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AUDIO: Heinrich Provides Update On COVID-19 Response Efforts In New Mexico

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:

Hi everyone, and thank you for joining for my weekly update on our ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences.

I’d like to start with some positive stories.

This past weekend, communities all across the Navajo Nation observed a 57-hour curfew.

That curfew was certainly warranted to help curb the spread of the virus. But it was also a real challenge, putting already isolated families in an especially challenging place for food security.

I helped connect an effort between the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and Alamo Navajo Chapter President Buddy Mexicano.

This effort led to the installation of emergency communications equipment from Verizon to provide internet and cell service and delivery of hundreds of pounds of processed game meat and other essentials like sanitizer to residents of the Alamo Navajo Indian Reservation.

I was truly impressed with how sportsmen across the state stepped up to make this happen to help feed a lot of families and do it in a way that protected everyone’s health.

I should also say that hunting and wild game are a central part of the Alamo Chapter’s culture.

We have also seen our state’s two national laboratories step up to address major technical challenges during this pandemic.

Both Sandia and Los Alamos are working on ways to help with internally testing their national security workforces, and eventually the larger population.

And just this week, Sandia announced that it will be able to work with the State of New Mexico to provide CPAP machines that have been converted for use as ventilators.

This could make an enormous difference in shoring up critical equipment for our health care response.

Additionally, I’m pleased that New Mexico agreed to participate in a pilot program to improve and expand contact tracing for coronavirus infections in efforts to better isolate outbreaks.

I have been asking Ambassador Birx for boots on the ground to assist the New Mexico Department of Health on this.

New Mexico has consistently been among the top states in testing per capita for COVID-19 infections.

We've also had an incredible response to the Hometown Heroes initiative we launched to highlight New Mexicans who are stepping up to help during this pandemic.

My office has heard from hundreds of New Mexicans who nominated heroes in their communities.

I’d like to tell you about just a couple of these stories as well.

Sherry Hooper and her team at The Food Depot in Santa Fe have been coordinating and executing an emergency effort to feed tens of thousands of families across northern New Mexico who are experiencing food insecurity.

As one of the folks who nominated her wrote, “Sherry's steady leadership, compassion and unparalleled management skills make her a true hometown hero!”

We’ve also heard from many, many New Mexicans who are sewing masks and other protective equipment for health care workers and for everyone to wear and help contain the spread of this virus.

You all might have seen the mask my mother-in-law sent me up on my Instagram.

I’ve been really proud to see all the coordinated efforts to scale up production of protective equipment around our state.

The Bernalillo County Fire Department has partnered up with the Southwest Creations Collaborative, which employs local women in Albuquerque, to manufacture masks and gowns for Fire Department personnel on the frontlines of this crisis.

Volunteers in Las Cruces have set up shop in the old Doña Ana County courthouse as Operation Maskup and are manufacturing masks for seniors, hospitals, and clinics.

I’d also like to commend our most-frequently nominated mask maker so far in our Hometown Heroes initiative.

Melissa Hart is a small business owner.

She owns Stitchology, a small fabric store in Albuquerque’s North Valley.

Even though she has had to temporarily close her business, Melissa is helping address the shortage of masks by donating fabric and creating kits for volunteers to sew thousands of masks.

That’s the type of community spirit that will help our state get through this long emergency.

These stories of heroes all around New Mexico should give us all hope that we are going to get through this together.

It may not feel like it, but each of us who are staying home and caring for each other are also making a real difference that will save the lives of our fellow New Mexicans and build a stronger future for our communities.

Next, I’d like to briefly tell you about some of my efforts to hold the Administration accountable for implementing the programs established in the CARES Act, while also working on legislation to provide additional funding and resources to workers, hospitals, and state and local governments on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

As we witness deadly outbreaks of the coronavirus in tribal communities—including the Navajo Nation and Zuni, Zia, and San Felipe Pueblos and others—we must continue to fight for the resources our tribal nations need.  

Earlier this week, Senator Udall and I sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor calling on him to increase the federal cost-share to 100 percent for all eligible emergency protective measures undertaken by tribal nations during the pandemic.

I’ve also discussed this issue directly with Administrator Gaynor, and I will keep doing so. As tribal nations confront this pandemic, and take on unprecedented costs, they must be assured full and complete protection of their resources, their land, and their livelihoods.

