New COVID-19 Relief Bill Lacks Funds for Food Aid, Rent Relief, Postal Service, Election Protection

As the House passes a new $484 Billion coronavirus relief bill, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the sole Democrat to vote no, saying it falls far short, failing to protect those at greatest health risk, including essential frontline workers, and could let millions go hungry. We get response from The American Prospect’s David Dayen.

TRANSCRIPT

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AMY GOODMAN: Members of Congress returned to Washington, D.C., Thursday and voted nearly unanimously to approve a half a trillion dollars in new COVID-19 emergency funding. The relief bill adds another $310 billion for the small business Paycheck Protection Program, just as the Small Business Administration reports some 1.6 million small businesses received funding from the program, but hundreds of thousands more still are waiting to just hear back about their application status, after the program ran out of money last week. Much of the money was allocated to large corporations. The new relief bill also provides billions in aid to hospitals and for testing.

But critics say it falls far short on providing funding for states and cities, and additional money to expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP. More than 30 state attorneys general say the move could force 3 million people to go hungry in the middle of a pandemic. Just one Democrat voted against the bill: Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who spoke out on the House floor.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: On behalf of my constituents in the Bronx and Queens, New York’s 14th Congressional District, the most impacted district in America, calling people, losing their families every day, it is a joke when Republicans say that they have urgency around this bill. The only folks that they have urgency around are folks like Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Shake Shack. Those are the people getting assistance in this bill. You are not trying to fix this bill for mom-and-pops. And we have to fight to fund hospitals, fighting to fund testing. That is what we’re fighting for in this bill. It is unconscionable. If you had urgency, you would legislate like rent was due on May 1st and make sure that we include rent and mortgage relief for our constituents. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was speaking as she was holding her mask. This comes as Democrats have called for key priorities to be added to a new “Phase 4” bill, including more funding for rent assistance, election security and the U.S. Postal Service.

For more, we go to David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect, where he writes a daily update on the pandemic called “Unsanitized,” his latest books [sic], “The Fight to Learn Who the Fed Will Bail Out.”

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, and thanks so much for joining us, David. Why don’t you start off by just reviewing what happened? We just played AOC. She was the sole Democrat, along with four Republicans, to vote against this stimulus pack. Explain who’s getting bailed out and still who isn’t.

DAVID DAYEN: Well, it’s a remarkable scene, that it was in the House of Representatives, to see everybody in masks. And they had to shuttle people in and clean the House of Representatives every — I think they went alphabetically. The vote took about an hour.

This bill has — it just replenishes the small business lending fund, the PPP, for about $300 billion or more, and it has $75 billion for hospital defraying of costs and $25 billion to surge testing. But it leaves out, as you mentioned, all of the very important measures that progressives have been asking for but haven’t received. And now, you know, Republicans got the small business replenishment that they wanted, and it’s hard to see what the incentive is for Republicans to come to the table on a fourth round.

AMY GOODMAN: So, why was it almost unanimous then, David?

DAVID DAYEN: Well, certainly, I don’t think anybody is saying that this money isn’t needed. I think what AOC and others are saying is that they’re disappointed that this didn’t have the key measures for individuals, rent relief, fixing the Postal Service, guaranteeing vote by mail for the elections in November, payroll support and things like that. And, you know, progressives that I’ve talked to are very upset that leverage keeps leaking out here over and over again. You know, in the last big bill in March, you had a giant corporate bailout. Now you’ve had the small business relief that has been put in. That “small” is a relevant term. It’s 500 employees or less, and franchises can still apply. So, you know, that’s kind of what the Republicans wanted. And now Democrats are going to try to get their priorities through, and it’s, I think, going to be a pretty difficult road.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s against giving states more federal aid in future pandemic legislation, suggesting states should instead consider bankruptcy. This was New York Governor Cuomo’s response.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: As soon as the Senate passed it, this current bill, Senator Mitch McConnell goes out, and he says maybe the states should declare bankruptcy. OK? This is one of the really dumb ideas of all time.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Governor Cuomo, who just met with Donald Trump in Washington. He called McConnell “the Grim Reaper.” David Dayen, you’ve written a lot about governors gaining power right now. Talk about McConnell’s suggestion — let the states go bankrupt as the corporations are funded — and the rise of governors.

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, I think this is for one reason and one reason only. It’s to undercut public pensions. This is about public employees and trying to get out of, you know, the benefits that they earned, that they deserved, over the course of their working lifetimes. McConnell and the Republicans have been ideologically opposed to public workers and public pensions for some time, and they see their moment to strike.

The hole in state and local budgets is absolutely massive. About $3 trillion was spent last year on state and local government. We’ve only seen about $150 billion in the CARES Act, the last month’s bill, fill that hole. There’s probably going to be a trillion-dollar hole in these budgets. And so, you know, this is absolutely dire. If you want to see another depression, watch the austerity at the state and local level. You know, states and localities can’t print money, so they have to cut services or raise taxes. And so, this is really dire, and McConnell seems to feel like he holds them hostage.

You know, we have seen governors rise in prominence during this coronavirus pandemic. They certainly have been able to make policy decisions. President Trump has sort of given them the ability to make policy decisions by sort of taking responsibility away from himself. And that has been great, but they run up against a wall when it comes to spending. They only have the revenues they can take in. And McConnell is try to exploit that. It’s really damaging.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Congressmember Ro Khanna — who we were going to have on today, but he lost a dear constituent to COVID-19 — introduced the Essential Workers’ Bill of Rights. We’re going to talk in a minute with a domestic worker organizer in the epicenter of the epicenter, in Queens. But if you can talk about, very quickly, this and other demands that progressives are making right now, as clearly one after another of the stimulus bills are being passed?

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, I mean, a temporary worker standard for workplace safety is absolutely critical. We’re seeing our frontline workers come down sick with infections of the coronavirus. You know, rent is due on May 1st. And all of these things now go into a next bill, that Republicans — it’s going to be hard-pressed for them to deal with. But I think the key is that there’s no real pressure on Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi has been a one-woman Congress for the last month or so. The constituents — or, the other representatives have not been involved in policymaking. I’m told, from one progressive organization, they’re going to try to get members to say out front, “Give us some of these demands that we need for our constituents, or we’re not going to vote for this next package” — they want that guarantee upfront — to pressure Pelosi to actually include some of this stuff and work on a bill that actually meets the needs of the American people, especially in these districts.

AMY GOODMAN: David Dayen, we want to thank you so much for being with us, executive editor of The American Prospect, where he writes a daily update on the pandemic called “Unsanitized.”

Well, when we come back, we speak to a leading domestic worker organizer in the epicenter of the epicenter, in Queens. Stay with us.

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AMY GOODMAN: Joan Baez singing Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” dedicating it to the heroes of our time — healthcare workers, farmworkers, truckers and many other essential workers.