HEALS ACT; Congressional Record Vol. 166, No. 139
(Senate - August 05, 2020)

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[Pages S4890-S4892]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                               HEALS ACT

  Mr. LANKFORD. Mr. President, we have been talking here in the Senate 
for months now about what needs to be done to respond to COVID-19. 
Right now, we are debating behind the scenes a fifth bill dealing with 
COVID-19. We have already passed four through the House and the Senate 
that the President has signed.
  Many Americans know the effects of those previous bills. They have 
received deposits from the Treasury of $1,200, and they have received 
assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program. Their schools have 
received assistance. Their hospitals have received assistance. Their 
States have received assistance. Their local jurisdictions have 
received assistance. There has been wide support in multiple areas--for 
housing and for health, for testing and for vaccines. All of those 
things have happened in the previous four bills.
  Yet, when we passed the last set of bills, there was a lot of thought 
about what would happen next. How would the virus spread? How long 
would this last? Would Americans continue to just stay sequestered in 
their homes, away from everyone else?
  Now, after months of dealing with this COVID-19, not only in the 
United States but globally, we know a lot more about not only how we 
are going to respond and treat the disease but also about what we are 
dealing with, for COVID-19 doesn't affect everyone in the same way 
health-wise or economically.
  There are some people who get COVID-19, and they, literally, never 
know it--they experience no symptoms at all--while others end up in a 
hospital, in the ICU, or on ventilators. There are even fatalities.
  Economically, we are at the same spot with COVID-19. Some businesses 
in America and some individuals in America are, literally, making more 
money now than they ever have before. They are in one of those 
businesses that is in high need--maybe home improvement. Since lots of 
folks are staying at home, they are doing home improvements. The price 
of lumber has skyrocketed and the price for replacement windows. All 
kinds of people are installing pools at their homes. They aren't going 
on vacation this year. So they are doing things to fix up their homes. 
Construction and home improvement have skyrocketed. Retail sales and 
craft businesses and things to do at home have skyrocketed.
  A lot of other businesses that we have seen have actually increased 
dramatically, not just grocery stores and department stores and such, 
but online retailers. They are doing really good business. In my State, 
the incomes from many small towns to their communities are higher now 
than they ever were in the history of their cities because people 
aren't driving to other towns to shop. They are staying at home and are 
shopping locally or online. So that tax revenue is going back to the 
cities. Literally, they are doing better now than they ever have done.
  For other communities and other businesses, there have been horrible 
effects during this time period, if you are a hotel or a convention 
center or a restaurant that surrounds a convention center. If the 
businesses deal with travel, transportation, or vacations, all of those 
are struggling horribly during this time period, and there are multiple 
  Here is the challenge that we have: Should our response now be the 
same as it was in March--to just pretend that this has struck everyone 
exactly the same--or should we pay attention to the realities 
economically around the country?
  I think we should be more strategic and understand that what we are 
spending is other people's money. It is not just printed monopoly money 
that we can just throw out of here. It is debt on our future or it is, 
literally, taking money from the person next door or from your house.
  So what do we need to do in a bill, and what are the needs at this 
  Some of them are very obvious. For the next bill that is coming, we 
need to focus in on vaccines, tests, and therapeutics.
  What are we going to do with telehealth? How are we going to be able 
to help?
  This is, first and foremost, a health crisis, and it is amazing to me 

[[Page S4891]]