I’m also holding the Trump administration accountable for prioritizing public health over political gain.

At a time when we are confronting an unprecedented global health crisis, we need to use all of our efforts to get our communities lifesaving health care resources.

The Administration should frankly not be recklessly pressing forward with building the president’s ineffective border wall right now.

Doing so right now transforms a symbol of hate into an instrument of destruction for smaller border communities, like Columbus.

Bringing large groups of construction workers into small communities and placing them in cramped living quarters will inevitably risk the health of local residents, especially when they already lack the health care infrastructure to deal with this public health crisis.

I have also led the New Mexico congressional delegation in demanding immediate answers from the administration on how it is handling the coronavirus pandemic at ICE facilities like the Otero Processing Center, where both an employee and a migrant have now tested positive for COVID-19.

This is about humane treatment of migrants and employees at these facilities, something I have long demanded. But it’s also about protecting the staff and the surrounding communities.

In the midst of the current stay-at-home measures, I also recognize that there is an increased risk of domestic violence and child abuse.

And the programs that work to reduce violence in our communities and ensure survivors get the essential support they need are being strained during this pandemic.

That’s why I am calling on Congress to prioritize funding to support victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, including through the programs already authorized by the Violence Against Women Act.

Finally, I am working to make sure no New Mexican is left behind in the economic recovery.

As you might have seen, I am agreeing to serve on a White House task force comprised of both Senators and Members of the House of Representatives to provide counsel to the President on the reopening the American economy in the aftermath of this pandemic.

I hope that serving on this task force will allow me to offer honest advice to the president.

As someone with a background in science, I strongly believe that we have to use the best available data and scientific and medical expertise as our guide.

When I spoke to President Trump this morning, I made it clear that expanding our testing capacity – for those with and without symptoms – is absolutely essential for us to be able to reopen the economy.

It’s also critical that we have a comprehensive plan for our economy when we do re-open, because this isn’t a light switch we can turn on or off.

It will require bold and inclusive thinking and extensive plans.

As New Mexico's senator, I am also fighting to ensure our long-term economic recovery does not leave anyone behind, especially our rural communities and Indian Country. We have a moral responsibility to make sure every single American whose life and livelihood has been upended by this crisis is made whole when this is over.

In the meantime, I’m focused on making sure that small businesses and nonprofits can get the assistance they need from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the Small Business Administration.

We also need the Treasury Department to designate more of our financial institutions as SBA eligible lenders for these loans.

On Tuesday morning, I convened a panel of experts in New Mexico to hear directly from small business owners and nonprofit leaders and to answer their questions about accessing these programs.

We had hundreds of New Mexicans from across the state participate in the forum. And we have had some progress on getting these funds to businesses in our state.

According to figures released by the Small Business Association earlier this week, more than 5,300 loans to New Mexico small businesses, totaling more than $1.1 billion, have been approved by the SBA under the Paycheck Protection Plan.

And to be clear, obligated loan figures do not necessarily represent funds that have actually been disbursed.

But I want to say, once again, that I share the frustration of so many business owners at how long it’s taken for the administration to implement these programs.

When so many of our small businesses and nonprofits simply can’t hold out another week, there is no excuse for foot-dragging or poor execution.

Negotiations are underway as we speak to refund these programs.

But we also have to fix these programs to make sure New Mexico’s smallest businesses are eligible for assistance. Finally, as Congress weighs future public health and economic relief legislation, I want to be sure we don’t forget about New Mexico’s small and rural communities.

Rural communities in New Mexico either will face or are already facing enormous economic burdens and costs in an effort to respond to this pandemic.

It’s crucial that we provide the same direct emergency assurances to smaller towns, counties, and cities and grant them the same stability that we’re providing our larger metropolitan areas.

That’s why I am taking the lead in the Senate in introducing the Coronavirus Community Relief Act, which will provide $250 billion in stabilization funding specifically targeted for localities with populations under 500,000.

I’m proud to lead this effort in the Senate and appreciate Congressman Ben Ray Luján's leadership in the House on this bill to expand upon the CARES Act and open up this critical funding so that no community, big or small, is left behind.