House Democratic Leadership Discusses Economic Relief Package
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Each day, we are inundated with numbers. Today, the number of people in the U.S. infected with the coronavirus soared past 80,000.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Also, the number of people who have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. - that number surpassed 1,000 today.
SHAPIRO: There are economic numbers as well. This morning, we learned that nearly 3.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last week. That number shatters the previous record of 700,000 employment claims in one week.
CHANG: And there's another number in the news today - 2 trillion. That is the size of the economic rescue package the Senate approved last night. The House is likely to take it up tomorrow. And that brings me to our next guest, Hakeem Jeffries. He's a member of the Democratic leadership and represents New York's 8th Congressional District.
HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Good evening. Thanks for having me on.
CHANG: So this bill is expected to pass. But, you know, even this morning, Speaker Pelosi was suggesting that there will be a need for a fourth rescue package. She was listing all the things this current package does not do. So let me ask you, are you planning on putting together a fourth relief package?
JEFFRIES: Well, I don't want to want to put the cart before the horse. And the speaker and Chuck Schumer and others did an extraordinary job of negotiating this $2 trillion package. It's an extraordinary intervention because this is an extraordinary moment, and we're confronting an extraordinary pandemic. The size and scope of it, the number of people that will be afflicted, the potentially lethal consequences for a significant number of Americans required Congress to act in a meaningful way, both to deal with the public health crisis and, of course, to deal with the economic crisis that so many...
CHANG: But if I...
JEFFRIES: ...People are confronting.
CHANG: If I may, if the evidence shows that there's still a greater - a great need to up the unemployment help, the help with money to hospitals, et cetera, to small businesses, is there room for a fourth relief package?
JEFFRIES: Well, let's discuss what's in the third relief package and the fact that the third relief package still has to clear the hurdle of going through the House of Representatives and being signed into law by the president. We were able to substantially increase access to unemployment insurance to extend it out for an additional 13 weeks beyond the traditional 26 weeks and to add an additional 600-plus dollars on top of what someone might otherwise receive in order to deal with the economic trauma that people are confronting; the one-time payments in terms of cash assistance to people who make $75,000 or less as an individual and, of course, $150,000 or less as a married couple; $1,200, plus an additional $500 per child, will be important; and the assistance that is being provided to the hospital system - a hundred billion dollars in additional funding, the increase in Medicaid assistance through what's called...
CHANG: If I may...
JEFFRIES: ...FMAP will be meaningful. So these are all important...
CHANG: I do want to ask you - yes.
JEFFRIES: ...Steps that need to be taken now.
CHANG: Absolutely. But I want to ask you about assistance to New York specifically. Your governor, Andrew Cuomo, has been quite critical of this rescue package because he doesn't think it does enough for his state, which is still the epicenter of the outbreak. Let's take a listen to something that he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ANDREW CUOMO: This is the time for governmental leaders to stop making excuses and just do your job. Do your job. We're one nation. You know the places in this nation that have the most intense problems. Address the places that need the help.
CHANG: Congressman, you know better than anyone else that New York is probably the hardest-hit area right now in the U.S. Does this bill do enough to help your state?
JEFFRIES: Well, it's a substantial step in the right direction. I agree with the governor in terms of what needs to happen moving forward. And we certainly are one nation. And we know that New York state, New York City have been incredibly hard-hit.
CHANG: But does it do enough, this bill?
JEFFRIES: Well, the governmental structure provides 100 senators, only two of which are from New York. Thankfully, one of them is Chuck Schumer. And we were able to negotiate, with his leadership, $40 billion in assistance - and it may wind up being much more than that - to New York state. That's probably...
CHANG: Again, is that enough, Congressman?
JEFFRIES: That is - well, of course it's not enough, given the size and scope of the problem that will likely emerge. But it is a substantial amount for the moment that we find ourselves in, whether that's as a result of the unemployment insurance, the small business assistance, the food security assistance, the Medicaid assistance, the hospital assistance, the higher education assistance that is part of this bill.
CHANG: All right. That's Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
Thank you very much for joining us today.
JEFFRIES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.