Heinrich Update On COVID-19 Efforts In New Mexico

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich


WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) held a teleconference Thursday with New Mexico-based reporters to answer questions and discuss the latest on efforts to assist New Mexicans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recording of Heinrich’s remarks can be found HERE.

Heinrich’s as prepared for delivery are below:

Hi everyone, and thanks for joining me for another weekly update on our ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As you probably know, the Senate passed an interim emergency relief package on Tuesday.

The House is considering that as we speak. (House passed and president signed the measure.)

This stopgap measure is designed to quickly shore up the economic relief programs targeted for small businesses, provide more funding to our health providers, and set the foundation for a much larger, national testing infrastructure that is going to be absolutely critical to restoring confidence and reopening our economy.

Resuming normal life relies on making COVID-19 testing readily available in every single community in every corner of the country, and ensuring that data is accessible and transparent.

I’ll get more into that in a moment.

But first I want to emphasize that it was clearly urgent to get more funds into programs like the Paycheck Protection Program as well as the Economic Injury Disaster Loans that can serve as critical lifelines for small businesses and nonprofits.

I have been pretty disappointed and frankly very frustrated with the shortcomings in the delivery of these programs by the Trump administration and will continue to do oversight and hold them accountable.

I hope the additional funding and key fixes to these programs in this legislation will allow the small businesses who need help–not just those who are well-connected–to finally receive it.

We still need to do so much more to invest in a broader public health response that’s rooted in science, and a strong long-term economic recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic.

I am not done fighting for New Mexico’s priorities as the negotiations continue between the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House on the next major bill to protect our health and rebuild our country.

We need to make sure that much-needed federal support is reaching all of the communities that need help.

Tribal nations in particular are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.

Tribal governments are taking on enormous and unprecedented costs to protect the health and safety of their communities.

They need the full support of the federal government as they confront this crisis.

That’s why I introduced legislation this week to waive FEMA’s cost share requirement for emergency protective measures that is standing in the way of tribal governments receiving the full support they need.

Ordinarily, the cost share for federal assistance under the Stafford Act is 75 percent for federal and 25 percent for non-federal entities.

But during extraordinary times of emergency, the federal government has waived this cost share and provided 100 percent of funds.

This is obviously an appropriate time invoke that power.

My legislation, the Tribal COVID-19 Disaster Assistance Cost Share Relief Act, would waive the cost-sharing requirement and grant 100 percent funding for all tribal governments.

In addition to this legislation, I am continuing to personally urge FEMA Director Peter Gaynor to use his existing authority to waive this cost share in response to requests from individual tribes.

It’s the right thing to do.

I am also calling on the Administration to protect immigrants during this crisis.

Yesterday, I called for the release of detained children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children are some of the most vulnerable among us, and we must fulfill our moral and legal obligations to protect their health and safety.

There are currently nearly 2,400 children in Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services’ custody, including licensed shelters.

Keeping these children in needlessly prolonged detention poses immeasurable risk to their lives and the lives of their loved ones, and the lives of workers in those facilities.

I am also calling on President Trump to extend the work authorizations for Dreamers and other impacted immigrants.

These are 0ur friends, our family members, and our neighbors.

And frankly many of them are the essential health care, education, and infrastructure workers on the frontlines of this crisis.

I am appalled that the president is waging a war on immigrants during this national emergency.

As the son of an immigrant myself, I will do everything I can to keep fighting for immigrants and our American values.

Speaking of American values, another key way that Americans have proven ourselves in previous times of adversity is national service.

You can look at New Deal programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration as great examples of this.

These programs put Americans to work building projects and infrastructure that laid the foundation for decades of economic prosperity.

I strongly believe we need to empower a new generation to step up and serve during this national crisis.

That’s why I will be introducing the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act.

This new bill would significantly expand national service programs under AmeriCorps to help meet the public health challenges we face and, more broadly, contribute to rebuilding thriving communities across our country.

AmeriCorps members already contribute incredible service to our nation—from conservation work and trail maintenance on our public lands to helping address community challenges like food insecurity, education disparities, and outreach to low-income seniors.

I am certain there are so many more Americans who are eager to contribute to our national recovery.

And I say we should put them to work.

And in terms of putting our best and brightest to work, I want to commend New Mexico’s national labs for their incredible contributions to the pandemic response.

Now that they have secured approval from the Department of Energy, Sandia is now partnering with the New Mexico Department of Health to help process COVID-19 diagnostic tests.

Sandia has also converted 100 respiratory machines that New Mexico hospitals can use to help treat COVID-19 patients.

This will make a tremendous difference in equipping our health care workers to save lives.

Both Sandia and Los Alamos are using advanced computer modeling to help us predict the spread of the virus.

And researchers at both labs are hard at work developing antiviral treatments and vaccines to combat the virus.

I will continue urging the Administration to keep placing our national labs in central roles as problem solvers.

The way our labs are using science to create solutions brings me to my final point.

I would like to address what I see as the most fundamental challenge that we have to tackle to be able to recovery from this crisis.

The first step in any plan to reopen our communities must be to scale up a much more comprehensive, coordinated, nationwide testing infrastructure to track, trace, and effectively respond to the spread of the virus.

We already know what we need to do because we have learned valuable lessons from other nations like South Korea and Germany—and also states like New Mexico I am so proud to be a New Mexican right now.

Our state acted early and aggressively to ramp up testing.

New Mexico was able to expand our testing faster than most other states because we took an all-of-the-above approach.

We didn’t settle on acquiring equipment or kits for just one type of test.

We established new supply chains and fought for waivers to make it easier to obtain testing materials and testing equipment.

And, as I said just a moment ago, we have also empowered our national laboratories to partner with our state’s Department of Health in processing test results.

Because we proactively expanded our testing apparatus, New Mexico became one of the first states to increase our testing criteria to asymptomatic people and those living in congregant living facilities like nursing homes.

We’ve also been able to provide tests to residents in rural and tribal communities who have seen outbreaks that might have slipped under the radar if we were only testing in urban hotspots.

But states like New Mexico cannot keep going at this alone.

We need this to become a nationwide effort—and fast—to build up toward universal testing.

That will require billions of dollars of targeted federal investment in manufacturing supplies and processing equipment.

We also need the president to allow the federal government to finally step up to its full role as a coordinator and facilitator.

State and local governments shouldn’t be competing against each other in an open market for testing supplies and processing machines.

We need a coordinated, nationwide effort to deploy all the materials necessary to provide easily available testing in every community in every corner of our country.

Until scientists develop scientifically-validated therapies and vaccines, testing is the only tool we have to provide businesses and consumers with the certainty and confidence to reopen the economy.

In most parts of America, even those clearly experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 are struggling to access tests. That is wholly unacceptable and poses a real risk to each of our lives as well as our economy.

We urgently need to start treating the establishment of a comprehensive testing infrastructure like the critical national security mission that it is.

That’s why I worked with Senator Patty Murray and others to include $25 billion in this latest legislative package to help scale up this coordinated national testing infrastructure.

The president and his administration need to stop deflecting blame on this urgent matter and work with all 50 states to finally get this done.

We need to recognize that we will not be able to resume economic activity or “go back to normal” until we have restored Americans’ confidence that they are safe from this disease.

Until we can achieve a much greater, nationwide testing apparatus, we simply won’t be able to do that.

In addition to talking about legislation, I want to just say how incredibly important my constituent services staff have been through all this.

As just one example, one of my staff just coordinated the delivery of hundreds of N-95 masks to Gallup and to the State of New Mexico for our frontline workers.

Every day we are facilitating the work of New Mexicans helping New Mexicans.

And I am incredibly proud of that work.