June 11, 2020 In the News

Op-Ed: America is facing two national crises

Union Leader
By Senator Jeanne Shaheen
June 11, 2020

AMERICA is gripped by two national crises — both of which demand immediate leadership from Congress. After the horrific murder of George Floyd, voices across New Hampshire and the country are appropriately demanding justice and systematic reforms. In the days and weeks ahead, I will be pressing for proposals that ensure equal protection and treatment under the law and work to help unite our state and nation.

And while our state is beginning to reopen, the ongoing economic and public health fallout from COVID-19 continues to take many lives and inflict staggering financial and personal losses for New Hampshire families and businesses.

Every day, community leaders and frontline workers tell me about what they are facing. Time and again, they’ve raised concerns about the massive reduction in local tax revenue, increased costs due to COVID-19 response efforts, and the daunting decisions that will soon need to be made to make up the shortfall. Mayors and town administrators are grappling with whether they’ll have to lay off first responders, firefighters, police and teachers if federal assistance doesn’t arrive soon.

On a call with teachers and school administrators, educators shared how incredibly they’ve been stretched transitioning to remote learning with few resources. This has been a herculean effort and they’ve done an excellent job. However, they shared many challenges, including how the shift to remote learning has further exposed the glaring disparities in broadband access that leaves behind many students in rural areas and makes it extremely difficult for teachers to deliver a quality education.

Congress has taken some very important bipartisan steps to provide assistance to New Hampshire, but these conversations with Granite Staters on the frontlines are a powerful reminder of how much work lies ahead. Originally the CARES Act did not include any money for state and local relief, but ignoring states and municipalities was wrong. The $1.25 billion we were able to include for New Hampshire will make a real difference for people and small businesses.

However, it’s clear that further action and new legislation is needed to address the ongoing needs across our state and the nation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggests that our towns, cities, and states should “declare bankruptcy.” But that’s only going to set us back. The federal government should provide financial help now to New Hampshire counties and towns. Under no circumstances should our communities have to cut essential services and frontline workers.

The next COVID-19 response bill must also provide financial help to Granite Staters to help them pay bills, put food on the table and afford health care. This legislation needs to provide a pay increase to our heroic essential workers, invest in rural broadband and infrastructure, and support the U.S. Postal Service so that it can maintain reliable, affordable mail delivery, particularly to rural areas. This needs to be done without drastically increasing postage rates as President Trump has proposed.

Additional support for our long-term care facilities, especially nursing homes, is critical. As a percentage of total COVID-19 deaths, New Hampshire tragically has the highest rate of fatalities in long-term care facilities in the country. We’ve secured $20 million to help these facilities, however, additional resources are needed. This virus has taken too many parents and grandparents from us.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has helped more than 22,000 New Hampshire small businesses stay afloat and keep workers on payroll. However, I’ve spoken to small business owners who are hanging on by a thread and need access to additional funding through PPP to stay afloat. I’m introducing legislation that will allow these businesses to do just that. This bill will prioritize forgivable loan access for businesses with under 100 employees and the hardest-hit sectors of the economy, particularly the restaurant and hospitality industries. I helped negotiate PPP and it wasn’t intended for big businesses and it’s shameful that the Trump administration allowed some large businesses and corporations to go first in line. My priority continues to be making sure federal relief reaches those who actually need it and without needless red tape and delays.

Rather than address these urgent issues, Mitch McConnell wants to provide blanket immunity from lawsuits for corporations that don’t adhere to public health guidelines and force employees to return to work in unsafe conditions. Being forced into an unsafe working environment with no accountability shouldn’t be added to the long list of worries Granite Staters already have. This just further underscores why the Trump Administration must finally establish a comprehensive national program for testing, protective equipment and contact tracing so that the public feels safe at work.

These are common sense, bipartisan priorities. There’s no time for partisan bickering and stalling. We must unite as a nation to help those who are hurting and make needed reforms, and we need to do so immediately.