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Oregon Governor: Mitch McConnell Should 'Get Off His Duff' And Deliver Relief Funds


In the spring, all but five states had some form of a shutdown in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Back then, Congress approved roughly $3 trillion in relief funds. That helped states, businesses and individuals cope with the lockdowns. Well, today a record number of people in the U.S. are hospitalized with the disease, according to The COVID Tracking Project, and some states are shutting down again. One big difference this time is that Congress has not passed another relief package. Oregon's lockdown begins tomorrow, and its governor, Kate Brown, a Democrat, joins us on the line.


KATE BROWN: Hi, Ari. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Well, how does this statewide freeze in Oregon compare to the lockdown that you did in the spring?

BROWN: Look. What is really, really clear is that case counts have more than doubled, topping more than a thousand a day. Hospitalizations are rising sharply, and our hospitals are being stretched to the limit. In the Portland metropolitan area, some have voluntarily begun to stop surgeries to preserve beds and ensure that they have adequate staffing capacity to address the need. What is different in terms of now and March - in March, we knew that there was going to be a federal package. We could count on Congress to assist the states. Our businesses were more resilient. And, frankly, our folks were willing to take tremendous changes - or make tremendous changes to their lives to flatten the curve. And now the challenges are just greater.

SHAPIRO: So what does it mean that after eight months, so many businesses have spent through whatever savings they had just to survive? There is no relief package. And as Oregon businesses go through this new round of shutdowns, what are you telling people about how to make it through?

BROWN: These measures are absolutely necessary to give Oregon a fighting chance to stop COVID-19 and to prevent hospitalizations from spiking. We have a small amount of CRF dollars - coronavirus relief dollars - left. I'm going to dedicate that to the businesses that will need to close down in order to help us reduce transmission and slow the spread of the virus. But, Ari...

SHAPIRO: Is that going to be enough? You say it's a small amount.

BROWN: No, it's not enough. Congress needs to take action. They need to put aside their political differences, and they need to step in and provide the states, the local jurisdictions and our businesses with immediate financial relief.

SHAPIRO: So what happens if Congress stalls? I mean, what happens to those businesses that have already spent down their savings, that are having to close down again?

BROWN: And it's not just businesses.


BROWN: You might recall that they created the pandemic unemployment assistance.


BROWN: That literally was a lifeline. What's going to happen? We're going to go into an even worse recession than what we are in right now. We know that the reason why things were held steady in the spring is because Congress made significant investments in our people, in our public health, in our businesses and in state government and local government. We need them to do the same again.

SHAPIRO: And so would you encourage congressional Democrats to make compromises on the size of the package just to get something passed? I mean, right now Democrats are hoping for a $2 trillion relief bill. Republicans have a $650 billion bill on offer. At this point, is something better than nothing?

BROWN: Absolutely, and that was the message I delivered to Speaker Pelosi a few weeks ago. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. We must have financial assistance, and we need it now. And with all due respect to Leader McConnell, he needs to get off his duff and deliver for the American people.

SHAPIRO: You've described the worrying numbers, and yet Oregon does have a lower rate of confirmed COVID cases than most states in the country. Do you think you could be jumping the gun with these measures?

BROWN: No, absolutely not. I'm following science and data to stop the spread and flatten the curve. My top priority as governor is to save lives and keep Oregonians healthy. That's what I'm focused on. That's my North Star.

SHAPIRO: Your freeze limits the size of social gatherings to no more than six people from just two households. And if people violate that, they can be fined more than a thousand dollars or even arrested. Do you see the state taking those measures - actually arresting people for gatherings of more than six people?

BROWN: I shouldn't have to. This is a matter of life and death. But I have directed the Oregon State Police to work with local law enforcement to enforce gathering limits. This is no different than the work that law enforcement does every single day to respond to noise complaints for loud parties, for example, and then they issue citations. Look. This is truly a matter of life and death. Each one of us can make a difference. We are all in this together, and we know that social gatherings are superspreader events. What happened in the White House was a prime example of how easily this disease spreads.

SHAPIRO: That's Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

Thank you again for talking with us.

BROWN: Thank you so much, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Maureen Pao is an editor, producer and reporter on NPR's Digital News team. In her current role, she is lead digital editor and producer for All Things Considered. Her primary responsibility is coordinating, producing and editing high-impact online components for complex, multipart show projects and host field reporting.