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OPINION

Coons on need for federal strategy

Delaware News Desk
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

“[One] of my grave concerns here is a lack of a coordinated national strategy around how to make sure that states and cities that are in crisis or that are coming into crisis have access to the personal protective equipment, the medical machinery, the test resources that they need,” said Coons.

“This is a virus that is traveling around the world, that is traveling across state borders, and, frankly, I think it requires a federal standard and a federal response that is rooted in science and that is led by public health professionals; not based on whims or allegiances or partisan politics.”

Q: Good to see you, Senator. The President, I’m sure you saw, backed up by his son-in-law, is doubling down on this idea, and I’m quoting him here, “We’re not an ordering clerk.” You’ve been on both sides of government. You’ve been on the local level as a county official. Obviously now in the U.S. Senate. What do you make of those comments?

Coons: Chris, one of my grave concerns here is a lack of a coordinated national strategy around how to make sure that states and cities that are in crisis or that are coming into crisis have access to the personal protective equipment, the medical machinery, the test resources that they need. And trying to avoid responsibility is not a way to lead our nation. Frankly, the Congress came together in a strong and bipartisan way.

The President signed an important bill – that was a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill. That’s because cities and counties and states all over our country look to the federal government for resources and leadership. When there’s a natural disaster or a tornado or earthquake, we look to our governors and our state emergency management personnel to be the sort of front line and the first deciders.

But this is a global pandemic, Chris. And this is something where the response requires federal coordination and leadership of what is a global supply chain. We don’t have enough manufacturing in the United States today of the critically needed materiel and we should be having a federally-coordinated resource, and I frankly think to say “we’re not an ordering clerk” misses the gravity of the moment and misses the significance of federal leadership.

I joined with a bipartisan group of Senators last week in a letter in urging the President to take on federal leadership in organizing and coordinating our response.

Q: So, I want to make sure I understand what you say when you’re talking about federal coordination. Are you talking about one set of rules? We have 10 or 11 states that are not ordering shelter in place right now. In your state, I think it happened 10, 12 days ago. Now, each state does have unique circumstances. Their levels of concern and their level of cases are different. But is it time for the federal government to say, everyone shelters in place, everyone wears a mask? Does there need to be unanimity given the kind of travel that people do in this country?

Coons: Chris, I think there has to be coordination. What you heard from Governor Cuomo about planning and coordinating the development and the deployment of critically-needed materiel like ventilators and how there could be a shifting response across the country as conditions change on the ground is a great example of how we really could have a better federally-organized and coordinated response.

I recognize the critical role that governors play in our federal system in making their own decisions about disaster response locally. But as you just said, this is a virus that is traveling around the world, that is traveling across state borders, and, frankly, I think it requires a federal standard and a federal response that is rooted in science and that is led by public health professionals, not based on whims or allegiances or partisan politics. And I do think it’s time for us to have a clear, coordinated federal strategy.

Q: You were one of the negotiators of the $2 trillion package that came out of Congress as a member of the Small Business Committee. I’m sure you know well the details of the nearly $350 billion SBA loan program that starts today. From what you know and from what you’re hearing, how ready are we, how ready is the government and banks for the onslaught of applications?

Coons: I’m optimistic, Chris, that the SBA and its lenders and their staff and partners around the country are as ready as they can be. We are asking them to push out the door $350 billion in loans and grants to small businesses and nonprofits. This is several times more money than the SBA has ever tried to put out on the street in loans and grants.

I hope folks will be patient with them. But in the past week, I’ve been doing calls with other senators, with the head of the SBA, the deputy secretary of Treasury, the head of BARDA, and the head of the FCC to get insight and to offer encouragement around the quick disbursement of individual checks by the IRS, the quick availability of funding for small businesses and nonprofits, decisive action to backstop our national economy, and urgent action by the Department of Labor to make sure that the unemployment federal add on, the additional federal resources for unemployment insurance that we provided for in the bill, is made available.

Chris, I’m hearing from Delawareans every day up and down our state who are concerned either because they’re first responders or public health workers that are concerned about whether or not they will have adequate supplies, and I’m hearing from folks who just lost their jobs or whose companies have had to close. I respect the leadership of our Governor John Carney who has had to make a tough decision to close restaurants and schools. But we frankly owe it to the American people that when Congress and our President come together to quickly enact such a big federal stimulus that we are also ensuring that it is being pushed out the door as quickly and as responsibly as possible. I’m optimistic about how the IRS and SBA will be getting out individual checks and support for small businesses and nonprofits in the coming week.

Q: Senator Chris Coons, thank you so much. You take good care. Our best to you and your family.