Lankford Provides COVID Update, Questions Hyper-Partisan House Bill on Senate Floor
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on the Senate floor.
WASHINGTON, DC –Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today provided an update on the Senate floor about the Senate’s work on COVD- and non-COVID-related legislative matters this week to ensure the nation can continue to move forward through the pandemic and beyond. Lankford has introduced legislation on or communicated with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Treasury Department recently on adjusting the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other areas of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help restaurants and other small businesses, large nonprofits, and announce funds available to Tribes and request additional help for Tribal health organizations.
Lankford also discussed the hyper-partisan bill the House is considering this week under the guise of coronavirus relief that actually—at more than 1,800 pages—is a veritable cornucopia of Democrat wish-list items, many of which have almost nothing to do with the coronavirus.
Mr. President, this has been a busy week, walking through a lot of issues that are COIVID-19-related, a lot of individual meetings, committee meetings to be able to able to walk through what we can get done in preparation of the next step. I met with Francis Collins very early yesterday morning to be able to walk through vaccine development, what’s happening with this timeline of different treatment options. Very optimistic on some of the vaccine developments, multiple different lines of vaccines and very hopeful we'll have a vaccines in place by this fall that we could have hundreds of millions or at least tens of millions of different vaccines that would be ready. Well over 100 million will be ready by Christmas time it looks like. So, continue to be able to push in that direction.
Had an untold number of conversations with the Secretary of the Treasury over the last five days talking through the Paycheck Protection Program. Trying to be able to settle this issue of forgiveness. This has been a very big issue with the small businesses and not-for-profits in my state and quite frankly around the country. There is no closing information on how the Paycheck Protection Program ends. They were grateful to have the help at the beginning, but it is setup to be a loan unless you qualify for it. And a lot of these folks took that loan that would transition into a grant under the hope that everyone would be treated fairly, but the rules were not set in place.
Spent a lot of time this weekend and through early this week with the Treasury Department. They released out finally today a very simple statement that if you're truly a small business or not-for-profit—that is, your total loan was $2 million or less—you will be in what they call safe harbor. They’re not going to have to worry about audits. They’re not going to worry about where to follow through at the end of it. It’s going to be a very straightforward process for those very small businesses and small not-for-profits, if that loan is $2 million or less. Now remember that loan covers their total payroll for two months so that's a truly small entity. Once you get into larger entities that may have a loan from $2 million to $10 million to cover their entire payroll expenses for two months, those folks will have a good-faith process that also was outlined that was a very fair process to be able to come out today as well. That's helpful, and when I spoke to Secretary Mnuchin earlier today, thanked him for getting this done. I thought that was the greatest solution to provide the greatest clarity and simple paperwork for those small businesses that don't have to worry about pulling together a ton of documents. So for $2 million or less they will be in safe harbor.
We even worked on non-COVID-related issues this week. Senator Rosen and I made contact with the Ambassador from Ukraine to be able to talk about in one town in Ukraine some law enforcement sent out a letter to every person in the town saying, ’if you're Jewish, we need you to register to make sure we can deal with crime in our community.’ That's appalling. And so we contacted the Ambassador for Ukraine and said, ‘help us understand why there's leadership in one of your town that is trying to register every Jew in your town saying, It's because of crime issues.’
They are immediately pulling that back, doing an investigation, and I’m grateful to the nation of Ukraine which has been a close ally and friend to the United States, especially pushing back against the aggressive Russia that is to their east that Ukraine is continuing to speak out immediately for the basic freedoms of individuals to be able to live their faith and not registered by a local government. Looking forward to an explanation of that in the days ahead.
The vast majority of things I have worked on have been related to COVID-19 as we walk through the issues of my state in Oklahoma reopening, and multiple states around the nation slowly trying to be able to find ways to reopen. As we see other nations doing as well. Italy, who is exceptionally hard hit, is in the process of reopening right now. Germany which was also hard hit by COVID-19 is in the process of reopening. Spain—now fully-half of Spain is in phase one of reopening for them as well. South Korea was exceptionally hard hit, is not only reopening they’ve already had an election and had record high turnout physically at the polls, because they set up a social distancing process to be able to do in-person voting and had a record 65 percent turnout. The highest turnout they have had in 28 years. They had in their first election, post COVID-19 outbreak in the country so that’s a very hopeful sign not only that they are returning to life as we are, but they also worked out a process for voting and to be able to have safe voting processes.
