. Our May 2020 relief bill included specific funding for small lenders and community-based financial institutions that serve the needs of unbanked and underserved small businesses—including minority- and women-owned businesses. These programs were also given priority in the comprehensive relief package passed and signed into law in December 2020. As Congress considers future legislation, we must do more to overcome historic disenfranchisement by considering the particular needs of minority communities, including minority entrepreneurs who have had difficulty accessing traditional sources of lending.
- 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. The bill provided funding to assist nursing facilities in expanding the use of telehealth and acquiring the necessary technology to support virtual visits. In addition, as we have seen an increase in coronavirus-related scams, I joined with Senator Moran in May 2020 to lead 32 of our Senate colleagues in urging the FTC to take action. Our Protecting Seniors from Emergency Scams Act directs the FTC to report to Congress on scams targeting seniors during the coronavirus pandemic and make recommendations on how to prevent future scams during emergencies. The bill also directs the FTC to ensure that seniors and caregivers have access to contacts for law enforcement and adult protective agencies to ensure that they are informed. The bill passed the Commerce Committee in November 2020, and I will work to pass it into law. Finally, I led an effort to make sure seniors can access vaccine appointment systems by advocating for the creation of a federal hotline after some seniors struggled to schedule vaccine appointments due to lack of broadband or other technology needed to access online portals.
- Ensuring that students and low-income families are connected. As the pandemic has forced school and business closures across the 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 their internet services to students and low-income families during the pandemic. The December 2020 year-end relief bill included $285 million in funding for college students with the greatest financial need, and I am leading the bill with Congressman Jim Clyburn to ensure that students with the greatest financial need at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs) are connected to critical internet services during the pandemic. In March 2021, I joined Congressman Clyburn in introducing comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation—the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act—to invest over $90 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities.
- Prioritizing mental health services. For many people who live with mental illness and substance use disorders, fear of the virus, increased economic hardship, and the difficulties of social distancing have created new mental health and addiction challenges. Additional relief is needed to address the growing mental health and addiction crises in the United States, and that is why I introduced the Coronavirus Mental Health and Addiction Assistance Act to help people connect with the services and care they need to manage mental health and substance use disorders during this pandemic. I have also called on the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to prioritize research on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the mental health of children and young adults, and introduced the COVID-19 Mental Health Research Act with Senator Kaine to fund targeted research at the NIMH on this topic.
- Preventing fraud and abuse. Soon after the start of this pandemic, consumers across the country began reporting excessive prices from some sellers for everyday products like hand sanitizer, face masks, and 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 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 the pandemic.
- Aiding others at increased risk. The 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 led efforts 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. 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 previous 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 consumers from accidental injuries and death during the coronavirus pandemic. I introduced the bipartisan COVID-19 Home Safety Act with Senator Moran to protect consumers from injuries and deaths related to consumer products during the coronavirus pandemic. Reports indicated that pediatricians and emergency room doctors had seen an increase in patients seeking treatment for home injuries, such as broken bones on bikes and trampolines as well as accidental hand sanitizer poisoning in children. This legislation will help protect our children, seniors, and other vulnerable populations from injuries and deaths caused by consumer products during and after the pandemic. While our bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee in November 2020, we are continuing to work to get it signed into law.
- Protecting our democracy. As the coronavirus pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for our democracy, it has been critical to ensure that no American has to choose between their right to vote and risking their health.
- Ensuring that all Americans can vote. During this pandemic, 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, whether that is voting by mail, early in-person voting, or safely voting on Election Day. Last year, I introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, which would guarantee that every voter can cast a mail-in ballot and expand early in-person voting to help avoid crowds and long lines at the polls. I also led the effort to secure an additional $400 million in emergency election funding to help states improve the safety of elections during the pandemic. Ultimately, nearly 160 million Americans voted in the 2020 general election, more than ever before in the history of our country. Importantly, federal agencies and state and local election officials have agreed that the 2020 election was the most secure election ever administered. As Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, I am now leading the effort to advance the For the People Act in the Senate, legislation that I introduced with Senator Merkley of Oregon to make sure that all Americans’ voices are heard at the ballot box—including by making voting by mail and early voting available to all eligible voters in federal elections—and are not drowned out by dark money to ensure that our democracy is of, by, and for the American people.