number of topics that are being discussed for the next bill that have 
nothing to do with COVID-19--nothing to do with it.
  My friends on the other side of the aisle came forward with the 
Heroes Act--a great name. It is a $3 trillion bill, and a full $1 
trillion of it has nothing to do with COVID-19. Unrelated completely is 
$1 trillion of it because it is a big bill, and we want to get other 
things in. We want to just throw it in there.
  Why don't we start with this as a health crisis, and let's focus in 
on the health issues there--vaccines, testing, therapeutics, 
telehealth. What can we do for rural hospitals? What needs to happen at 
urban and suburban hospitals? Those are basic questions that should be 
  One of the most successful programs that we put forward in the CARES 
Act was the Paycheck Protection Program. Now that it has had its 
headlines, as some folks have said, there are people who have abused 
it. Well, welcome to government. Every single program that comes out of 
government will be abused by someone at some time.
  We have seen that in the unemployment system. Unemployment insurance 
has gone out, and it has been widely abused. Well, so have some 
portions of the Paycheck Protection Program, but we have all seen the 
long lines at unemployment offices around the country. The reason this 
was put in place--the Paycheck Protection Program--was to do whatever 
we could to help shorten those lines at unemployment offices, for 
people to not have to leave and go on unemployment but to stay 
connected to their small business or not-for-profit. That has worked.
  In my State, 65,000 businesses and nonprofits have taken advantage of 
the Paycheck Protection Program--about $5.5 billion of assistance just 
in my State.
  But there are some things that need to be dealt with. The forgiveness 
system on it is just coming out--much delayed, much to our frustration, 
but there are some straightforward things that can be done.
  If you are an entity with a loan that is $150,000 or less, there 
should be a very straightforward process of testimonial--a single page 
to fill out to complete this. We want to see this.
  We want to see businesses with the highest need--let's say businesses 
with a 35-, 40-percent, 50-percent--some of them, 70-, 75-percent loss 
in revenue from the previous year should have an eligibility to get 
through this.
  Now, some businesses took the Paycheck Protection Program, and they 
had a 5-percent loss over last year. To me, that is fine because at the 
beginning of this, no one knew who was going to survive. Many of those 
business owners were in the process of saying: I am going to have to 
lay everyone off or I can keep them on the Paycheck Protection Program. 
They kept them on the Paycheck Protection Program and that helped those 
families have a stable time, where they knew where their check was 
coming from. It helped those businesses reopen, and many of them are 
reopening now. It kept them off the unemployment assistance.
  Now, if we do a second round of paycheck protection, it really needs 
to be focused in on those businesses that are significantly off on 
revenue that will not survive without some additional help.
  We need to be attentive to how we actually handle this and be more 
strategic. We are not in the same situation that we were in March.
  We need to also look at businesses that were funded with private 
equity. It makes no sense to me that if a business started and got 
their loan from a bank, they can get a Paycheck Protection Program, but 
if they got their capital from private equity, they are not eligible 
for this.
  The employees that work there don't know where the capital came from 
to start the business; they just know they work there. But for some 
reason, there is a continual pushback to say: Well, if they were funded 
with private equity rather than a bank, then they are evil. No, they 
are startup companies doing technology, innovation, healthcare. Those 
are the kinds of companies that are out there that are being funded 
with private equity, but yet we have told their employees: You can just 
go to unemployment, and, literally, the business next door to them: No, 
you get paycheck protection. That makes no sense. We should fix that.
  We should put into this next bill some help for schools that are 
reopening. Now, not every school is reopening. They are not going to 
need the same level of help. Some schools are not reopening or they are 
choosing not to. I understand that. We gave additional funds--$30 
billion of funds--across the country from the previous CARES Act to 
help schools transition to online learning, to help them get through 
the process of finding cleaning supplies, do additional training. That 
was $30 billion that was sent out to do that.
  Additional dollars should be helping those schools that are reopening 
that will have additional expenses. They are going to have to run 
additional bus routes to make sure they keep kids separate. They are 
going to have to do A and B schedules to open up their classrooms. 
There are going to be greater expenses for them, so we should help 
those schools that are reopening through the process. That is common 
sense in this.
  There has been a big request for an additional assistance check for 
those that need additional assistance. There are some families who are 
struggling to make their payments and are going to be evicted.
  The $1,200 that was sent out earlier this year went out to help stop 
that early in the year, and some families are still unemployed and 
still struggling through this. What are we going to do to help them?
  There are some strategic ways to get out some additional assistance, 
but we should target it to those families of greatest need, and that 
should be the same with their unemployment assistance.
  Unemployment assistance passed in March. There was an additional $600 
per week, per person that was sent out on unemployment assistance in 
addition to the normal State unemployment assistance.
  For many individuals in my State, that meant you made more on 
unemployment than you did on employment. That is a problem long term. 
Now, this program was set up to be short term; that it would be 
assistance through the end of July, which has now passed. It was a week 
ago. But individuals applying for unemployment assistance this week are 
still getting unemployment assistance in my State, exactly as they were 
in February of this year, exactly as they were in November of last 
year, exactly as they were in August of last year. Unemployment 
assistance is still happening in my State, just like it is happening in 
every other State.
  But the debate is, do we want to go above and beyond unemployment 
assistance that literally takes people to the spot where they make more 
staying at home than they do at work?
  Now, there are some folks who are saying: Well, that doesn't actually 
deincentivize work. Really? Tell that to the folks whom I have talked 
to who work in manufacturing, who are there at the job working every 
day, and the person who usually works a pod away from them is at home 
because they have talked to them, and they are saying: I will come back 
once my unemployment goes away.
  So this person is busting their tail working, making less than the 
person who is staying at home, and the person staying at home is 
telling their friend: I will come back when the benefits run out. That 
is not right for either one of those folks. That tells that person 
working: You are a sucker for not just staying home and getting 
somebody else's money.
  We should not incentivize for not working. We should help people get 
through a very difficult time, and that is what this is, but not 
discourage engagement in work. That is not fair to the guy or the lady 
who is still working. That is not fair to the employer that has opened 
up and saying: I have got jobs available but no one will apply. And 
that is not right for that family who is staying home, taking money 
from their neighbors, when they know they could come back and work.

