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Lankford Backs Nonprofits on Senate floor, Outlines the Negative Impacts of the “COVID” bill

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor about the latest $1.9 trillion COVID bill President Biden is signing today, what was in it, and what was not in it that should have been. Lankford highlighted additional spending in the bill, which will lead to even more debt, when federal dollars remain unspent from the last COVID bill passed in December.

Lankford discussed the additional assistance that nonprofits need, as the strong demand for their services in our communities continues. On Tuesday, Lankford and his colleagues re-introduced his bipartisan Universal Giving Pandemic Response and Recovery Act, which would expand and extend the current deduction for charitable giving. Lankford’s bill is supported by numerous Oklahoma nonprofits and nonprofits from around the country.

Lankford also continued to share his deep concerns that the bill does not contain long-standing protections to ensure funds will not pay for abortion. Lankford and Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced several amendments to the Reconciliation Bill to fix provisions to ensure it complies with the long-standing Hyde amendment, which bars the use of federal dollars to pay for abortion. Lankford filed his amendment to apply Hyde-related language to Community Health Centers and health funding and tax extenders.

Lankford ultimately voted against the bill, which was described as COVID relief but was actually a grab bag of progressive wish-list items, including their push to make abortions part of COVID relief.

Transcript

We’re a year into the COVID epidemic. A year. When you think about this year, a year ago in Oklahoma City there was a basketball game going on between  the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder, that they were two minutes away from tipoff and the announcer came on the speaker and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, a case of COVID has been discovered by one of the players. This game is postponed.’ And with that one announcement a year ago this week, all professional sports stopped across the entire country. And the country for a moment woke up and realized this is more serious than we thought. And everything shifted.

Within a week the United States had shut down for eight weeks, and we went into lockdown. At the beginning point of that, this Congress came together in a bipartisan way and passed something called the CARES Act, $1.6 trillion, an enormous relief bill, because we were walking into uncharted territory. We created things like the Paycheck Protection Program. We created ways to be able to assist behind the scenes. We even created a way to be able to help not-for-profits knowing that if the not-for-profit sector collapsed, there’s no way government could possibly keep up. Lots of work went into that in a bipartisan way to be able to resolve that, and that CARES Act stabilized our economy. $1.6 trillion.

It was one of five bills that we passed in this body last year, all bipartisan. All of us working together to try to find out what are the essential things we have to do, knowing every single dollar that was spent on COVID was not budgeted. Every single dollar is borrowed, all of it, from last year. A total of $4 trillion. Now only 3 trillion of what was actually allocated last year has actually been spent. There’s still a trillion dollars allocated in last year’s bill that is unallocated—a trillion dollars, until this week.

Over the weekend this body passed on a straight partisan vote, and the House did the same, to be able to add another $2 trillion to the spending for COVID-19. But this bill was different. There was no bipartisan conversation. In fact, 10 members of the Republican Conference went to the White House and tried to sit down with President Biden and say, ‘Let’s do a bipartisan issue. There are issues that are unresolved. But thankfully we’re on the back side of this pandemic. We’re not in the spot where we were a year ago. We can now see the end. We know that every adult will have access to the vaccine by the end of May. The economy is turning around, and things are shifting dramatically, thankfully. Let’s do the things that we have to do now and keep the same commitment we had last year.’ Last year’s commitment was simple: do the things we have to do knowing every dollar was borrowed but not more than we have to do because none of this is budgeted. None of this has gone through committees. Let’s try to do what needs to be done and not more than what needs to be done, until now.

Starting in the next couple of days, the Treasury will begin the process of borrowing another $2 trillion. I had an Oklahoman that I talked to this morning and said, ‘How’re you doing spending my money at this point?’ And I laughed, and I said, ‘This time it’s not even your money. It’s not even tax dollars that are coming down. It’s borrowed money from the Chinese, the open market, from everywhere that we can go get, $2 trillion to be able to spend it.’ While many people will be eager to able to receive a check for $1,400, because there are a lot of people having a hard time right now—coming out of the backside of the pandemic, getting back to work, paying some bills—they may be surprised to find out they are getting a $1,400 check, but so are prisoners. They are also getting a $1,400 check. They are also finding out that people that are not legally present in the country are getting a $1,400 check.

