On Senate Floor, Tester to McConnell: ‘Millions of Americans are waiting for the Senate to act’ on Coronavirus Package
Package includes a number of Tester priorities, including free testing for Montanans, unemployment insurance, funds for VA & IHS
U.S. Senator Jon Tester today took to the Senate floor to urge the Senate to quickly pass the House’s bipartisan coronavirus relief package, which will provide critically needed resources for Montana’s efforts to combat the outbreak, and he excoriated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for allowing the Senate to take the weekend off despite the urgent need to pass the legislation.
“Last Thursday, the Majority Leader [Mitch McConnell] sent us home, business as usual,” said Tester. “What we should have done-we should have stuck around and done the people’s work, but instead my friends in the Majority decided we should operate business as usual and take off Friday and take off the weekend and go home. Well, this is not business as usual…Millions of Americans are waiting for the Senate to act…[This bill] is an important start towards providing needed relief. It provides free testing, sick leave, and unemployment insurance for those losing their jobs through no fault of their own.”
Last week, as the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak increased exponentially in Montana and across the country, Senator McConnell refused to keep the Senate in session over the weekend, instead adjourning on Thursday for a three day weekend.
Tester continued, “On the farm, when there is work to be done-especially when it’s time sensitive work-you don’t take a break, you get the job done. I call on my colleagues not to waste another moment, to hold a vote, and get the job done.”
The coronavirus legislative package includes a number of items Senator Tester has aggressively pushed for, including:
- Free testing for COVID-19 under all insurance plans and for the uninsured;
- $64 million for IHS to cover the costs of diagnostic testing;
- $60 million for VA to cover the costs of diagnostic testing;
- $1 billion in emergency unemployment insurance benefits;
- An emergency increase to the federal medical assistance percentage for the duration of the public health emergency – the increase of 6.2 percentage points would mean that Montana would receive an estimated $80 million for Medicaid expenses;
- $250 million for senior nutrition programs, including meal delivery;
- Up to two weeks of paid leave for employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees and government employers, with the exception of some small businesses;
- Up to ten weeks of partial paid leave for folks with kids whose schools or childcare has closed as long as they are employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees or government employers, with the exception of some small businesses;
- More than $1 billion in food assistance, including $400 million for local food banks to meet increased need and $500 million for WIC to support low-income pregnant women and mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to COVID-19; and
- Flexibility for school lunch programs to continue providing meals to low-income students even if schools are closed.
Senator Tester has led the charge on pushing the Trump Administration to make sure that vulnerable Montanans-in particular seniors, folks with disabilities, and direct care providers-have access to information about test kits, proper protection, and the spread of COVID-19. He has introduced legislation to guarantee testing for the virus will be at zero cost, passed bipartisan legislation through the Senate to ensure veterans GI benefits are protected during the outbreak, and he is working to extend the IRS tax filing deadline. He has also doubled down on his efforts to press the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Indian Health Service to provide veterans, VA healthcare staff, and Tribes with access to proper resources and information.