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Latest Wyden, Merkley COVID-19-related news releases

U.S. Capitol

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Here are several recent news releases related to COVID-19 issues from Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.


Monday, May 18, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture teamed up with Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), to press USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to increase the agency’s efforts to speed funding for food aid appropriated by Congress to those in need.

Congress appropriated $36 billion to the USDA to help it respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including for critical nutrition assistance and direct support to agricultural producers.  However, only 20 percent of those funds have been obligated even as demand increases and farmers suffer.

“Particularly troubling is the delay in getting nutrition assistance out the door to address growing food insecurity across the country… This money should be getting out to the people who need it, not stuck in Washington caught up in red tape,” the senators wrote.

Vital programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which supports the country’s food banks, have only obligated a fraction of the funding that Congress appropriated—leaving $1 billion appropriated for child nutrition programs untapped. 

Senator Merkley has continued to champion food assistance programs throughout the coronavirus crisis. Last week, for example, Senator Merkley pushed the USDA to ensure that Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients can utilize food delivery and curbside pickup to help limit their exposure to the coronavirus, in addition to leading an effort to urge Amazon and Walmart to waive delivery fees and minimum order requirements for SNAP recipients.

To assist farmers and agricultural producers, Senator Merkley urged the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to make agricultural businesses eligible for the Economic Injury Grant Program (EIDL).  When the SBA failed to follow the express directive of Congress to do so, Senator Merkley kept the pressure on until the administration agreed to make the assistance available to America’s farmers.

The full text of the senators’ letter is available here.

Wyden, Brown Press Labor Department to Speed Up Unemployment Disbursements and Address System Shortfalls

Senators Urging Labor Department to Complete Comprehensive Assessment of State Unemployment Insurance Systems, Make Policy Recommendations to Congress to Address Shortfalls

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are urging the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to speed up Unemployment Insurance (UI) disbursements and work to address the system shortfalls that have contributed to the delays in workers getting their benefits.

In a letter sent to DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia, the senators expressed serious concern regarding the significant delays in the processing of UI claims that are preventing workers from receiving their benefits in a timely manner.  While some states are now distributing benefits under three major UI programs authorized by the CARES Act – Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) – it took most states several weeks to get these programs up and running, and some states are still weeks away from beginning to distribute these benefits. 

“We recognize the unprecedented number of claims and the unique nature of the current economic crisis, but it is unacceptable that UI systems across the country have been so ineffective at providing workers with this critical safety net in a timely manner.[1]  Even in the states that have started paying out CARES Act benefits, claimants must overcome challenges of poorly functioning websites, long waits on help hotlines, and, in the worst cases, inaccurate denials of benefits.[2]  These delays are devastating for thousands of workers across the country[3] who have lost income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and have gone weeks, sometimes months, without receiving unemployment compensation.[4]   Laid off workers should not bear the brunt of years of neglect of UI programs at the state and federal level,” the senators wrote.

In order to help Congress devise the most effective policies to respond to these inadequacies, the senators are also urging DOL to undertake a comprehensive but quick survey of existing UI systems. The information from this survey will inform Congress’ efforts to devise policy solutions to respond to deficiencies, and help ensure the Administration allocates resources, technical assistance, and oversight effectively.

The senators are also calling for a nationwide overhaul of UI systems’ technology capabilities, which is necessary to prevent this unfair delay in benefits from persisting during this economic downturn and occurring in the future.

In addition to Sens. Wyden and Brown, the letter was also signed by Sens. Chuck Schumer, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI),Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Jackie Rosen (D-NV).

A copy of the letter can be read here.

[1] Politico, “Millions of gig workers are still waiting for unemployment benefits,” Rebecca Rainey, April 30, 2020.  Retrieved from:

[2] The New York Times, “They Filed for Unemployment Last Month.  They Haven’t Seen a Dime.,” Matthew Haag, April 17, 2020.  Retrieved from:

[3] Akron Beacon Journal, “Thousands still wait for unemployment assistance in Ohio,” Amanda Garrett, May 3, 2020:  Retrieved from:

[4] ABC Action News, “State unemployment fund earning millions in interest, as Floridians wait on unemployment checks,” Kylie McGivern, May 4, 2020.  Retrieved from:


Health experts urgently emphasize that contact tracing is necessary to contain virus and reopen communities

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tina Smith (D-MN), and Congressman Andy Levin (D-MI-9), introduced new legislation that would create a federal contact tracing program to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease, and are calling for the bill to be included in the next pandemic response package.

