Senator Lankford Talks Coronavirus, Economic Stimulus Package
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks.
WASHINGTON, DC – Sator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor about the outbreak of the coronavirus in terms of national and international health concerns and also in terms of its dramatic impact on our nation’s economy. Lankford cited Oklahoma small business concerns about why the appropriate economic stimulus action is so important. Lankford believes the first priority in Congress should be to “do no harm,” and that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act today, which passed, might cause more harm than good.
Yesterday, Lankford expressed his concerns for the bill. Lankford is providing resources and updates for Oklahomans on his website, www.lankford.senate.gov/issues/ and has already providing updates directly to Oklahomans through a telephone town hall that spanned the state and two Facebook Live events.
Three months ago no one in the country, in fact, no one in the world had heard the term covid-19. The term coronavirus was around but most folks didn’t use that because it was connected to SARS or to MERS in the past. In December of 2019, an infection started in China, and it spread rapidly through the Wuhan region. And by January there were thousands of people infected before most of the world even knew it existed. Now almost every country in the world has infections. We have hundreds of thousands of people that have had contact with this virus, and unfortunately we’ve lost thousands of people worldwide.
In the United States the numbers continue to increase. The vast majority of the people who get this virus have little to no symptoms. It’s a cold, it’s a mild flu to them. But for a vulnerable population—our elderly populations, those with heart issues and lung issues, smokers, diabetics—this can be a very, very serious thing. The challenge we face in our health care is that for every person that walks in to get tested, they’re face-to-face with one of our healthcare workers, especially in rural areas of our state, that may be the only healthcare professional for that entire county. And if that person who has not been vaccinated as well—because there is no vaccine yet—if that person is not able to serve the rest of the population, a bad health situation becomes even worse because of diminishing care.
We as Americans have taken this seriously, as we should. We’re paying attention. This younger population is spending time trying to be able to get away from other individuals, to be able to self-isolate, self-quarantine, to be able to get social distancing, the new term. To be able to find a way to not get close to someone else so you don’t accidentally pass the virus on because if the virus may be in them and they are not affected much, the affect to someone else can be pretty dramatic so out of respect to others try to maintain distance.
There has been multiple actions from the federal government in the past several months. Travel bans we know about, starting with China and now multiple areas of the world. Lots of encouragement to be able to limit gatherings. First to 250 and then to 50 and now to 10. Now a series of keep social distancing. There’s been emergency declarations that have been done. CMS changed coverage yesterday on dealing with issues like telehealth, making sure that individuals that may have other care needs don’t have to actually go into a health care professional for their fear of who else is sitting in the waiting room. But they can get access to telehealth. The FDA has been aggressive in giving access to different states to be able to do their own testing regiments. CDC has been active to get to a point where they can get a testing system that can get out to the entire country.
The challenge was early on many other countries did tests and developed tests with a high false positive rate. CDC was very focused on trying to get as accurate as they could. It meant they took longer and we don’t have the tests out. The tests are more accurate, but we don’t have the testing numbers that we needed when we needed it, which was last week. So now we’re still struggling to be able to catch up on testing all over the country. Multiple labs, multiple universities are also coming on board.
It’s interesting, multiple other countries are also developing their own testing processes. In the days ahead we will be able to catch up on the testing that any American could be able to get testing, but for now it’s limited. In states like my state, in Oklahoma, where the virus is beginning acceleration, we were late to get the virus coming to Oklahoma. But now the virus is there, it starts to accelerate, and testing is exceptionally important to us as it is to everyone else. The Department of Transportation is engaged on hours-of-service to allow for movement of goods all over the country dealing with livestock and food.
There has been a move from just about every retailer in the country doing hours early in the morning for those in the most vulnerable population so they’re not shopping with people that may have the virus and don’t know. There’s been a shift around the country to encourage people to telework or to be able to find ways to be able to separate out in their place of work. All of these things have occurred just in the last few months, beginning again to say three months ago none of us knew this term or this virus existed. All this is happening extremely rapidly.
