Feb 8, 2021
Chuck Schumer & Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Press Conference on COVID Funeral Relief Transcript
Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) held a press conference on February 8, 2021 to discuss monetary relief for COVID funerals. Read the full transcript of the briefing here.
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Chuck Schumer: (00:00)
Got it. Okay. So, here’s the drill. We’re going to talk about this subject, take questions on this subject, and then I have some things to say about the impeachment resolution, as well. Okay. Well, and I want to thank people who are with us, not only Representative Ocasio-Cortez, but we have Frankie Miranda. Frankie, where are you? From the great Hispanic Federation. They do great work. We have Natalia from Voces Latinas. Thank you, Natalia. And we have somebody from Elmcor Senior Center.
Saeeda Dunston: (00:39)
Chuck Schumer: (00:39)
Saeeda Dunston: (00:41)
Chuck Schumer: (00:45)
You’re Elmcor. Okay, great. Thank you. Okay. And we’re going to try to be as brief as we can because it’s cold and because of the guidelines. So, nothing breaks your heart more than seeing parents and grandparents… [inaudible 00:01:00]. Okay. Nothing breaks your heart more than seeing parents, grandparents on Zoom saying goodbye to their children and grandchildren. They’re in the hospital dying of COVID, they can’t hug each other, they can’t be near each other, they can’t kiss each other. It’s awful. Brings tears to my eyes when I see some of these pictures. But compounding the injury once the loved one passes away, many of these families, because of COVID, don’t have money for a proper funeral and a proper burial. And that is just awful and inhumane.
Chuck Schumer: (01:50)
Representative Ocasio-Cortez brought this to my attention last April and said we should do something about it, and we stood here in April and said we were. We found out that, actually, FEMA could do this on its own, and FEMA did it in Sandy. After Hurricane Sandy, they delivered special disaster funds for families faced with funeral costs who couldn’t afford them because of Sandy. In this case, we wanted to do it because of the Coronavirus. I called White House several times, we made entreaties, we did letters, to no avail. They were cold-hearted.
Chuck Schumer: (02:34)
And so, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and I resolved we were going to try to get this done legislatively. And in the December COVID bill that passed, there is $2 billion, I am happy to say, to help people who are victims of COVID and don’t have the dollars on their own to pay for the funeral and burial of loved ones. We estimate over $200 million of that will go to New York, much of it to epicenters of the Coronavirus crisis like Corona, which we both represent. So, that is the good news.
Chuck Schumer: (03:14)
But we are here today not just to spread the good news, but we must make sure that the money gets out. So, first, we are letting people know that is happening, and if you are a family who couldn’t afford or had to just stretch and went without rent or went without food or anything else so you might give your loved one a decent funeral and burial, you can get reimbursed for up to $7,000 from FEMA, which as I said has done this in the past, but we are now legally requiring to do it. And we are going to make sure that that happens together, we are going to make sure that FEMA implements this well, that it is done in a way that’s easy for families to apply and get the dollars. And there are four steps that we’re just alerting people that need to happen, and then we’re going to make sure it does happen.
Chuck Schumer: (04:14)
One, we need documentation simply to verify the caller’s identity and relation to the deceased. Second, we’re telling New York City we need death certificates available because that is needed under the rules and under the law. Third, we’re alerting families and funerals to document the costs. We will need documentation for the costs. That make sense, but we’re not going to make it onerous. And we want to make sure there’s going to be a 1-800 call center, which FEMA will set up, that it has adequate personnel who speak multiple languages, who will help people walk through this process. So, we’re going to make sure that the people who didn’t have the dollars and had to stretch, and those who haven’t been able to have burials, or some people are still staying at home laying in funeral homes and elsewhere without burials get those dollars.
Chuck Schumer: (05:22)
And the second thing we’re going to do, this law applied for all of 2019, from I believe it is March through the end of 2019. We’re going to make sure we renew this in the new bill. We’re working on that all ready, the ARP bill that President Biden proposed. So, it will apply for all of this year till the COVID crisis ends. This is only a fair and humane thing to do. This is the kind of thing our country has done before, and we’re glad that we were able to provide this very, very needed relief. And we will keep fighting on this issue and many other issues to make sure that the people of New York and of the country, particularly those who don’t have the means to keep going on their own during COVID, get the help they need. With that, let me call on the Congresswoman.
