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Schumer on keeping pandemic’s recession from becoming a depression

As millions of Americans find themselves suddenly unemployed and unsure that they can pay their bills, many are desperately awaiting federal aid. But are state and local governments able to deliver the trillions of dollars Congress and President Trump have approved? Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss their progress and what Congress should do next.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As millions of Americans find themselves unemployed and worrying about how to pay their bills, Lisa Desjardins looks at how well state and local governments are doing at getting out the trillions in aid passed by Congress last week.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That $2 trillion rescue bill became law one week ago today. And now states are racing to try and set up those increased unemployment payments, even as layoffs grow by as much as a million people each day.

    For that and for more on what's next, I'm joined by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. Of course, that is one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic.

    Thank you so much for joining us, Leader Schumer.

    My first question for you is about that unemployment increase. You know, it's complicated, because each state runs its own system. And now the federal government must sign off and kind of make sure that that flows.

    What can you tell people who are losing jobs right now about when you think they will see that increased benefit?

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    Well, we have demanded, Senator Wyden and myself, that the checks reach people in two weeks.

    We provided a billion dollars to help the states augment their unemployment offices. We want to make sure that, when people call in, that they can get the $600 augmentation of their pay, of their salary, of their unemployment benefits immediately.

    And we have made it much simpler for people to apply. It's a one-sheet testification, because we want to get the money out quickly. And it applies to all kinds of people who never got unemployment, part-time people, gig workers, freelancers, individual people.

    And so we are urging very strongly the administration to make sure that the state offices are up to snuff.

    I have been talking to my state, New York. And they expect to be ready and willing to go quite soon. We need the other states to do that as well, because, A, people need these paychecks.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You…

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    They need it for rent, groceries and everything else. And, B, we need to pump some money into the economy quickly or it'll just crash.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, I'm going to come back to New York in a second, but you're one of the four top leaders in Congress.

    Why wasn't this nation and why wasn't New York better prepared for this?

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    Well, the nation wasn't better prepared because, frankly, I think President Trump was behind the curve.

    He first said it was a hoax. He then said, don't take it seriously. The testing was way behind the curve.

    I called for a national emergency on January 26, but not much happened. And even on things like the supplies that our front-line workers need, the PPEs, the masks, they still — today, I asked the president once again to use the Defense Production Act and hire — and put in place a general, a military person who knows logistics, who knows command-and-control, to take control of both the manufacturer of these needed materials and the distribution.

    We just had a conference call with our 47 Democratic senators. Across the country, hospitals, workers are scrambling to find these things on their own. The DPA, the Defense Production Act, allows the federal government to come in, commandeer factories, commandeer supply lines, and put the supplies in the places they're most needed.

    I spoke to five hospital leaders today. They're desperate for this. They're spending a quarter of their time hunting and pecking to try and find the materials they need.

    So, we need this administration to implement what Congress has put in much better, whether it's unemployment insurance, small business loans, or distributing the greatly needed PPEs, masks, ventilators, that are maldistributed across the country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senator, is that what should happen next, is sort of focused on expanding what's already been passed? What should happen next?

    And is your state of New York getting enough? Your governor has been critical in some ways of what Congress passed.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    No. No, we are not getting enough.

    We have done pretty well. I mean, the — New York state will get over $110 billion to our unemployed people, to our small businesses, to our hospitals. But this crisis is looking bigger and bigger and bigger.

    And I think that, in the next COVID four bill, we're not only going to I have to probably expand some of the programs we put in place, but we're going to have to look at bolder things.

    I — since I have been home, I have been hearing from people who know how the economy works that, if we don't move quickly and boldly, the recession could become a depression, and it could last much longer than any of us would want.

    So, the bold, quick action that we did take in the Senate 96-0, in a very — in the most extensive program of government help for people who need help since the Great Society, has to be replicated and maybe even expanded, and rather soon, I'd say before the end of April.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senator Schumer, briefly, I know that you have been speaking to the president repeatedly.

    But, at the same time, he sent a letter to you last night criticizing you. He wrote, specifically, that if you had spent less time on what he calls an impeachment hoax, New York wouldn't be so unprepared.

    How do you come together?

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    Well, I…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And do you advise him on things like whether he should put out a national stay-at-home order?

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    Look, I have talked to the president five or six times.

    I ignore those kinds of things that he just did there. They're beside the point. We all have to roll up our sleeves, come together and do what is needed. And that's where the focus has got to be.

    And the president has to lead. He has to lead. And leading means getting hold of this problem and implementing the good law that Democrats and Republicans passed in Congress. And I hope he will do that on Defense Production Act.

    I hope he will do that on unemployment insurance, make sure it's out in two weeks. I'd like to see that he — we give extra pay to the front-line workers who are needed to come to the front lines, because they're risking their lives and everything like that.

    I think we will put that in COVID four, but the president could do it for federal workers right now. There are a whole bunch of things he can do, following up on our legislation…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    … and on his own, to deal with the magnitude and depth of this crisis.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thank you, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, speaking from your Brooklyn apartment.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    Thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We appreciate it.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    Thank you. Nice to see you again, Lisa.

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