Home News Local News Udall: COVID-19 relief package ‘needs to happen’

Udall: COVID-19 relief package ‘needs to happen’

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Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, left, stands with U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-NM, during a campaign stop in October 2018 at Stellar Coffee in Roswell. During a wide-ranging press conference Tuesday, Udall talked about the need to pass a COVID-19 relief package, the possibility of serving in the Biden administration, responded to the Trump administration lawsuit involving New Mexico elected officials, and touched on his 21 years in Congress. Udall opted not to run for re-election in November. He will leave office Jan. 3 when fellow Democrat Ben Ray Lujan is sworn in to fill the seat now held by Udall. (Daily Record File Photo)

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New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall said Tuesday that Congress should not leave for the holidays without securing a compromise deal on a COVID-19 relief package.

The term of Udall, who did not to run for re-election in November, ends Jan. 3, but he said during a press conference Tuesday that Congress should stay in session up through Christmas and New Year’s Day if needed to get a package passed.

“I am willing to stay here all the way until January and work completely through the holidays to get it done. That is what I believe needs to happen,” Udall said.

Congress in the spring passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The legislation included aid to small businesses, $600 in additional weekly compensation for individuals on unemployment, a ban on evictions and funding for a host of other measures meant to stabilize the economy.

Udall though said Tuesday more relief is needed.

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“If we want to keep our communities and economies safe we need a relief package now to include schools; small businesses; the unemployed; state, local and tribal governments; and our health care system,” he said.

Such a bill, he added, should include funding for vaccine distribution.

For months, bipartisan talks in Congress have repeatedly started and stalled over a follow-up to the CARES Act.

In May, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Emergency Omnibus Solutions Act, or HEROES Act.

The legislation would have extended unemployment benefits, as well as provided additional aid to state, tribal and local governments and expanded the popular Paycheck Protection Program, among other things.

Republicans have floated bills with a smaller cost that would be more targeted, but those too have failed to gain the needed support for passage. Udall said he believes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the biggest obstacle to a final package.

McConnell has long insisted any bill include a provision shielding businesses from COVID-19 litigation. Such a measure, Udall said, lacks safeguards for employees.

Many Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have also voiced opposition to providing more assistance to state, local and tribal governments.

In recent days, some lawmakers have called for any package to include another round of $1,200 relief checks to individuals.

Udall said he would like a bill with a cost closer to the HEROES Act, which would include both extended unemployment insurance and relief checks, but that McConnell has put a limit on the dollar amount that is far smaller.

“So we’ve got to think how effectively we can spend this,” he said.

If forced to make the choice, Udall said, he would rather the money be used for extended unemployment benefits rather than relief checks.

Money for the unemployed, he said, is more likely to be spent by individuals and therefore would be more beneficial in shoring up the economy.

Vaccine

During the press conference, Udall said it is important that a vaccine be made available for use by the public.

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for the distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the first to gain such approval in the U.S.

Udall noted he, as a member of Congress, is not given priority to get the vaccine.

“But if I had the opportunity to take it today I would take it,” he said.

Based upon research and his discussion with scientists, Udall said he believes taking the vaccine is the best course of action.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301 or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.