WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) today held a teleconference with New Mexico-based reporters to answer questions and discuss the latest on efforts to assist New Mexicans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recording of Senator Heinrich’s remarks can be found HERE.
Senator Heinrich's as prepared for delivery are below:
Thank you all for joining me again for an update on our ongoing efforts to save lives during this pandemic and help New Mexico workers and families weather the economic fallout.
Last week, Congress came together to pass a more than $2 trillion legislative package with emergency medical funding and critical economic relief measures.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation secured major reforms to economic relief programs through hard-fought negotiations that took the better part of a week.
This includes the direct payments to households, expanded unemployment insurance for more impacted workers, and new loans and grants for small businesses.
I encourage all New Mexicans to please reach out to my office if I can help you in applying for this any of these federal assistance programs.
We are here to help.
My office is in direct communication with New Mexicans—including individuals, small business owners, tribes, and nonprofits—to support them in applying for the help they need to get through the other side of this.
And we are holding the Administration accountable every step of the way in implementing these programs as rapidly and effectively as possible so our health providers and the families here who need help will get it.
In just one example of this, yesterday, after I joined Senate Democrats demanding it, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin reversed course from earlier in the week and announced that Social Security beneficiaries will not need to file taxes to receive their direct benefit.
This was a major victory for people in our state.
The seniors and people with disabilities who receive Social Security benefits are particularly vulnerable at this time.
They already have direct deposit set up with the federal government.
I’m pleased we were able to help them receive this aid much more quickly.
But it’s clear the Trump Administration is not moving quickly enough across the board.
We don’t have any more time to waste.
At a time like this, every day lost equates to more lives lost and more economic damage.
We can’t afford to see any unnecessary delays get in the way of delivering the resources our families and communities need.
Families in every corner of our state are scared about how they will be able to make it through each oncoming week.
Their lives and livelihoods have been completely upended.
They are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table. And they are worried about protecting the health of their families.
They need assistance, and they need it now.
As this crisis continues for days, weeks, and, yes, months, we must remain focused on delivering all of the resources and assistance that will help New Mexicans and rebuild our communities.
Now, I’d like to address where we stand in our urgent mission to equip our public health workers and health care providers who on the front lines with what they need to save lives and stay safe.
Thanks to our efforts to secure testing supplies and authorizations from the FDA, New Mexico has been ahead of most of the rest of the nation in rolling out diagnostic testing.
That is helping us find New Mexicans who test positive for the coronavirus and isolate them and others to stop subsequent infections.
This testing caused a slight uptick in finding positive cases in New Mexico over the last weeks, but it has also now slowed the rate of new infections, helping us get ahead of the curve.
Still, the very nature of a virus like this means we are going to see the spread of many more cases and more New Mexicans who need medical attention.
We need to prepare our state for what we have already seen occur in places with earlier and more intense outbreaks, like Italy and New York.
Our medical supplies, hospital beds, and health care workers will face great strains in the coming weeks.
We are already seeing this in some of the communities in the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation in Arizona.
And this brings me to a critical point. I want to emphasize how much our rural communities need to be prepared for and supported in this crisis.
I was grew up in rural America in a town of about 1,000 people.
It can feel like the news you’re seeing about what’s happening in cities like New York—and even Albuquerque—won’t hit home where you are.
We need to keep in mind that while surges of infections may hit some of our rural communities later, any increase in coronavirus cases will place acute strains on health care delivery in rural hospitals and clinics that are already struggling to keep their doors open.
Rural health providers had severely limited medical resources and personnel before this public health emergency.
Most of these rural hospitals have already postponed non-acute surgical procedures and appointments for non-urgent patients.
That will drastically cut into their revenues and put them in even more dire financial straits than they were already in.
Providers that New Mexicans depend on need real financial support and reinforcement to cope with an unprecedented influx of patients.
I sent a letter with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to HHS Secretary Azar earlier this week pushing him to prioritize the urgent needs of our rural hospitals.
We need to ensure our rural hospitals receive their fair share of the $100 billion in grants for hospitals and health care providers that was in the emergency relief legislation we just passed.
We also need to do everything we can right away to deliver critical supplies like personal protective equipment and ventilators to these hospitals before it’s too late.
