WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), spoke on the Senate floor about the need to provide relief to the more than 30 million Americans who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak, as well as the potential consequences if Congress fails to act. In his remarks, Warner urged Congress to include a Paycheck Security program in the next coronavirus relief bill.
In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Warner said in part, “Just as it took the U.S. years to emerge from the Great Depression, it could take years or even decades to recover from the coronavirus recession, if we do not take immediate, bold action in the next coronavirus relief bill. Our first goal must be to prevent further job losses, as well as permanent disruptions like business closures, evictions, and foreclosures. Second, we must work quickly to reduce the economic uncertainty facing workers and small businesses. To do this, we need to provide immediate assistance to the millions of Americans workers who have gone overnight from a steady job to unemployment through no fault of their own.”
He continued, “I’m not talking about another stimulus check. I’m not talking about unemployment benefits. I’m talking about paychecks. This proposal, which I have put forward with Senator Sanders, Senator Jones, and Senator Blumenthal, would create a national paycheck security program for American workers. It uses a grant model that has support on both the left and the right. And we know it works because it has been implemented successfully in several European countries. Paycheck security means that federal government would help cover the payroll expenses for rank-and-file workers who have been furloughed or laid off because of the coronavirus.”
In April, Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Doug Jones (D-AL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) released a proposal to establish a ‘Paycheck Security’ program to cover the wages and benefits of employees of affected businesses and non-profits until the economic and public health crisis is resolved. The Senators’ proposed plan would cover the full payroll and benefits of workers at distressed businesses and non-profits, up to $90,000 per employee, for at least six months. The Paycheck Security plan would also provide funds to cover fixed operating costs such as rent, utilities, and insurance costs to help employers weather the economic crisis.
The Senators released an extensive white paper detailing eligibility, verification, and other contours of their proposal, which is available here.
The full text of Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:
Mr. President, I rise today because we face the greatest unemployment crisis America has seen since the Great Depression. More than 33 million workers have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of these folks have also lost their health insurance. I just read that 27 million have lost their insurance due to the virus. The Federal Reserve forecasts that 47 million Americans, or nearly one-third of the workforce, could lose their jobs.
These aren’t just numbers. They represent the pain being felt by families across this country as we enter the greatest economic crisis of our lifetime. Candidly, we need to face some hard truths about how we got here and what will come next if we fail to act.
The reason we are facing this dire economic crisis is simple: The federal government failed to take appropriate actions to contain the coronavirus. That’s why we have had to do social distancing. It hasn’t been fun. It has been tough on all of us, but we know it has saved lives and begun to flatten the curve.
But we also know that things can’t just go back to normal overnight. Not before we have a vaccine. Not before the government, working with the private sector, finally solves the chronic shortages of testing and PPE that have hampered our response to this pandemic from day one.
States like mine are working towards a “new normal,” where we gradually scale back social distancing where it is safe to do so. But it just not realistic to suggest, as the President has, that we can just immediately “reopen the economy” before we’ve contained this virus… As if companies will just resume normal business knowing another coronavirus outbreak could shut them down any day… As if a virus for which we still don’t have a vaccine didn’t just kill more than 80,000 of our fellow Americans…
Mr. President, it’s time to face the facts…about what it will take for our economy to recover from this public health crisis. There is not a magic switch that we can just flip. Unfortunately, there will not be a V-shaped recovery if we stay on our current course.
Just as it took the U.S. years to emerge from the Great Depression, it could take years or even decades to recover from the coronavirus recession, if we do not take immediate, bold action in the next coronavirus relief bill.
Our first goal must be to prevent further job losses, as well as permanent disruptions like business closures, evictions, and foreclosures. Second, we must work quickly to reduce the economic uncertainty facing workers and small businesses.
To do this, we need to provide immediate assistance to the millions of Americans workers…who have gone overnight from a steady job to unemployment through no fault of their own. I’m not talking about another stimulus check. I’m not talking about unemployment benefits. I’m talking about paychecks.
The proposal, which I have put forward with Senator Sanders, Senator Jones, and Senator Blumenthal, would create a national paycheck security program for American workers. A very similar proposal has been put forward by my friend on the other side of the aisle, Senator Hawley from Missouri.
It uses a direct support model that has support on both the left and the right. Matter of fact, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have both commented in support. We know those editorial boards never agree on anything, but they both think this approach has merit.
And we know this direct support approach works because it has been implemented successfully in several European countries, and in Canada—where the unemployment rate has gone up, but just by a couple of points. They’re not seeing the 20% unemployment we’re headed towards, or as the Federal Reserve and the administration have predicted, maybe even 25% unemployment within the next month.
Paycheck security means that federal government would help cover the payroll expenses for rank-and-file workers who have been furloughed or laid off because of the coronavirus.
These Treasury Department grants would cover salaries and wages up to $90,000 for each employee, plus benefits and run for at least six months. They would also provide funds to many businesses to help cover business operating costs such as rent and utilities.
The program would be delivered through the employee retention tax credit—something I worked hard to include in the earlier coronavirus relief bill—which already is set up at the IRS and can be leveraged to deliver far greater benefits than it currently provides.
In exchange for the paycheck security grant, employers would commit to forgo further layoffs and maintain the pay and benefits of rank-and-file workers. They would also be required to suspend stock buybacks and limit CEO compensation for at least the term of the federal assistance.
A national paycheck security program would immediately work to prevent financial calamity for millions of American families. At the same time, it would maintain or re-establish the critical link between workers and their employers. The re-establishment of that employment link would restore for many workers the employer-provided health insurance that they have lost due to layoffs.
If we re-establish this connection, the economy would be able to bounce back much more quickly after the public health crisis ends. The certainty provided by this program would also give consumers the confidence they need to begin spending money in the economy, accelerating the eventual economic recovery.
It will be expensive—and I say this as someone who has spent a long time working on trying to reduce the deficit. But when we compare it to the over $600 billion we’ve spent on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which has only helped one section of our economy—businesses under 500 employees—that’s done nothing for mid-sized businesses with 500-10,000 workers, I think the alternative will be much cheaper. And it will be pennies compared to the damage that will be done if we fail to adequately assist our fellow Americans in this moment of economic crisis.
Now Mr. President, I am pleased my colleagues in the House have put forward an initial draft of their view of the next coronavirus relief legislation. It has a number of important provisions. However, I believe it has not taken the bold step of saying—before we refill the funding buckets for these other programs‚ which have had mixed results in some cases—perhaps we should take a time out, and ask if there is a better way to provide the security that the American people are looking for from their government.
But one thing my House colleagues and I share is an enormous sense of urgency. With unemployment at nearly 15% and rising, this is not the time to play wait and see. It is no exaggeration to say that we face the prospect of not just a recession, but another Great Depression. Every day we delay, we dig ourselves deeper and deeper into the hole we must eventually climb out of when this crisis is behind us.
And as we enter negotiations over the next phase of the coronavirus response, I would encourage my colleagues to look to bold solutions. Let’s give our fellow Americans paycheck security. Put paychecks in their hands and help get them back to work as soon as it is safe to do so.
Thank you, Mr. President.