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (06:22)
Thank you so much, Senator Schumer. And thank you to our community leaders that we have here in Corona. Thank you, Luis. Thank you [inaudible 00:06:34] Voces Latinas. Natalia? Natalia, thank you. Natalia. And thank you, of course, to Saeeda Dunston at Elmcor who really helped kick off this [inaudible 00:06:41] in a very major way. About a year ago, New York City became the epicenter of the epicenter, and right here in Corona, Queens, we had one of the most heavily impacted zip codes in the United States of America when it came to COVID cases. This is when COVID had just hit New York City and we were just trying to figure out what exactly was happening and how the pandemic was hitting the United States.
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (07:09)
And it was in that moment that we started to hear from community leaders right here in New York 14 and in Corona and around East Elmhurst that this pandemic was not hitting all of us equally. It was hitting Black families hard. It was hitting frontline workers party. It was hitting immigrant families extremely hard. Working-class families. And it was disproportionately impacting along lines of race and along lines of class. And so, what we saw was that the pandemic, while it was… Should I wait on this?
Speaker 4: (07:47)
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (07:48)
Chuck Schumer: (07:49)
[Inaudible 00:07:49] mention the train [inaudible 00:07:58].
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (07:59)
Yes, that’s true.
Chuck Schumer: (08:01)
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (08:02)
And so, what we saw was that while this pandemic was hitting all of us, and while we were all in the same storm, we weren’t all in the same boat. And some of us were riding very choppy waters, and what that means was that the communities that we’re being hardest hit were higher levels of mortality. And what that means is that when Black, brown, and working-class families are getting hit disproportionately hard with cases, it means that they’re also losing more people, with higher levels of mortality. And I lost my dad when I was about 18 years old, and the funeral expenses haunted and followed my family, along with many other families in a similar position, for years. When you suddenly lose a loved one, you’re talking about an expense of four or five, seven, $10,000. And then during COVID, with overrun funeral facilities, et cetera, families also are having to deal with having to pay for the storage of the bodies of their own loved ones. This is wrong.
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (09:10)
And so, I’m thrilled to be able to have such strong and powerful community leaders here to alert us to this as soon as everything started to hit. Saeeda Dunston just called me up right away, and she said, “This is going to be a problem.” This was probably the same week that everything shut down. And we got to work right away. And so, we brought this up, I brought it up in conference with Senator Schumer, and we made it a priority for our state and for our country. And so, once again, if you are a family that lost a loved one, please make sure that you start to document, and please make sure that you start to collect all documentation of the costs of burying a loved one. Make sure that you start to assemble this. Get your death certificate so that we can make sure that we can reimburse the cost to your family up to $7,000. We have $2 billion allocated, and this is reimbursable and retroactive back to March 2021 at the beginning of the pandemic.
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (10:11)
So, with that, I just want to thank each and every one of you and thank our community leaders. I’m just so proud to introduce Saeeda Dunston of Elmcor, who just led off this effort, is just a phenomenal community leader. And without her, we wouldn’t really be here today, so thank you so much.
Saeeda Dunston: (10:36)
Good morning, everyone. I want to thank the Congresswoman on a very personal level because many people hear when you’re saying things, but not everyone listens. And so, I want to thank the Congresswoman for listening to me that day and listening to our community. And Senator Schumer for following up on that. It’s really important that people understand what it means to be the one to make the call. It wasn’t because of me. It was very early on, as the Congressman was said. It was early because it was before the statistics were out, it was before anyone was saying Black and brown people were dying at higher rates, but we knew it, because as grassroots organizations like Voces Latinas and Nathaly, we know we don’t have to wait for the data because our people are calling us. The phones are off the hook. We’re literally listening to people say, “My family’s dying. I had a participant who lost four family members in one week. And this was before April.