Contact tracers work with a patient to identify everyone they have been in contact with, contact those people to let them know they have been exposed, and help ensure that they can access testing and stay isolated to avoid spreading the disease to their own friends, family, coworkers, and others. During a Senate hearing this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top medical expert on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, confirmed that if we don’t have countermeasures like contact tracing in place, there will be a new wave of infections and deaths as states reopen. 

“We all want to get back to our lives and businesses as soon as possible, but if we reopen without a plan to contain this virus, it will spark a second wave costing thousands more American lives,” said Merkley. “If we want to revive our economy and our way of life, we must put in place a comprehensive, nationwide strategy for testing and contact tracing. We need a plan and we need it now.”

Contact tracing is a core public health tool widely used to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases—but cuts to public health have cost 50,000 public health jobs since the Great Recession, and a critical shortage of tracers is now putting lives at risk.

The Coronavirus Containment Corps Act would respond to this crisis by: 

  • Requiring the CDC to develop a national contact tracing strategy within 21 days in consultation with state, local, and tribal public health officials, Indian Tribes and Tribal organizations, and experts with knowledge or field experience concerning racial and ethnic disparities in public health and historically marginalized communities. The plan would identify the number of contact tracers, support specialists, and investigators necessary to conduct culturally competent contact tracing.
  • Providing $10 billion in funding for states and Tribesto hire over 100,000 contact tracers, support specialists, and case investigators, and to help shore up public health systems for a potential resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall.
  • Protecting Americans’ privacy. The CDC would be required to include in its strategy plans to prevent the misuse of patient data; ensure automatic data deletion; data minimization, anonymization and security; and prohibit data sharing with and within the federal government with the exception of the CDC and Indian Health Service.
  • Awarding $500 million to state and tribal workforce agencies to help hire new contact tracers, focusing specifically on Americans who are currently out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The legislation is the most recent of a series of steps by Senator Merkley to speed up and prepare for a safe reopening of society by boosting testing and contact tracing. Previously, Senator Merkley led his colleagues in pushing the Trump administration to immediately craft, release, and implement a plan that includes expanded testing for the coronavirus and enhanced contact tracing, and has been outspoken in laying out a vision for robust testing and contact tracing efforts in Oregon and across the country.


Friday, May 15, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with 38 of their colleagues, are introducing a resolution that encourages U.S. engagement with the international community on the coronavirus response given the Trump administration’s failure to participate in global summits on vaccines and therapeutics.

The resolution emphasizes that only with concerted global collaboration and coordination can the coronavirus pandemic be addressed, and that the U.S. has failed so far to participate in a number of key global collaborative efforts on this issue.

“The coronavirus crisis knows no borders, and we’re not going to solve this it by abandoning our partnerships around the world,” said Merkley, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We need to lead a bold global response and recovery strategy, and part of that leadership means affirming our commitment to a worldwide coordinated effort to develop a vaccine. Nobody in America can afford for our government to be slowing down the development and distribution of a vaccine that could end this pandemic and let us get back to normal.”

“A global pandemic demands global coordination based in the best science working together toward developing a vaccine as soon as possible to save lives,” Wyden said. “The Trump administration cannot be allowed to abandon our country’s leadership role in the all-hands-on-deck response so urgently needed on research and more to end this public health crisis as soon as humanly possible in the United States and worldwide.”

The resolution comes after a series of shortsighted missteps by the Trump administration on the international stage that will put more lives at risk during the pandemic and undermine America’s long-term ability to advance its interests internationally, including President Trump’s steps to cut U.S. funding for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Last week, Senator Merkley led a group of 22 lawmakers—including Senator Wyden—in pressing the administration to provide a detailed briefing to Congress regarding their strategy to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine as soon as one is available. Experts have raised concerns that in addition to the challenges of boosting production capacity to manufacture vaccines, a comprehensive plan to distribute the vaccine will be critical to avoiding supply chain bottlenecks, such as those that have plagued the distribution of personal protective equipment and coronavirus testing, that could make the vaccines inaccessible to countless Americans.

Senators Merkley and Wyden were joined in introducing the resolution by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Udall (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Mark Warner (D-VA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Tom Carper (D-DE).

A copy of today’s Senate resolution is available here.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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