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As Federal COVID-19 Relief Nears End, Shaheen Among Those Working On Compromise Package

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Many of the federal emergency aid programs implemented earlier this year in response to the pandemic are due to expire at the end of December. New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has been among those working on a compromise plan to extend relief into 2021.

She spoke with All Things Considered host Peter Biello.

Peter Biello: You were one of the lead negotiators on this package. So what elements of this relief package, in your opinion, are the most essential to ensure support for the U.S. economy?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: Well, this is a bipartisan, bicameral effort. It's been going on for several weeks now. And what we're hoping to do is to come to a compromise that will address the most urgent needs that people have. It's a short term package. So we're looking at it as emergency relief that can help people bridge the transition to the new administration when they will obviously have some ideas about what we need to do, but also to get through some of the worst winter months, which are really challenging. We've got a number of people who are going to lose their remaining unemployment, so there is funding in there to help people who are unemployed.

There's funding to help state and local communities who are on the front lines, so that they can ensure that first responders and teachers and the people they need in communities to provide services are able to continue their work. There is help for small businesses, another round of the PPP program, as well as some of the other small business programs to help them get through the most difficult times.

Peter Biello: This package doesn't include $1,200 stimulus payment. Is that something you felt was needed?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: What we were trying to do, as I said, was to look at this as an emergency relief: How do we get money and help to the people who are suffering the most? And that stimulus was helpful. But this is not a package of stimulus to the economy. It's a package to try and address the help that people need.

Peter Biello: You say you want a direct emergency aid. Why not send direct emergency aid in the form of $1,200 check?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: There was not support, Peter, among our colleagues in the Senate to do that. This is a compromise. We didn't get everything we wanted. You know, if I were designing this package on my own, I would have put some other supports in there for people. But sadly, like all legislation, it's a compromise. We were trying to get something done that we could get out the door before the holidays so it can get to people who are really in need right now.

Peter Biello: So, what about things that would help people now, especially those at risk of being evicted? The eviction moratorium that's in now place ends at the end of the year. Will it be extended under this package?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: Well, we're looking at an extension, but also add funding to help with housing, especially rental housing for people who are worried about being evicted. There's $25 billion to address housing assistance for people.

Peter Biello: After January 20, the Senate may have lost its appetite for another piece of legislation like this, even though President-Elect Biden says more will need to be done. What are the chances, in your mind, that you'll be able to pass more stimulus if you need to?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: Well, again, I think at that point we're looking at what can we do to help get the economy moving again. So I'm hopeful that there will be an interest in doing that. I think there's a lot of support to look at infrastructure, particularly at what we need to do to expand our high speed Internet to all those places that don't have it. One of the things this pandemic has shown is that we have an awful lot of people who are being left behind in this economy because they don't have that access to broadband, looking at what we need to do, roads and bridges for other public buildings. I'm hopeful we're going to see a major stimulus package that can help put people back to work and really get the economy moving again.

Peter Biello: Overall, do you think this proposal that you're part of now is going to be enough to get the country through what could be a really bleak economic winter?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: I think we're going to see people really struggling because the coronavirus, this new wave of the coronavirus has hit people very hard. We're seeing closures in some parts of the country again. And for our small businesses, they're really hurting. People are worried about whether they're going to be able to make it through the winter. This package would provide funding from January 1st through April 30th. So we're looking at it only as a short term until more help can be agreed to.

Peter Biello: You've had a chance to learn more about how COVID vaccines will be distributed in New Hampshire and around the country. What challenges do you foresee over the next few months when it comes to COVID vaccine distribution?

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: Well, assuming that both Pfizer and Moderna get their vaccines approved, they both have emergency authorizations pending before the FDA. I think the states now are working on plans. I had the opportunity to be briefed on Friday by officials in New Hampshire about what their plans are. They're making great progress, working very hard, being very inclusive, looking at how many doses we might have to start with and where we first need to immunize people who are at risk. So health care workers, people in long term care facilities, the elderly who are most at risk. So one of the things that our package of COVID relief does is provide additional funding for distribution, for testing and tracing. So all of that, I think, will be very important in helping states get the vaccines out.

Obviously, the Pfizer vaccine has a little bit more of a challenge because it has to be refrigerated at such cold temperatures, but the state is preparing for that in New Hampshire and I'm sure that's happening across the country.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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