The White House has announced a tremendous increase in testing again, last week when 2 million COVID-19 tests were done and the goal for May is to do 13 million tests done just in the month of May. There’s now 79 different diagnostics tests that have been authorized. There’s been 12 different tests that have been authorized. The FDA has granted 92 emergency-use authorizations, so there is pretty fast work to be able to go through the process knowing this has only been a few months have gone through the process, and so far a total of 11 billion dollars have been brought into state’s and tribes to be able to offset the cost of testing for them. In fact, Oklahoma has received 87 almost 88 million dollars just to deal with testing issues in our state as we continue to see a rapid acceleration. In fact my state’s due to receive 90,000 swabs just this month to continue to be able to do the testing that’s there. So we’ve seen a pretty dramatic increase of engagement on testing and that’s exceptionally helpful for us.
For the Treasury, they’ve made a lot of progress on getting out the economic payments to people. They’ve now sent out 130 million of those. Just in my state, 1.5 million of those economic impact payments have been made in my state, totaling about $2.8 billion that’s coming direct assistance to folks in the state. So it’s been significant help to people who need to get it.
The Paycheck Protection Program continues to help the smallest of businesses. The Economic Impact Payments have gone out even as the state has started to come back alive, little by little. We have worked through phase one of reopening and now heading toward carefully toward phase 2.
I continue to encourage my fellow Oklahomans to keep social distancing. Wear a mask, which I do in public, and to continue to keep a good attention to your own hygiene into taking care of people that have other health issues or people that have heart issues or diabetes issues. They know to be able to stay home and to keep themselves protected, and I encourage them to continue to do that.
Now as we’re working through all of these things in the Senate and trying to find practical solutions and to try to work through things in a nonpartisan format, which is what we should do right now and try to be able to take on COVID-19. I was rather shocked yesterday, when the House of Representatives released the details of the bill that they hope to vote on Friday. This bill they hope to vote on Friday is a $3 trillion bill. That is larger than the previous four bills that we have voted on combined. It is a pretty dramatic expansion on a lot of issues that are not COVID-19 related.
As we said in our previous conversation just a month-and-a-half-ago, what we focus on right now should be COVID-19 related, not try to say ‘it’s a COVID-19 related bill’ and then stick a bunch of other stuff into it. It’s over 1,800 pages. In fact, just the summary of it, if people want to see the ‘summary document’ of it is 90 pages long just to be able to get the summary of it. It deals with a lot of issues that are certainly not COVID-19 related. And I think a lot of Oklahomans and a lot of other Americans would say ‘why did they want to stick that in there?’ And just think, ‘look over here at this big number we’re going to give the states and look over here at this big issue and don’t pay attention to these other issues.’ For instance, I think there are legitimate issues on trying to protect voting and to make sure that the voting this year can go off safely and that can go off in a way that we can all have great credibility on it. What South Korea just did with record high turnout with in-person voting.
But that's not what this bill that’s coming from the House plans to do this week. What they plan to vote on Friday radically changes voting for the entire country not for this year permanently. It prohibits states from here on out on imposing any conditions or requirements for eligibility for voting. It gives absentee ballots mailed to every single person. It also breaks down any voter ID laws that are in any state and authorizes something called ballot harvesting, which has been exceptionally successful in California for democratic candidates, but it basically allows someone to come to your door and say,’ have you voted yet absentee?,’ and if it's no, they can vote on the spot. The person at your door can then take the ballot from you, and they’ll say, ‘I’ll will go turn it in for you.’ Well, obviously, there are lots of moments of fraud for that, but this would make that mandatory nationwide. That's a major issue, to be able to change how we do voting forever and to be able to break this down. This is not the time to try to cram this into a bill that's supposedly about COVID-19 to do a permanent change on that.