Three weeks ago, Congress and the President agreed on a proposal that was a wide bipartisan proposal to be able to deal with additional funding for testing, additional funding for the vaccine development, additional funding for state and local departments of health to be able to make sure they’re taking care of that. In my own state of Oklahoma, has already received along with $7 million to be able to help with what’s happening in our county and we are in desperate need of those dollars to be able to get that done. Vaccine development is already in human trials now. It’s in phase one. It will take multiple months to be able to get that done, but we have already begun that process. And that’s important to us.
The bill that was on the floor today dealt in multiple helpful things. It expands SNAP, food nutrition, an expansion of that. It also deals with unemployment insurance benefits to be able to make sure those are staying consistent and get extended out to people that are going to need it because in the past week unemployment has dramatically increased all over the country. In the days ahead when we’re able to see the numbers, we’ll see the difference of what happened this week versus the week before versus the week before that.
The struggle is my phones have been filled with one other element that’s in that bill, and that deals with a mandate on small businesses for sick leave. Small businesses in my state are closed. Many retailers and restaurants, many small businesses, are really struggling with how they’re going to pay for this when they have no income coming in right now. They’re hearing the promise of a federal reimbursement coming to them but they don’t know when that’s coming and they’re literally teetering on the edge right now and their struggle is please don’t do something that pushes us over the edge. We need help. But we don’t need a bureaucracy that’s going to be slow to respond or a way that’s actually going to get us some help, but help that comes to us too late.
In these terrifying words that I’ve heard from multiple employers, ‘I cannot make it with that structure, I’m going to have to lay people off and hope to be able to hire them back when this all ends.’ For those families that are laid off and on unemployment now, this is a very different day for them. And my fear is some of what pushed some of those individuals over the edge into unemployment was a nudge to say we’re going to add one more mandate to you at your worst possible economic moment.
The first principle that we should have as a Congress is: do no harm. We need to step in and help those folks that need help. There’s lots of ideas being bantered around in the Senate and the House from both sides of the aisle to try to figure out how we can get help as rapidly as we can to as many people as we can. This is a moment unlike what we have seen before. It’s not that the economy is crashing because of some economic foundation that’s not there. It is fear and panic that’s global, that literally we’re struggling with ‘what if,’ and the CDC and our own government’s saying to employers, ‘it would be best if you closed for a season.’ And they being good citizens and good neighbors, quite frankly, are complying with that for fear of their own business and of their own employees.
I finished my day yesterday late last night talking to a small business owner in Oklahoma. Who relayed to me what he’s going through right now. And the struggles that he’s having keeping the doors open. And quite frankly, he was fairly blunt with me to say the things that are being passed in the bill tomorrow will affect me but my competitors that are big companies, it doesn’t affect them. And so it’s already hard enough for me as a small business to compete with them. Now I have a new mandate on me that’s not a mandate on them. And it makes it even harder, and I don’t think I’ll have the cash flow to be able to make this work. Towards the end of the conversation he paused and literally began to cry, and he pulled himself together and said, ‘I’m having to call people and tell them I don’t have hours for you next week. And these are people I care about.’ We need to take action, but we need to take action that helps people keep their jobs, helps people stay employed, and helps us deal with the dip in the economy right now to help them pull back out.
My fear is we didn’t do that just now. We might have just made it worse.
There are important things for us to do, and many of those things we’re working on this week e. We have got to get help to as many people as we can as fast as we can. And it is my hope the Senate will continue to stay in session as the Leader has already said and promised that it would, until we actually come to some proposals where we have wide bipartisan agreement that could help rapidly to people that need the help the most—those workers, those individuals that are struggling, those folks that are hourly, folks that are waiters and waitresses, folks that work in the coffee shop and own the coffee shop, folks in retail locations that are shut down. They need us to stand with them, and this is our moment to do it. Let’s do it together.