There was an interesting interchange here on the floor during the debate, whether people were getting checks who are not legally present, and so Newsweek Magazine did a fact check on ‘are people not legally present getting a $1,400 check?’ And just yesterday, they published their fact check and came out true. People not legally present in the United States are about to receive $1,400 checks in the mail based on the bill that was just passed on a partisan basis.

There’s billions of dollars in this bill that’s allocated for vaccines. Republicans were audacious enough to be able to raise their hands and say what it is going towards, it says vaccines, but the problem is the Biden team announced they’ve done the purchase for every single vaccine for every single adult in America. In other words, every single person who can actually get the vaccine, the vaccine purchases have already been done. Those are set and ready to go by the end of May because we still have $6 billion left in the vaccine fund from last year, but this bill that just passed this week, adding another $2 trillion in debt, also includes tens of trillions of dollars for vaccines.

So the immediate question is: is that for international vaccines? No. That’s a different account. There is money for international vaccines, but this is for the United States purchase of vaccine. Where is that money going when we’v already purchased ahead of time all of the vaccines for every single adult in America? We don’t know. And, unfortunately, this bill was not taken through committee so no one even had the conversation time to even find out why.

There is a lot of money for education in this bill, and there’s a lot of need in education across the country. In fact the bill that just passed, this $2 trillion actually spends almost three times, in this one bill, almost three times for education what typically the United States federal government does for the entire year for education. And I would say there’s a great need, except when you actually look at the unspent money from education from the five bills that were passed last year, there’s still $68 billion unspent from the education funds from the five COVID bills last year, and there’s no requirement that the schools actually open or use that money to open the schools. In fact, 95 percent of the money allocated for COVID relief for education, CBO has said can’t even be spent this year at all. The earliest it could even be spent would be next year, and it’s well in excess of $100 billion.

There’s a provision on this, the Small Business Administration, as I was reading through the 600-plus pages of this bill—that is a real picture of really what this bill is shaped like. One provision of the Small Business Administration allocates $389 billion to administer the loan program, but the loan program itself disperses $70 million. Let me run that number past us again. The program cost for the administrative Washington, DC, costs of  running the program, $390 million. The actual amount that they anticipate that they will actually distribute is $70 million, totaling $460 million program total. Just $70 million of it actually gets to people, $390 million stays in Washington, DC, for the bureaucracy. All those things could have been fixed if we actually went through committee.

And in this COVID bill, there’s things like new customs duties for South Korea that I have yet to figure the out what South Korea and customs duties has to do with COVID.

There is also slipped in for the first time ever federal funding for abortion, and I’ve yet to see what abortion has to do with COVID, but this bill, for the first time in 44 years, uses federal tax dollars to start paying for abortion. That’s not been done before. In fact, when Joe Biden used to sit in that chair right over there, he often spoke about that we should not use federal funds for abortion funding, but, yet, in the COVID bill somehow abortion funding has become relevant to fighting off COVID.

I’ve had some people ask questions of could this bill have been better if we had actually done it in a bipartisan way? It could have been significantly better. If you ask how I know that, it’s because I saw the five bills we did last year, and they didn’t have problems like this last year, because we worked it out together. This one’s different.

This bill could have been significantly improved in a major way. One of them is the way we deal with charities. You see, in previous bills, we sat down and talked about our not-for-profits. I have a very strong belief personally that we have three safety nets. The family is the first safety net, nonprofits, churches, faith-based houses of worship, are a second safety net in society, and the third safety net is government. Government can never keep up with all the needs in America. If families collapse and if not-for-profits collapse, the government will never be able to keep up.

So in previous versions, we’ve actually addressed that with not-for-profits. We did that in the Paycheck Protection Program to make sure that not-for-profits could get assistance to get help to be able to survive through this. We also added in a way that we would encourage individuals to be able to donate to not-for-profits. We gave them a write-off. In the very first bill we added in $300 if you gave to a nonprofits, you could write that off your taxes right away. In the September bill, we upped that, $300 for an individual, $600 for a family that you could write off your taxes immediately if you would donate to a not-for-profit.