Saeeda Dunston: (11:32)
So, for us, we lost our first staff person here in Corona on March 23rd. We didn’t need to wait for data. If you’re not listening to community organizers, if you’re not listening to those who have their boots on the ground, we will always miss it. The concern for me at the time when we were talking was that I remember the HIV epidemic, when people would leave their family members, literally leave their family members in hospitals because they couldn’t afford to bury them. And so, I knew this was going to be a problem because if this many people are dying, no one is prepared for that. No family’s prepared for that. There’s not enough life insurance for that. This was a disaster. This was a disaster, and FEMA stepped up in the way only because there was pressure. And so, I just want to make sure that this community knows that as long as you speak, someone will listen, and we are lucky to have a Congresswoman and a Senator in our district who will. But we have to be the ones to start the conversation. We’re responsible for our community. Thank you.
Chuck Schumer: (12:39)
And now we have some great leaders in New York, and one of them who looks at this issue when so many others is Frankie Miranda, the head of the Hispanic Federation.
Frankie Miranda: (12:51)
Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you, Majority Leader Schumer for his leadership. Also a great champion of our community, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Voces Latinas, and all my colleagues here. I wish that we didn’t even need to be here today, but as it has been said before, very early on, after so many years of a toxic narrative around our community by the past administration, we knew that people weren’t going to stay in their homes because they were afraid. They were afraid to look for services. They were afraid people were dying in their apartments. And people asked me why. And I said, “Our community had no other choice. They have to go to work for us to stay home. They have to get sick for us to stay healthy. And they have to die for us to live, for you and I to live.”
Frankie Miranda: (13:41)
And right now, we have an opportunity to correct a little bit of that pain in our community. We need to make sure that everybody in our communities of color know about this incredible opportunity, that it will somehow relieve them from the enormous pain that they have all ready suffered. There are too many kids that have lost parents, caregivers, grandparents. This is a way to start correcting the wrong. The past administration didn’t care about us, but now we have a leadership that really care about us and communities of color. And I want to thank again Majority Leader Schumer and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congresswoman, for being the champions of our community and helping us correct a little bit of that pain that we have these suffering. [foreign language 00:14:32].
Chuck Schumer: (14:32)
Thank you, Frankie. Frankie is one of our great Latino advocates here in New York. Now we have Nathaly Rubio, and she is one of the leaders of Voces Latina.
Nathaly Rubio-Torio: (15:30)
Hi, everyone. First of all, thank you very much, Hispanic Federation, for always being here for our community. Senator Schumer and Congresswoman Ocasio. Thank you, Saeeda, too, for all the work that we’re able to do together. I’m Nathaly Rubio-Torio. I’m executive director of Voces Latinas. We are in Jackson Heights on 83rd Street. We’re an HIV and violence prevention agency. In the last year, we have basically expanded our mission because of COVID in our community. It’s hit us so hard that our staff, our families, our clients [inaudible 00:16:04] were hospitalized, and we unfortunately lost [inaudible 00:16:07] as well, and family members.
Nathaly Rubio-Torio: (16:09)
I just want to say this is something that we’ve been waiting for, so thank you so much for your fight. Thank you so much for being the voice of our community. And I say that, being the voice, because you look around… First of all, I thank you for bringing the press conference to the very community that it’s affecting, but I also say being the voice because there’s so many people that you see that are not around here. At Voces Latinas, we go, and I know we work together closely with Saeeda, we go to the subpopulations that you normally do not see, that will not be knocking on our doors looking for help because of the fear of immigration. So, we go to them, and we’re talking to them as well. And they’re living a reality that not many people know, and it would be great to be able to bring these resources to them so that people start really realizing who else lives in these communities that’s suffering, struggling, freezing at night, not losing jobs, losing families, but also moving housing. Our people are freezing, our people are out of work, they’re under bridges. I mean, the homelessness has just tremendously increased in this area.
Nathaly Rubio-Torio: (17:15)
So, I cannot thank you enough for fighting the fight, being there, and always having our undocumented folks in mind also, because they are the ones that are in the shadows, are considered invisible, but need this very resource. At the beginning of the pandemic, we received many phone calls. We did distribute cash funds to be able to provide funeral expenses and be able to give our community a burial with a dignity, something that everybody deserves. So, again, thank you so much for your work. You have us on your side, in your corner. Thank you so much [inaudible 00:17:52] Voces Latinas in the fight, in the work. So, I want to just say again, we’re here, thank you very much for all your support and help. And please do not forget our community. Thank you very much.
Speaker 7: (18:08)
Okay, now, we’ll do-
Chuck Schumer: (18:09)
Questions on this topic.
