Chairman Neal Opening Statement at Markup of COVID-19 Relief Legislation
(As prepared for delivery)
With that, I will now turn to the subject of our meeting today; putting the American people first by advancing legislation to confront the economic and health challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than a year has passed since the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in the United States. In that time, Americans across the country have seen their lives upended. For many, they have had the misfortune to have been infected with this awful virus and if not them, a loved one.
Far too many have paid the ultimate price. And the corresponding economic crisis has caused widespread job loss. A quarter of U.S. adults say someone in their household lost their job because of the coronavirus outbreak. A quarter of adults report having had trouble paying their bills; 17 percent report having received help from a food bank; one in six have had problems paying their rent or mortgage.
These statistics are not just numbers. They represent our struggling neighbors, friends, family, and kids who deserve more help. And their hardships cannot be understated.
Throughout this crisis, the Ways and Means Committee has led some of the most significant provisions in Congress’s COVID response legislation. Our members’ efforts have helped keep jobless workers afloat, families in their homes, and employees connected to their employers, all while giving first responders the resources they needed to fight this disastrous virus. This Committee’s quick, thorough work prevented even greater catastrophe and truly provided lifelines for Americans in need.
However, we are far from the light at the end of the tunnel. Almost a fifth of the total deaths from the virus occurred in the last month and January’s jobs report showed hardly any job creation. Anyone who thinks we will recover without intervention isn’t paying attention.
Unfortunately, the prior administration left far too many Americans behind in its haphazard, every-state-for-itself response to the crisis at hand. Ending the public health emergency requires aggressive, science-based action, and it takes time. Fortunately, President Biden’s American Rescue Plan contains the kind of bold policies congressional Democrats have sought to advance for months. With new leadership in the White House, Congress has the support it needs to kick start a coordinated federal response. Time is of the essence, and Americans need to know help is on the way.
Economists from both sides of the aisle agree that the risk of not doing enough is far greater than the risk of doing too much. According to Moody’s, if we don’t act now, we could put 4 million jobs in jeopardy this year. Potentially pushing full employment even further out into next year.
Confronted by these sobering realities, we have been left no choice but to move forward with the budget reconciliation process to move relief legislation through the process and quickly can get relief to the American people. So long as lives and livelihoods are at stake, we are called to action.
Today we are considering proposals that will give Americans a sense of security in a time of overwhelming uncertainty. This includes the security of knowing that the second part of their $2,000 check is on the way. For the lowest-income families, this means help affording life’s most basic necessities.
We want to build on the special enrollment period that President Biden recently announced by making it even easier for unemployed workers to afford their health insurance. Working in tandem with COBRA subsidies and allowing us to better capture the most vulnerable Americans, who typically aren’t offered health insurance through their employer.
We will also enhance and expand refundable tax credits for low- and middle-income workers and families. This means making the largest expansion of the EITC for workers without children since 2009 and both increasing CTC, and making it fully refundable and advanceable.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that such expansions along with direct assistance, would provide an average income boost of 33 percent for the poorest 20 percent of households. This will be a major tool in lifting millions of children out of poverty and it will change lives.
We will also consider legislation to help crush the virus in nursing homes and another to shore up multiemployer pension plans that have been further jeopardized by COVID-19.
Over the next many hours, and days, we will debate legislative proposals that are immensely important to the American people. They are proposals that many of our families and neighbors need to stay afloat in this incredibly challenging time. And so we will rise to this moment, roll up our sleeves, debate the merits and get this done. Because the American people are counting on us.
With that I yield to the Ranking Member, Mr. Brady for the purposes of an opening statement.