October 23, 2020

AUDIO: During Roundtable with New Mexicans, Udall Urges Senate Republicans, Trump Administration to Pass Urgent COVID-19 Relief

New Mexicans and Tribal and municipal officials shared stories with Udall about losing unemployment assistance, critical need for federal aid in COVID-19 relief package to maintain government services

AUDIO: Udall Holds Listening Session with New Mexicans Calling for further COVID-19 Relief

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) held a listening session with New Mexicans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to discuss the critical need for Senate Republicans to pass an additional coronavirus relief package and extend unemployment assistance to keep New Mexico families and state, local and Tribal governments afloat.  

During the call, Udall heard from two New Mexicans currently living with the toll of Republican failure to extend critical aid and unemployment assistance benefits. Udall previously heard from the consituents on the call two months ago during a similar roundtable urging Senate Republicans to extend the unemployment assistance benefits from the CARES Act. Udall also listened to the experiences of Tribal and municipal officials about the desperate need of government aid to continue funding for essential public services, including health and school funding. Udall called on Senate Republicans to pass urgently needed aid and prevent additional layoffs and cuts to public safety and essential services.

Udall pushed back against the Trump administration’s irresponsible politicization of public health measures during a pandemic that has taken the lives of over 220,000 Americans and over 950 New Mexicans. Udall urged Senate Republicans to pass a relief package to assist small businesses and Americans in need, and has continuously pushed to secure funding necessary to help New Mexicans get back on their feet. 

“With positive cases rising not only in New Mexico, but across the country, Americans are asking: what are the Trump administration and the Senate doing to help? Today, millions of Americans are out of work because of COVID-19, and small businesses are barely hanging on,” Udall began. “Across New Mexico, the pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for Tribes and local governments to provide essential services.”

“The terrible human and economic toll this pandemic has taken could have been eased had the Trump administration harnessed every tool at their disposal to lead the nation through this crisis,” said Udall. “Instead, the President is focused on his campaign, and rushing through a Supreme Court nominee days before the election. His message of lies and misinformation continues to divide this country while politicizing the most basic measures to stop the spread.

“This has been a failure of leadership, not a failure of the American people. To date, Congress has appropriated over $3 and a half trillion dollars for coronavirus relief,” Udall concluded. “But this is by no means enough. The funding Congress passed this spring was intended to help short term. But we must act again.”

“While we are aware we are better off than many families, since the end of the unemployment stimulus from the federal government our spending has become tight,” said Michelle Zetterholm, a furloughed restaurant worker in Albuquerque. “We are fortunate enough to have set aside some savings for any emergencies, however two weeks after the birth of our daughter last month, she was sent to the emergency room for her rapid breathing rate… Luckily she was sent home with a clean bill of health, except for a minor heart defect that is not uncommon and which she should outgrow but also adds to our concerns about the safety of our family during the current health crisis…A stimulus bill that includes stimulus check as well as extending additional unemployment benefits will greatly help us to avoid a financial situation beyond our means should any other emergencies arise.”

“Both my husband and I are bartenders, and without the additional aid, we are living on a budget of around 500 dollars per week. We have depleted our savings, leaving us without our safety net in a pandemic with no glimmer of employment on the horizon as days get colder. It’s clear our government needs to step up,” said Molly Dietze-Kennedy, a furloughed restaurant worker in Santa Fe. “Personally, I have never felt so viscerally disregarded by our government than in this moment in time. I feel like many in power truly don’t care if I live or die, if I get sick and suffer permanent health problems, or if I lose my home. And none of this is happening in a vacuum, it’s blindingly obvious whose lives matter and whose don’t, all while we’re in the throw of a civil rights crisis about whose lives matter and whose don’t. Please don’t confirm our worst fears, prove that we matter…So we are begging you, throw us a lifeline, please help us so we can get back to work safely and sooner.”

“There are ample reasons for the federal government to continue to invest in tribes with regard to the COVID-19 relief,”said Santa Clara Pueblo Governor Michael Chavarria. “Federal COVID funding is critical to the tribes, not only to address the immediate concerns but also to build a resilience health infrastructure including broadband that will support a healthier community to protect against COVID-19 for months and even years to come, as well as other public health emergencies… Arguing that we should be denied further relief is unacceptable, and self-serving for those who do not want to invest or protect in Tribal sovereign governments.” 

