As COVID-19 infections continue to surge across the United States and nearly 30 states have imposes public mask-wearing requirements, Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and over three dozen of their Democratic colleagues in the Senate and House introduced lifesaving legislation July 27 to manufacture and distribute high-quality, reusable masks to everyone in America.
“If we can afford a $740 billion defense budget, we can afford to send every American a face mask,” said Rep. Khanna. “We are the wealthiest country on earth, yet our health care workers are still facing a shortage of N-95s, our essential workers are having to purchase their own protective face masks, and far too many vulnerable Americans are being left to figure out how to procure this basic need,” the Indian American congressman said in a press release. “Congress has a responsibility to step up where the White House has abdicated its responsibility and ensure every family has the equipment they need to stay safe. If we’re asking folks to wear a mask, which is absolutely essential, it’s on us to provide one.”
“We are the only high-income country in the world where infections and deaths are skyrocketing instead of falling. Nearly 150,000 are dead and 1,000 more are dying every day. That is an absolute scandal,” said Sen. Sanders. “Dozens of my colleagues and I are proposing that we do what our public health experts and scientists say we must do. This is not a political or partisan issue. Providing all of our people with high-quality, reusable masks without cost could save tens of thousands of lives and avoid hundreds of billions of dollars in economic harm.”
According to one estimate, widespread mask wearing could save over 40,000 American lives by Nov. 1, while another analysis predicted $1 trillion in the economic benefits of mask wearing through avoidance of strict lockdown measures. In questioning by Sanders at a recent Senate hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci voiced his support for the proposal, echoing the consensus of the medical community. “There's no doubt that wearing masks protects you and gets you to be protected. So it’s people protecting each other,” Fauci said. “Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it is giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of.”
The proposal, developed in consultation with health experts, would use the United States Postal Service to distribute three free, reusable masks to every person in the country, including individuals who are experiencing homelessness or living in group settings such as prisons, shelters, college dorms, and assisted living facilities.
In addition, the legislation provides pick-up sites for additional masks at convenient community locations that are already providing essential services, such as post offices, pharmacies, schools, public transportation stations, and COVID-19 testing sites. Finally, the bill would provide needed surgical masks and N-95 respirators to all workers in health settings.
To accomplish this, the Masks for All Act would use all available authorities, including the Defense Production Act.
Joining Representatives Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) to cosponsor the Masks for All Act in the House are Rep. Joyce Beatty, Rep. André Carson, Rep. David Cicilline, Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Jesús ‘Chuy’ García, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, Rep. Deb Haaland, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Ted Lieu, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, Rep. Jerry McNerney, Rep. Joe Neguse, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Donald Payne Jr., Rep. Mark Pocan, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Bobby Rush, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, Rep. Terri Sewell, Rep. Donna Shalala, Rep. Darren Soto, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Juan Vargas, Rep. Nydia Velásquez, and Rep. Peter Welch, according to the release.
Cosponsoring the legislation in the Senate include Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-Mich.), as well as Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).