Luján Makes Strong Case for Additional COVID Relief
Washington, D.C. – Speaking on the Senate floor for the first time, U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) shared the stories of New Mexicans impacted by COVID-19 and made a strong case for passing the budget resolution that will allow the Senate to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. As a new member of the Senate Committees on Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions; Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Indian Affairs; and Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Senator Luján highlighted the areas these committees would oversee in an eventual COVID package.
Video of Senator Luján’s remarks is available here. Below are excerpts from his speeches.
On vaccination and schools reopening:
“More than 3,000 of my fellow New Mexicans have lost their lives to COVID-19.
They were New Mexicans like Teresa, an essential medical worker [in] Springer, New Mexico. She bravely went to work to test patients for COVID-19 and stop the spread of the disease.
Tragically, Teresa contracted COVID-19 and passed away over the Christmas holiday, leaving behind her husband, Roger, and their three children.
But Congress has another chance to spare families the pain Teresa’s family is experiencing. The very thing that drove Teresa every day to go and save others.
This resolution will allow Congress to mount an aggressive public health response and prioritize resources where they are needed most – for vaccines, testing, and public health programs that fight COVID.
“Vaccines are essential to the priorities I have heard from many of my constituents: safely opening schools as soon as possible—because this pandemic is widening the achievement gap that already existed.
To meet this goal, Congress must invest in safely reopening schools and make facility improvements to ensure every educator, the people who prepare the food, drive the buses, keep the schools looking clean, social workers and nurses, and every student is safe to return.
America must provide quality distance learning to those that are not yet ready to return and to work to address widespread learning loss that exacerbates the achievement gap.”
On nutrition assistance:
“In New Mexico, one in 3 children and one in 5 adults are at risk of hunger. In the wealthiest country in the world, this is simply unacceptable.
The budget resolution focuses on getting relief to the people who need it the most, beginning with an extension of the 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance benefits through September 2021.
Increasing SNAP benefits has proven to be one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus.
And it has the dual benefit of allowing families to purchase the food that they need to stay healthy, as well as supporting businesses that accept SNAP dollars.
The budget resolution also bolsters the WIC program to ensure that children and their mothers have access to a nutritious diet necessary for healthy development – an important investment in the future of our country.
This funding increase is especially significant for states like New Mexico, where nearly a quarter of children are born into families with incomes that fall below the federal poverty line.”
On Tribal needs:
“This resolution strikes at the heart of the health disparities and circumstances that make Tribal communities more vulnerable to COVID-19.
It provides Tribal and Pueblo governments with critical funding to take action against this deadly virus and the havoc it has wreaked on their citizens, economies, and public health infrastructure.
The budget resolution provides necessary investments to support Tribal governments, which have struggled to maintain public and social safety-net services.
It also provides the Indian Health Service, which is the primary vaccine provider for over 330 Tribal Nations and Urban Indian Health Organizations, with funding and resources to respond to this crisis.
Access to nearby hospitals and emergency services may be dozens or even hundreds of miles away in my state, and we must do everything in our power to ensure that every hospital and clinic has the staff and supplies to get families the care they need.
Our response to COVID-19 must support and protect the most vulnerable among us. Today’s resolution recognizes that, and I’m proud to support it.”
On broadband and infrastructure:
“New Mexico faces a digital divide, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities between the students who have broadband access and the one in four who don’t.
Failing to address these disparities risks widening the homework gap and making it harder for students, especially those living in rural and Tribal communities, to catch up.
The budget resolution under consideration does right by students, not only helping them survive the public health emergency but also thrive long term.
By providing emergency funding for rail and air infrastructure, it also saves jobs and communities in New Mexico.
Our small airports and rail stations are hubs of commerce that connect rural New Mexico with markets across the United States and the world.”