ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Democratic New Mexico Senator Tom Udall is calling for a new round of federal COVID-19 financial relief efforts while accusing President Trump of “cratering” congressional efforts on the topic. During a media teleconference Monday, Udall “both sides” to come back to the table as talks have stalled to extend key federal benefits for New Mexicans and other Americans affected by the pandemic.
While Congress has appropriated $3.5 trillion so far in COVID-19 relief efforts, Senator Udall said Tuesday the funding was, “by no means enough,” saying Congress must act again. It comes as President Trump announced a series of executive orders Friday, extending unemployment benefits, cutting payroll taxes for those making less than $100-thousand a year, deferring student loan payments and minimizing evictions. CBS News reports the measures could face legal challenges because they were not approved by Congress.
“The White House doomed negotiations with congressional Democrats and the President’s executive orders don’t do the job and they won’t work,” Udall said. “They reduce assistance for unemployed Americans struggling to make rent and feed their families and they’re far to narrow in scope.”
Highlighting stories about the continued impact of the pandemic in New Mexico, service industry workers and local elected officials spoke during the Monday teleconference. Michelle Zetterholm is a bartender for an Albuquerque restaurant group. Zetterholm, who’s pregnant says she’s medically unable to get back to work because of the unknown threat virus poses to expectant mothers and their babies.
“I’d really love to return to work, I would have already done so had the cases been under control,” Zetterholm said. “I really look forward to being able to start making money again, but with the cases rising and the lack of a reliable treatment or a vaccine, it feels hard to take that chance.”
Zetterholm says the $600 boost in federal unemployment allowed her to help pay her monthly mortgage and her bills and set aside some funds for medical emergencies. Another unemployed worker in the foodservice industry, Molly Dietz Kennedy of Santa Fe says she and her husband are now living on a little more than $500 a week now.
“I’m resorting to budget tightening instead of going back to work because of the dangers involved,” Dietz Kennedy said. “It’s absolutely gut-wrenching to see my loved ones watch their livelihoods go down the drain when it’s so clear the federal government can help easily where no one else can.”
Udall says he supports House Democrats $3-trillion “HEROES Act,” which passed in mid-May and could potentially give New Mexico an extra $5.4 billion in funding across the board.
When asked what he believes the top stimulus priorities should be, Udall said he “wouldn’t limit it to just one,” but supports restoring the extra $600 unemployment benefit; extra funds for state, local and tribal governments; money supporting schools and an additional $1,200 payments to citizens. He said most important though is getting the virus under control.,
“If you can’t get it under control, you can’t open up safely, in businesses and schools and all the other areas that are very important to people,” Udall said. “That requires an effort by the federal government to really focus on using the Defense Production Act by the President to help the states in terms of supplementing what they have done, many of them searching around the world to find testing materials and PPE.”
The two-term senator who’s expected to vacate office in January 2021 expressed fear Monday of what he believes could happen without another stimulus measure.
“The time for doing this would have been in the May, early June time frame,” Udall said. “We’re getting very close to state and local governments and tribal governments laying people off, contributing to the downturn, contributing to further recession and maybe even depression.”