“In rural New Mexico, we feel sometimes like we’re forgotten because we’re out here in the middle of nowhere, but we still need help,” said Mayor of Tucumcari Ruth Ann Litchfield. “Our local businesses like our dentist, has had to close down because of COVID, and that was seven employees he had to let go temporarily. Right now, it’s just an economic crisis for rural New Mexico, so we can always use any help you’re able to give us.”

“We’ve strategized on downtown revitalization and outdoor recreation, and each one of those things has really stalled out since March of 2020,” said Raton City Manager Scott Berry. “So we have put all of our resources into economic development, in trying to support our existing local small businesses. Those now are entrepreneurs, sole proprietors, local business owners…We want to support those people who have taken the chance on going into business, and we put all of our efforts into that. Now as the health emergency drags on, our businesses are really at risk and it’s a really uncertain time here in Raton.”

Udall's full remarks can be found below:

Good afternoon.  Thank you to everyone joining us today.

We are here, once again, to talk about the most pressing issue New Mexicans are facing: the public health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With positive cases rising not only in New Mexico, but across the country, Americans are asking: what are the Trump administration and the Senate doing to help?

Today, millions of Americans are out of work because of COVID-19, and small businesses are barely hanging on.

Across New Mexico, the pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for Tribes and local governments to provide essential services.

New Mexicans continue to worry about how they will feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.

Today, we’ll check in with some New Mexicans who I spoke with a few months ago who were hurting from Republican inaction, even then. They are still hurting  because this crisis is ongoing, even if the president wants to pretend like it isn’t.

We’ll hear from Michelle Zetterholm of Albuquerque and Molly Dietze-Kennedy of Santa Fe, who had been depending on the federal unemployment insurance supplement to get by. But Senate Republicans let unemployment assistance run dry. 

Governments are continuing to manage crippling deficits, which are putting tribal and local government leaders in the position to have to choose which basic services they can keep, and which they can’t afford. And which employees they can retain, and which they will lay off.

We will hear today from Santa Clara Pueblo Governor Michael Chavarria.  Tribal leaders have had the monumental task of managing the response to COVID-19, at the same time that they are managing steep loss of revenues.

We’ll also hear from Tucumcari Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield, and City Manager Scott Berry from Raton on the challenges before them and the need for more federal aid.

The terrible human and economic toll this pandemic has taken could have been eased had the Trump administration harnessed every tool at their disposal to lead the nation through this crisis. 

Instead, the President is focused on his campaign, and rushing through a Supreme Court nominee days before the election.

He has ignored science and openly mocked those who wear masks. His message of lies and misinformation continues to divide this country while politicizing the most basic measures to stop the spread. His failures are costing lives.

This has been a failure of leadership, not a failure of the American people.

To date, Congress has appropriated over $3 and a half trillion dollars for coronavirus relief, and I’ve fought hard for those dollars. For testing and contract tracing, funds for frontline health care workers, unemployment for workers, loans and grants for small businesses, and support for state and local governments.  As vice chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I pushed hard for targeted funding for Tribes, and secured $10 billion dollars when the White House initially wanted to do nothing for Tribes.

But this is by no means enough. The funding Congress passed this spring was intended to help short term.But we must act again. 

It’s been five months since the House of Representatives passed bipartisan comprehensive relief with the HEROES Act, which I support.

Since then, the public health and economic devastation has steadily worsened. Yet Senate Republicans and the President claimed there was not an “urgent” need.  Instead, have held two sham votes on a very narrow relief bill that prioritizes corporations.

Meanwhile, just last month the House acted again to pass legislation to help. 

The bill:

• Continues the $600 unemployment supplement,

• Gives more direct payments

• Bolsters education and child-care

• Provides housing assistance for rent and mortgages and expands food assistance

• Provides strong support for Heroes on the frontlines with robust state and local governments

• Invests in testing, tracing, and treatment 

We need robust relief to weather this economic and public health upheaval.

The American people need immediate and comprehensive action from Congress and this President.

While the President cannot make up his mind, and while Republicans in the Senate refuse to negotiate, families and businesses continue to suffer. I will continue to fight for relief. We must act now.