WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning as the U.S. Senate considered President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke on the Senate floor about the urgent need for this legislation to help Washingtonians and our economy recovery. The bill includes $20 billion for vaccine distribution, $60 billion for small businesses, an extension in unemployment benefits, and additional $1400 stimulus checks for millions of Americans, among other critical relief provisions. The bill also includes, for the first time, $3 billion in funding to support the aerospace supply chain, which supports 2.2 million job nationwide. A final vote on the legislation is expected in the coming days.
“These are all important priorities for us as a nation. The vaccines, the unemployment benefits, the stimulus checks, the E-Rate program for helping students learn at home, the investment in the aerospace supply chain. It is important that we get the dollars out the door. This will help us recover. This will help American families wage through the last months of this COVID pandemic fight. But believe me, they need the help in the last months. This fight is not over, and this will help sustain us. I urge my colleagues to pass this legislation,” Cantwell said on the Senate floor.
Cantwell emphasized the need to speed up COVID-19 vaccine distribution one year after the first COVID case in the U.S. was detected in Everett, Washington, calling it “priority number one.” The American Rescue plan provides $20 billion in funding for the production, shipment, and distribution of vaccines.
“Priority number one for so many Americans right now, is the COVID-19 vaccine. In my state, the State of Washington, more than one million residents have been vaccinated and six million more are still waiting, and everyone knows that demand far exceeds the supply. Our health care workers are working tirelessly, along with other government officials, to get shots in the arms of individuals… That is job one right now: get the vaccine into the arms of Americans.
In Washington state, 1,760,668 vaccine doses have been administered as of March 1. The current weekly average is 43,765 doses per day.
Cantwell also spoke on the importance of extending unemployment benefits: “Our economy lost 9.8 million jobs in 2020. And our current unemployment rate… we know from this data that came out this morning, is still too high. We know that as a result, 19 million Americans, including 460,000 Washingtonians rely on those unemployment benefits. And if we don’t act by March 14th, 11.5 million people will lose their extended unemployment benefits. So that’s why this program is so important to get passed today in the United States Senate.”
Restaurants and small businesses
Cantwell also highlighted the need for additional small business relief, particularly for restaurants. The American Rescue Plan provides $60 billion in new support for small businesses and nonprofits, including $25 billion in grants for restaurants.
In her remarks, Cantwell referenced conversations with restaurant owners across Washington state: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, 110,000 restaurants across our country have closed, either permanently or for an extended period of time, including 2,300 in the state of Washington. And some are just struggling to hang on. For example, The Black Cypress restaurant in Pullman, Washington, lost more than $1 million in revenue and had to lay off workers after the initial PPP loan program ran out. In Southwest Washington, a restaurant like Mighty Bowl in Vancouver, or The Depot Restaurant in Seaview, are operating at 50% revenue loss. I talked to one of our restaurant owners, Wassef Haroun, who operates very popular restaurants in Seattle including Mamnoon, he said his restaurants have lost 70% of their revenue compared to 2019… That is why this bill includes new $25 billion dollar grant programs for restaurants.”
In Washington state, 30,000 aerospace manufacturing and supply chain jobs have been lost since the outset of the pandemic. Cantwell, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, helped secure dedicated funding for the aerospace supply chain in the American Rescue Plan.
“In this legislation, we will be, for the first time, making resources available for that supply chain… It will help us retain and rehire workers in the aviation manufacturing sector. It will help us keep highly skilled workers who serve as the backbone of industries so that our nation can continue to be poised for the recovery. And it helps us in making sure that we are poised for a strong recovery. We know that aviation manufacturing jobs mean a lot to our nation. Finally, we’re going to help stave off the tide of the huge losses that we’ve seen in that sector.”
At the beginning of her floor speech, Cantwell also spoke about the importance of raising the federal minimum wage: “The State of Washington has led the nation for many years in the highest minimum wage, and it didn’t impact our economy. In fact, it helped our economy… I urge my colleagues to come together with a plan that can get us to a $15 minimum wage. I know that we have it in us, I know that we can do it… I want our colleagues to know that this battle is not over yet, and that if we want to raise the standard of living in the United States, we have to pay a livable wage.” The $15 an hour minimum wage provision is no longer part of this COVID relief bill after the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week that it did not meet the guidelines necessary to move forward as part of the budget reconciliation process.