Over the last year, America has been devastated by COVID-19 – costing a half a million lives, and at its most recent weeks-long peak, claiming more lives each day than the September 11th attacks.

These are friends and family we won’t get back; absences we’ll never be able to fill. Beyond the human cost, this pandemic has tested and tried our nation on every front imaginable: it has stressed our personal finances, shuttered our shops, strained our local economies and governments, and relentlessly stretched our medical professionals and first responders to and beyond their breaking points.

The bill the Senate passed on Saturday, and the vote I proudly cast in favor, confronts the damage done across the board. This legislation will help us save lives, support households, stabilize small businesses, make our virus-strapped communities whole and deliver for our tireless medical and safety professionals.

This legislation is expensive, and I’ve worked hard behind the scenes to tighten and target the spending so it can be delivered to the people and places where COVID-related need was clear. However, as we’ve seen over the last year, the cost of inaction is even higher. Every day we delay in confronting this virus, we lose more lives and suffer more economic damage. For too long, the previous Senate leadership did not do enough to confront this crisis – going months without feeling the urgency to act. This failure to lead is one of the reasons that America accounts for more than 20 percent of global coronavirus deaths, despite only making up 4 percent of the world’s population.

The COVID relief bill includes essential funding to address the ongoing public health emergency and ensure we have the resources needed to vaccinate the American people. With three effective vaccines now approved for use, and shots already underway in Maine and across the nation, we have the tools to bring this virus under control – we just need the funding and the logistical resources. By passing this legislation, we will be investing $160 billion into the fight against coronavirus – which will be used to speed vaccine deployment, bolster our public health infrastructure, increase access to testing, and support other essential healthcare priorities.

These investments in our health care system are vital – but they are only one piece of the work that must be done to repair the damage caused by this pandemic. You may have heard the charge that “only 9 percent of this bill relates to COVID, and the rest is some kind of political wish list.” This is flat wrong and deliberately misleading. The truth is, anyone who has lived in America over the past year understands that the challenges we face are not limited to public health.

This legislation will address the secondary effects of COVID-19 through extended unemployment benefits, $1,400 relief checks which are targeted to the people and households who need them most, funding for state and local governments, increased resources to help school districts resume in-person learning, and needed resources for veterans care. In addition, the legislation addresses longstanding inequalities laid bare and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. These provisions include adjusting the Child Tax Credit to help lift 10,000 Maine children out of poverty, and investing key resources into broadband expansion, which is essential to remote learning, telehealth for seniors, and working from home – all crucial in our fight against the impacts of the pandemic.

Over the last several weeks, I have worked hard with my colleagues and the White House to strengthen and streamline this bill, refining the targets and removing many of the unrelated expenses that were a weakness of the House bill that passed last week. The result is a well-thought-out, effective piece of legislation that has broad, bipartisan support from the American public – one recent poll shows that 77 percent of the American public supports this plan, including 6 in 10 Republicans.

After all, this disease is colorblind – it doesn’t differentiate between a red state or a blue state or a purple one like Maine. I would have preferred the same bipartisan backing in Congress for this legislation has received from the American people themselves, but we can’t withhold action any longer. The death toll is continuing to climb, elevated unemployment continues as benefits are about to expire, and bipartisan voices across the country are crying out for help – it was imperative that Congress act quickly and do as much good as possible.

At the end of the day, I worked hard on this bill and voted for it because Maine people need help. This bill will meet their need, and set us on the path to putting this dark chapter of American history behind us once and for all. However, the effort is far from done – in the days ahead, I’ll keep working with my colleagues and listening to Maine people to ensure that our response meets the magnitude of the moment.

— Special to the Press Herald

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