  Now, the law says that if you are offered a job and you are on 
unemployment, you have to take it. But we know of way too many cases 
already where individuals are not taking the job they are offered, and 
the employer knows it is one of their employees who is a good employee, 
and they want

[[Page S4892]]

them to come back, so they hate to turn them in. So it puts everyone in 
a quandary--the employer and the employee because the employee is 
breaking the law by staying home, teaching their family to do the wrong 
thing, because it gets them more money. We shouldn't put them in that 
spot, and we shouldn't encourage people to be in that spot.
  In this bill, we should deal with unemployment, but we should make 
sure we are helping people through this season, not incentivizing them 
to break the law.
  We should deal with nursing care and senior living. We should deal 
with hospital care in this bill. Those are the areas that have been the 
hardest hit in all of America. The largest number of fatalities that we 
have had and the greatest amount of expense are in that area. We should 
do something to come alongside them.
  We should do something in this bill about liability protections. I 
have letters and phone calls from universities in my State and from 
businesses in my State saying they are terrified to reengage for fear 
of what is going to happen with lawsuits coming in the days ahead that 
they can't stop.
  They want to be able to serve their students at school, they want to 
be able to serve their customers in their business and the families who 
depend on that, but they are afraid of an entrepreneurial lawyer that 
will file lawsuits and will push them to settle or push them into 
bankruptcy at a very difficult time for them, only because this body 
will not step up and do basic liability protections.
  Now, if there is gross negligence, we should never protect that 
company. But if they are doing the best that they can, why wouldn't we 
have basic liability protections for our universities, our schools, and 
our places of business?
  We need to have in this bill some help for the postal system. There 
is a lot of debate about what that should be. Is it total reform of the 
postal system? No, that is not what this is about. But just like we 
helped the State Department in the CARES Act, we should help USPS in 
this bill as well.
  We have had some pushback on helping some of the areas on 
immigration. Many of the entities in immigration are totally fee-based. 
When someone applies to come into the country with our visa system, 
they pay a fee to do that. Well, obviously, they are not coming in 
right now, so those areas of our immigration policy are really 
struggling right now. We should come alongside and help. That is a 
unique situation in a Federal agency.
  We should deal with election issues--maybe not like some people in 
this body want. In the CARES Act, we included $350 million to the 
States to help them in their elections for this fall--$350 million. 
Almost none of that has been used by States because in the bill itself 
it also required the State legislatures to add matching dollars to be 
able to come into session, and when we put that out from this body, 
those State legislatures were going out of session or they were locking 
down because they didn't know what their expenses would be. So almost 
no one has taken those funds because their legislature wasn't in 
session to vote for it and because they didn't have any ability to 
anticipate what funds would be needed this session, and so there is 
$350 million of unused money from the last bill that we should just 
take the strings off of and make it clear to States: You could use 
these funds for the election coming up this fall.
  Now, there is a big push to say: Let's add another $350 million. Come 
on, people. Let's read the last bill that we wrote and bring it forward 
into this bill and fix the problems from the last one. It shouldn't be 
that difficult.
  Our States are going to need help on the elections this year. There 
will be much greater expenses, but we want the election to go smoothly. 
We have already allocated them the dollars. Let's allow them to 
actually use it in a way that they can during this session.
  But that shouldn't be for just mass mailing of every ballot. Just 
printing off ballots and mailing it to every house doesn't solve the 
issue; it complicates the issue. But we should help people with their 
election systems.
  And while I speak on State funding, this whole issue of State funding 
does need to be addressed. During the CARES Act that passed in March, 
this body gave the States $150 billion. There was also an allocation 
for healthcare of $260 billion. There was an allocation for education 
of $30 billion. Why do I bring that up?
  The three most expensive aspects in any State budget are education, 
public safety, and healthcare. Those are the three most expensive 
portions from any State budget.
  This body allocated $260 billion toward healthcare, $30 billion 
toward education, $150 billion toward public safety and COVID expenses.
  Just to put that in perspective, the total budget for every State in 
America is $900 billion. Every State's total budget combined spending 
that they do in a year--$900 billion.
  My Democratic colleagues want us to give almost $1 trillion to the 
States for COVID expenses. The total budget for every State in the 
entire country for the entire year is just over $900 billion, and they 
are going to give $1 trillion to them on top of it. That is more than 
replacing every State budget in America. That is absurd, and that is 
why these negotiations are so difficult--because it is not reasonable.
  They can just throw a number out and say everybody needs this. 
Replacing the budget of every State in America is reasonable? I don't 
think so, especially when we have already allocated $260 billion toward 
healthcare, $30 billion toward education, and $150 billion toward 
public safety and COVID response.
  The real issue is with the public safety and the COVID expenses 
because so many of the States--now with this whole ``defund the 
police'' movement--don't want to allocate their public safety dollars 
toward public safety. They want to be able to use it for other things, 
not public safety.
  Well, that is a decision States can make, but they have the 
flexibility already to use those dollars. Literally, they could pay for 
every single law enforcement officer in their State--their salary and 
their benefits would be fully taken care of--but they are saying: I 
don't want to pay our law enforcement. I want to use it for other 
things. Well, those funds have been allocated, and they need to make a 
decision on what they are going to do with it.
  Now, there is a lot that could be done with this bill, but my 
challenge for us is, let's focus on the things that are essential to be 
done, not the long wish list of what people want to cram into a bill 
because it is getting big, and they can hide something in it.
  Let's keep it focused and let's continue to remember this is a health 
crisis and it is a season during which we should work across the aisle 
to solve things that are common sense and not ignore the problem.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. McSALLY). The Senator from Florida.