Why did we do that? Well, I brought that up and brought it up in committee because we said that is a good idea because we need them for that safety net. Not-for-profits are the face that’s taking care of the hungry and the homeless and the hurting in our society. And we need them to be strong. But in this bill that came out, we didn’t address the nonprofits. We didn’t have the option to be able to bring it up and debate it and say: what should we do so it just got left out.

Why should we continue to be able to push on this issue? Because we need them to be strong. They are a remarkable are part of our economy, our safety net, and of our community. They are Americans doing what we do best, serving each other, serving our neighbors, and helping in every possible way that we can. So a group of us have gathered together to be able to drop a bill dealing with these not-for-profits and encouraging us again to accelerate this issue of giving Americans the ability to write off on their taxes whether they itemize or not a below-the-line deduction for taxes to be able to encourage people to give to not-for-profits, and it matters. Wanting to do something significant, help those close to you and the ongoing work that they are doing.

Those folks have felt it a lot. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, between March and May of 2020 our nonprofits have projected job losses around 1.6 million workers. They leaned in and helped anyway, even though they were in real trouble. As of December 2020, the nonprofit workforce remained down by about 930,000 jobs. We have a long way to go to that sector actually fully recover because they are such a significant part of our economy, according to the latest data, again, available from Johns Hopkins found that nonprofit organizations employed the third-largest workforce in the US economy—nonprofits, a group that people just drive past all the time. But many people drive to or walk to because they need real help. What happened when we actually passed the CARES Act, and we added this deduction in and encouraged Americans to donate to not-for-profits to help them survive this year? What happened with that? Well, I can tell you what happened because now we can look back and see the data.

The most recent data we have for the fundraising effect for this, shows there was an increase in the third-quarter of 2020 of charitable giving, 6 percent increase in donors and an 11 percent increase in new donors when compared to 2019. We put that incentive out and people saw the need across the country and the opportunity to do that, people gave. We saw increases in all donor categories in the third-quarter of last year, the largest increase in giving, coming from donors giving $250 or less. That increased by 17 percent just in the third-quarter of last year. Now I understand there’s a lot of factors to that there’s a lot of needs and people are doing what they do best and engaging, but we need to continue to encourage the strength of nonprofits.

Because if there’s a focus to say well government should do that, government can send checks. But the government has a hard time actually meeting human needs. That requires a face and a person and a commitment and that is done different when it’s a not-for-profit. We have great federal workers all across the country that work really hard, but they also work often from a distance. Local not-for-profits in small rural communities will have much greater connection to individuals to be able to help in their time of crisis than someone 1,000 miles away who means well but doesn’t see them on a daily basis. We want to help human needs, we’ll find able to help nonprofits.

Tuesday of this week, Senator Coons, Senator Lee, Senator Shaheen, Senator Scott from South Carolina, Senator Klobuchar, Senator Collins, and Senator Cortez Masto and myself, we all introduced the Universal Giving Pandemic Response and Recovery Act. We’re just asking a simple question: can we continue to strengthen our nonprofits and encourage Americans to give to those nonprofits with their time, with their money, and with their passion and joy? When you actually engage with a nonprofit, you will find you’re the one that really receives. I’ll tell you, there’s not a moment that I talk to somebody who serves in a nonprofit that they don’t tell me how hard the work is and how draining the work is, and then with a smile they’ll say how rewarding it really is. There’s not a time that I don’t walk into a homeless shelter or a food bank that they don’t tell me about the people they meet on a daily basis and the joy of them for going home, talking to their own family, and remembering the blessings that they have. And the joy they have to get up the next day to be able to help the folks in greatest need. Let’s encourage that.

If you want to have a biblical example, Biblically, the calling for government is to encourage those who do good and punish those who do wrong. We have a lot of nonprofits doing good. Let’s encourage them, and let’s encourage Americans to be able to be engaged in volunteering and in giving.

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