Washington, D.C.— Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s virtual hearing examining how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our economy and how Congress can best use our fiscal space to improve our long-term economic outlook. Remarks as prepared are below:
Today in America, if you look out your window or turn on the news, you will see a nation in pain. We are mourning the loss of more than 100,000 Americans to the coronavirus. We are again mourning the deaths of black Americans and victims of ugly and violent manifestations of racism as poisonous to our society as COVID-19.
The American people are facing unprecedented and deeply challenging times: this once in a generation pandemic has exposed weaknesses in our public health system and upended our economy. The unemployment rate has spiked to levels not seen since the Great Depression, and 1 in 4 members of the American work force has filed for unemployment. Working parents are trying to fill the roles of teacher, provider, and employee, all while striving to make ends meet.
And while the American people are resilient, it is our responsibility, as their representatives in Congress to not only ensure our nation has the resources and opportunity to heal from the trauma that has rocked our nation, but to also enact proactive policies that will mitigate the damage, bolster our recovery efforts, and bring our nation together in strength.
Today, the House Budget Committee is joined by two expert witnesses, Dr. Douglas Elmendorf and Dr. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who have a combined decade of experience leading the Congressional Budget Office. They will help us examine how, on a broader scale, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our economy and what Congress must do to lessen the fallout.
While the support Congress has provided to date has helped to alleviate hardship for millions of Americans and avert an even worse economic collapse, there is still much more that needs to be done. COVID-19 still poses a severe risk to workers, communities, and our economy – there is no definitive treatment, no vaccine, and the United States is still considered the global hot spot. The White House is continually derelict in its duty to lead or implement a national strategy on the PPE supply chain, and now on testing and tracing.
And the economic impact has been brutal, and it has discriminated against our most vulnerable communities. Nearly 40 percent of households earning less than $40,000 a year experienced a job loss in March, compared to 13 percent of households earning more than $100,000. One-third of America’s parents expressed concern that their children would be forced to go to bed hungry because they exhausted their food supply before they could afford to buy more. The number of working black business owners has fallen by 40 percent – nearly double the national decline.
Coronavirus has caused a lot of uncertainty but this much is clear: Congress must develop a plan so Americans are never forced to choose between paying their rent or putting food on the table; filling their child’s prescription or paying their utility bill; exposing their loved ones to a deadly virus or losing their job. And, contrary to what some of my Republican colleagues might say, there is no time to “wait and see.”
At the end of this month, small businesses across America will lose PPP coverage, which could lead to permanent closures that will shutter Main Streets and decimate local communities. At the end of July, more than 40 million unemployed Americans will lose emergency benefits that have kept them afloat. State and local governments will continue to shed jobs and cut critical resources as they strain to balance their budgets. Absent further action, CBO estimates that unemployment would average nine percent next year and would not fall below six percent until 2026. Over the next decade, we will face a nearly $16 trillion cumulative loss in nominal GDP. The United States cannot afford to wait for this Administration or Leader McConnell to grasp the severity of this crisis. The American people need us to push the recovery along and keep support flowing.
And we are well-positioned to provide this necessary aid. We have the fiscal space to implement an aggressive and sustained fiscal response that prioritizes the urgent needs of our constituents and protects our economy in both the near- and long-term. We can, as Fed Chair Jay Powell says, make people “whole.” In fact, experts caution that failing to support our economy and promote a strong recovery poses a greater threat to our economic and budget outlook than deficits today.
Mitigating real pain and suffering in the economy – and in homes and communities across America – should not be a partisan issue. Abandoning the American people is not an option. Congress must see this recovery through. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and my colleagues on this critical and urgent effort.
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