Just yesterday, I pushed FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor on just this on a call – to give New Mexico its fair share of PPEs and medical equipment from the National Stockpile.
We will need even more than that, however.
With 32 of our 33 counties already federally designated as health care provider shortage areas, we need health providers deployed into our rural communities – and soon.
Obviously, the stories we have seen nationally of hang-ups, evem favoritism in the disbursement of supplies from the National Stockpile and the president’s reluctance to invoke the Defense Production Act to spur more coordinated manufacturing of medical supplies is impacting us here in New Mexico.
But now is not the time to argue or point fingers.
We need to use every minute of every day to solve problems in the supply chain and secure and deliver all of the equipment and resources we can to help our medical response in every single community across New Mexico be as effective as possible.
There is so much at stake.
We need to act like the lives of our friends, and neighbors, and family depend on it—because they do.
In addition to supporting the hospitals and clinics in both our rural and urban communities, we also need to proactively expand our capacity for treating New Mexicans with the coronavirus.
I support Governor Lujan Grisham’s request to FEMA and the Department of Defense for the deployment of a fully equipped and staffed Combat Support Hospital in New Mexico.
We also need to be ready to mobilize other emergency units in communities that come under the strain of surges of new patients.
I am also working to support Navajo Nation President Nez to support a similar deployment of emergency units that can serve reservation communities that are seeing spiking numbers of people with the coronavirus.
In Washington, we passed legislation to expedite funding and resources to tribes.
Now I am pushing the Trump Administration to get those resources out as quickly as possible to the Navajo Nation, to our 19 Pueblos, and the Mescalero and Jicarilla Apache Tribes with urgency.
As we have already seen in some of the Navajo communities in Arizona, it is critical for us to have these resources ready to go before we see a critical mass of New Mexicans with infections overwhelm our ability to treat them.
Before wrapping up, I would like to take a moment to recognize the many New Mexicans who are showing what it means to support each other during this trying time.
New Mexicans have a creative tenacity.
New Mexicans possess incredible ingenuity.
And, frankly we all care a lot about each other. We are all doing our part to stay home and maintain physical distance to help our health care workers do their jobs.
So many of us are also demonstrating how much we can still count on each other for support.
I want to shine a spotlight on some of the true heroes who are stepping up to serve their fellow New Mexicans during the coronavirus pandemic.
And I’m asking for New Mexicans to nominate heroes in their communities so that we can thank them and life up their stories.
We are calling this “Hometown Heroes.”
Let me tell you just a few examples from throughout our state come.
Examples, I should say, that come from reporting many of you have done over the last couple of weeks.
So thank you again for what you are doing as members of the press to not only keep us informed about important public health updates but also uplifting positive stories that show us some real good happening in the midst of such a daunting time.
There are so many New Mexicans going above and beyond.
Daniel Lewis, a driver for the Newcomb Senior Center, is still making food deliveries to seniors living in remote chapters on the Navajo Nation.
Eddie Padilla, a meat cutter at Kuane’s Market in Santa Fe, is helping families eat in his day job and then turning around and delivering food and essentials to seniors after work hours.
Chris Franzoy of Young Guns Farm in Hatch is donating free five-pound bags of pinto beans and green chile to families in southern New Mexico.
Our small business community is also finding creative ways to help out.
When there are shortages in supplies, local brewers like Three Rivers in Farmington and distillers like Rolling Still in Taos have turned their attention to making hand sanitizer.
Kathy Lay, the Executive Director of Roswell MainStreet, created a virtual version of the monthly First Fridays event to urge people to buy online from local merchants and order take-out or delivery from local restaurants.
And even though the school year was ended to protect the health of our children and their families, New Mexico educators are still reaching out to students and parents.
Andrea Tafoya, a first grade teacher at Louis E. Armijo Elementary School in Las Vegas, took the time to call every single one of her student’s parents.
She then drove to visit each student—from a safe distance away in her car—to tell them she was still their teacher and she will do everything she can to support them as they transition to learning from home.
Finally, it goes without saying how heroic our health care workers and our first responders have been in confronting this crisis.
They are putting themselves on the frontlines to protect all of us. We all have a role in helping with the success of their lifesaving work.
I hope we can continue to lean on each other and help our fellow New Mexicans in the difficult weeks to come.
That’s how we will get through this.