Congressional Republicans are expected to unveil a $1 trillion economic stimulus package today, though the plan has faced pushback from the White House and Democrats. WGBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with Congresswoman Katherine Clark to learn more about the plan and how Congress is tackling the issues families are facing during the pandemic. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: I'd love to ask you about this $1 trillion plan that we're learning about. But to be specific, first of all, can you tell us if this $600 weekly bonus payment that those on unemployment are receiving will be interrupted while this debate happens?
Rep. Katherine Clark: That is a question we need to ask my colleagues in the Senate. Over two months ago, the House passed the Heroes Act, and we extended those payments until the end of the year, because we know that we have to have healthy people in order to have a healthy economy, and we have to take a comprehensive approach. And while we need the expanded testing, tracing and treatment, we need to help support state and municipal budgets so they can safely reopen schools and support their public health departments. It is putting the cart before the horse to start looking at letting this money expire while states like Massachusetts are looking at over 17 percent unemployment. Our economy seems to be doing better than it is because of the supports that the federal government has put in place, and it is dangerous and it is callous to be considering taking those away when they haven't made the investments to keep the American people healthy and secure.
Mathieu: It's almost like taking a painkiller after surgery, Congresswoman, then having it wear off too early. Some economists have made that suggestion, that it could be a major problem for the economy locally and nationally. But you have a sense of the timeline. Now that you forwarded that proposal in the House, is there enough time to debate this and pass a piece of legislation with Republicans before the $600 payments expire?
Clark: The Senate's playing a high wire act with the lives of American people as our numbers are surging — over 4 million cases [and] more than 144,000 lives lost. Over two months later, the Senate is now saying, as all these benefits are set to expire, maybe we should put a proposal together. We still haven't seen a proposal from the Senate. There are some rumors and speculation we may see it today, but where have they been? Their pain tolerance for the suffering of families in our communities is very high.
Mathieu: So I'm getting a sense, Congresswoman, that you're reading about this just like I am in the newspapers and in the media. They have not been communicating with you about this plan?
Clark: No. This has been very much an internal disagreement within the Senate Republican caucus on how to proceed. We've had a White House that [has] been stuck on the idea of a payroll tax cut. The president seems to be the only person even in his own party who likes that idea. Meanwhile, we are seeing cases spike. We are seeing people suffer. We are seeing businesses that have been, in some cases, handed down from generation to generation, close. We have to make this investment in the American people. We have to make sure that we are stabilizing our economy by following the science. We have to make sure that we are taking care of critical sectors like child care, which we are at risk of losing over 40 percent of all providers if we do not take action to stabilize and invest in that critical sector.
Mathieu: I'd like to ask you about that, Congresswoman. I know as we talk about putting money in this — well, at least reportedly — in this bill for reopening schools, you are introducing a bill that would expand access to child care. This is separate now and would help parents get back to work. It's obviously difficult to have one without the other. How would you pay for it, and how would it work?
Clark: So what we have now are 23 million families around the country who need child care to go to work, and the first thing we have to do is stabilize this industry. We are proposing a $50 billion investment so we can avoid having nearly half of our providers across the country permanently close. Second, we need to revitalize this industry. I've proposed a $10 billion grant program to help child care providers renovate and modify their facilities, allowing them to reopen according to new health and safety standards. And third, we have to lower the cost per families by expanding child care tax credits and flexible spending accounts to help them meet what can be one of the highest bills that families face every month. And we have to look long-term at making sure that our child care providers that are overwhelmingly women and women of color are finally paid a fair living wage for the critical work that they do. We're going to be taking these proposals in the House on Monday, and we hope that the Senate will recognize that child care is key infrastructure to reopening our economy.
Mathieu: Congresswoman, I know that you're a mother [and] you have three sons. Do you appreciate the concerns a lot of parents have about going back to school this fall?
Clark: Absolutely. Listen, we all want our children in school. We want them to be learning and having that experience. And parents know how difficult it has been to be both teacher, parent and employee from home. But we have to make sure that we also do it safely [and] that we are following the science. We have had the vice president of the United States say the last thing we should be doing in reopening schools is following CDC guidance. How could this even be where we are? We need to be protecting teachers, making sure they have protective equipment, [and] that we are looking at every way that we can reopen schools safely. But we're only going to do that if we follow the science, we follow procedures for healthy reopening and we're following the data so that if we are in an area where we show cases are spiking, that we can react. We all have the goal of getting schools reopened, but it must be done safely.