It also does some things that I was rather stunned by even for some of my colleagues on the House side. It changes the economic impact payments and it takes away the requirement that they have to have a Social Security number. Well, if you take away the requirement that it has to have a Social Security number, what it allows then is for people that are non-citizens to be able to get the Economic Impact Payments. Up to $6,000 per household for any individual that's in the country. Well, that's a pretty dramatic shift in what we're doing. And it allows people that are not legally present in the country to actually end up with Economic Impact Payments as well. I don't think most people in my state would agree with that and would want to know why are we trying to be able to stick that in?
It also goes some pretty massive changes to how immigration is actually handled. It frees a lot of people that are currently under ICE custody right now and forces the release of those individuals. It awards federal funding specifically to sanctuary cities. It prevents the deportation of anyone who's not legally present in the United States. It provides deferred action and work authorization for anyone that's working in a job here regardless of legal status into the country, so it literally takes everyone who’s not legally present here and gives them legal status during this time period. It changes the unemployment insurance in a way that's pretty dramatic.
Currently, the unemployment insurance is greatly plussed up during this time period. There’s an additional $600 per week per person for anyone on unemployment insurance. That allows an individual in my state to make about $48,000 a year on unemployment assistance. The challenge is there are many individuals that don't make $48,000 in their normal job, but they're making $48,000 now on unemployment assistance. This bill coming from the House changes that because that extra $600 per week expires at the end of July. It changes the expiration of that deep into next spring of 2021, regardless if your state is open for business or not. So in my state in Oklahoma, literally it would encourage people that make less than $48,000 a year to not go back to work because they could make more by staying on unemployment insurance, not through just July but all the way through the rest of this year and through half of next year, regardless if your state is open or not, regardless if we have a vaccine or not. If we have a vaccine let's say in November, as Francis Collins states, you would still get this unemployment protection to be able to make $48,000 a year past your vaccination deep into next year. I think that's a continual problem. I think that's an issue.
In the bill itself, it actually sets up a series of changes in our federal cannabis laws, which immediately I thought of, okay, how much information is in this bill by cannabis? Cannabis is actually mentioned in this bill 68 times. Now, i'm not sure why that's in a bill dealing with COVID-19, but it does dramatic changes in our federal cannabis laws. There is a section where it gives tax breaks to teachers and firefighters and to law enforcement folks. Okay, that's great, but stuck right in the middle of that section is a tax break for billionaires which I was shocked. It's an almost $100 billion tax break for the top 1 percent, and it's stuck right in the section just kind of quietly in there in the middle of the section for teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement.
The student loan section was also interesting to me. It provides $10,000 of loan forgiveness to every single student around the country. I'm sure every student would be grateful to have that, and I’m sure every family would be grateful to have this, but it wasn't need based, it wasn't anything else. It was just $10,000 of blanket loan forgiveness for every single student across the entire country. Of course, there is no liability protection that's anywhere in it. In the Paycheck Protection Program that has been exceptionally important to a lot of small businesses wasn’t increased. So some things that are really needed at this time are not even addressed to be able to help small businesses again or to be able to help with liability protections which so many businesses and educational institutions and nonprofits are asking the question: how do I reopen, what do I do, and how do I deal with the liability issues? That was not addressed at all.
I have a lot of concerns about this bill, beginning with just the basics of why didn't they even try to negotiate with Republicans and Democrats? It was a straight Democrat bill in a time we desperately need to focus on not putting out a partisan thing and saying look, ‘we're trying to be able to help, but don't look at all these hundreds and hundreds of pages of things that are not related to COVID. Let's try to actually solve the problem that's in front of us. It's serious. And the issues that we face dealing with health and the individuals that are on the front lines right now at grocery stores and health care facilities and hospitals and truckers and convenience stores and folks that are doing carryout food, those folks are doing remarkable work, and they should be encouraged, not discouraged with a partisan bill that's coming out here that everyone knows is not going to go anywhere. Let's keep working together. What's happening in the Senate to try to be able to establish bipartisan agreements on things we should be able to continue to do. But flying in to do a messaging bill worth $3 trillion that changes voting in America and changes cannabis laws and does all kinds of other things is not what we need to do right now. Let's keep to work, though, because there is plenty that does need to be done.
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