The State of California: Sen. Harris’ New Coronavirus Stimulus Bill

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California and the nation continue in the struggle to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, with new projections showing a rising death toll as states start to reopen.

But U.S. Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) are working hard on a coronavirus stimulus bill aimed to help Americans beyond the $1,200, one-time stimulus payment many received over the past month.

Senator Harris is one of California’s two U.S. Senators. She joined KCBS Radio's "The State Of California" to discuss what she’s doing to tackle the crisis.

Many Americans got a stimulus check of $1,200. You’re proposing something far more sweeping, $2,000 a month per family member, retroactive to March and continuing until three months after the pandemic is over. What is your thinking behind this, and can the country afford as much more debt as it would take to pay for it?

The reality is that right now, one in five mothers is describing that her children [under the age of 12> are hungry. We have people standing in food lines for hours. 33 million people lost their jobs in the last seven weeks, with no plan or ability to plan for this moment and what it means in terms of the economic and financial crisis, let alone the public health crisis to their families.

My point is that the last bill where we gave people one check for $1,200 doesn’t take into account the realities of what has happened, which is that people have to stay home from work. We are shutting down businesses because that is one of the smartest ways that we can deal with the public health crisis. 

American families should not have to suffer more than they already have.

Let’s get them a monthly check through the course of the pandemic because their bills are due on a monthly basis. Children need to eat on a daily basis. And that’s the spirit behind the initiative. 

Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey have joined me, and we’re saying that every individual should get a monthly check [of $2,000> through this period of time for those folks who get less than $120 thousand a year.

I’m also saying that debt collectors should not be seizing the rebate payments, but one-time payments are not enough because bills come every month.

In addition, we need to increase the number of people under SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps), and increase the benefits.

And the other thing, equally important, the policy under snap benefits has been that people have to work in order to receive them. That makes no sense when, again, 33 million people just lost their jobs. So I’m also demanding and requiring that we need to get rid of the work requirements, so again, people can feed their families. 

You’ve been outspoken about the racial disparities in the spread and impact of the coronavirus. What more should the government be doing to address it? Is this an opportunity to address other problems that have a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown Americans?

Of the number of people who have been impacted, it is minority families and individuals, and particularly African Americans, that have been disproportionately impacted in our country. And the numbers are staggering.  

Any crisis is going to magnify what the disparities were before the crisis. And before this, people who were doing badly before are doing even worse now. 

So on the issue of race, let’s look at the fact that African Americans are 20% more likely to have asthma, 40% more likely to have high blood pressure and Black women are three times more likely to have lupus than white women. Lupus is an auto-immune disease.

So first, we need to chronicle, receive and collect the data. Secondly, and equally as important, once we know where the disparities exist—meaning those communities that need more so that there’s an equitable outcome in terms of the distribution of resources—let’s use that data to determine where the resources go.

It’s just the right thing to do, because it’s a fact that’s undeniable in California and around the country that Black and Brown communities in particular are taking the worst in the brunt of this. 

Governor Newsom made crystal clear last week that he’s looking to Washington, D.C. for more federal money to help close a $54 billion budget deficit. How likely is it that Congress and this administration are going to be forthcoming? How much can California count on? 

I’d like to start by applauding Newsom and all California leaders, who I’m very proud of. 

California leaders were some of the first to step up and talk about this from the context of public health instead of politics. But, sadly what has happened is because of the lack of leadership in Washington, D.C., the weight of the responsibilities fell on state and local governments. And so now our state of California, where before we had a $5 billion surplus, we’re now looking at a $54 billion deficit.

Unemployment rates were below less than 4% and are now near 20%.

So now, I’m in Washington, D.C. fighting to make sure not only that all states get money, but our state of 40 million people because the state, cities and counties have been bearing the brunt of this, where there has been an abject failure of federal government to get on top of this from the beginning. Then we can process resources based on need throughout the country.

Everyone seems to have you at the top of the Joe Biden veepstakes list. Do you want to be his running mate? Unlike some others, you don’t seem to be actively seeking it. Are you? Would you rather be offered Attorney General in a Biden administration?

I’ve already been attorney general, for two terms.

I was very honored to serve and I ran the second largest Department of Justice in the United States, but I would be honored, obviously, if I were asked to serve as Vice President. No question about it.

Let me just say that the bottom line is this: we cannot go on for another four years of Donald Trump. He has failed to lead on the biggest crisis the country has faced in a long time. He has not put enough money into small businesses, not enough direct money for individuals to pay their bills, no oversight, an abject denial of the reality of the seriousness of the pandemic. He called it a hoax and then muzzled public health officials.

As far as Joe Biden goes, I’ll do everything I can to help him win because the future, health and well-being of our country is at stake in this election.