Speaker 7: (18:09)
… questions on this topic.
Speaker 8: (18:10)
Senator, can you clarify the retroactive date? I think you guys conflicted each other.
Speaker 7: (18:16)
It is January 1st, 2020. Yes. January 1st 2020 until December 31st, 2020, and they’re both fighting for it to become proactive going forward.
Chuck Schumer: (18:29)
In the new bill, we’re trying to get it to go from January 1st, 2021 till the crisis is over. However long that is.
Speaker 7: (18:37)
Sorry [inaudible 00:18:37].
Speaker 9: (18:37)
[inaudible 00:18:37] but you talked about how so many [inaudible 00:18:44] have been impacted [inaudible 00:18:44] undocumented.
Chuck Schumer: (18:44)
They’re eligible. Yes.
Speaker 9: (18:49)
[inaudible 00:18:49] are eligible for people who are undocumented, there is fear about applying because [inaudible 00:19:00] information [inaudible 00:19:02].
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (19:04)
Yes. Of course. And it’s completely understandable why there’s that fear there, especially over the last four years of targeting of our immigrant families, but I think right now, our families, especially under a Biden administration, a Democratic Senate, and a Democratic House, it is prioritizing immigrant rights, including those of the undocumented, to not have fear and to not allow that through to further marginalize our community. [foreign language 00:20:05].
Chuck Schumer: (20:07)
Speaker 7: (20:14)
On this topic.
Speaker 10: (20:19)
Is there an income threshold that [inaudible 00:20:19].
Chuck Schumer: (20:19)
You’ll have to show that you couldn’t be able to afford a funeral. Some people, $7,000, even if you’ve had a good job, but then lost your job isn’t available when you have to feed your family, pay the rent, et cetera. And we are going to work, Congresswoman and I are going to be working with FEMA, and they’ve been very cooperative in making these regulations very friendly to people, including for the undocumented. Any others on this subject? Okay. You can stay here if you want and hear what I have to say on immigration-
Speaker 7: (20:53)
Chuck Schumer: (20:53)
… on impeachment. Okay? No, it’s good news, actually. The managers got what they want.
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (20:59)
Speaker 7: (21:01)
I’ll trade you.
Chuck Schumer: (21:02)
Okay. All right, on impeachment. Let me just… Okay. So, let me just say this. We are finalizing a resolution that’s been agreed to by all parties. The House managers, Former President’s Council, Leader McConnell, and I, that will ensure a fair, honest, bipartisan Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. We’ll be releasing more of the details today, but I’m proud to report, each side will have ample time to make arguments. If the managers decide they want witnesses, there’ll be a vote on that. That’s what they requested. They weren’t sure if they wanted witnesses. They wanted to preserve the options. That’s just what we do. And the trial will accommodate a request from one of the Trump counsel not to have it on the Jewish Sabbath, but it will resume on Sunday afternoon, after the Jewish Sabbath is over.
Chuck Schumer: (22:07)
Most importantly, first I spoke with Mr. Rascon this morning, he’s very happy with this proposal. And most importantly, it’s going to ensure a fair Senate impeachment, allowing for truth and accountability. Truth and accountability are essential. Some people say, “Oh, let this go away.” Oh no. When something as horrible, as dastardly that happened on January 6th, [inaudible 00:22:35], you cannot sweep it under the rug. You must have all the truth come out, and then the accountability once the truth comes out. That’s what we aim to do with this trial. Okay. Great.
Chuck Schumer: (22:48)
Okay. Thank you everybody. Yes?
Speaker 11: (22:53)
On the subject of bipartisanship, do Democrats intend to push through the stimulus without bipartisan support?
Chuck Schumer: (22:57)
Our job is to get a big, bold plan done, period. We welcome bipartisan support, and in fact, there is bipartisan support in the very real sense that over 50% of Republicans are for this bill in all its parts. If our Republican Congressmen and our Republican Senators don’t want to go along, the needs of the people supersede that. There are so many needs in so many different ways. Get the schools open safely. Help the unemployed, help the small businesses, help the nonprofits, make sure that people get checks. All of these things are so important that we hope we can go forward with our Republican colleagues, but if we can’t, we are obligated, our obligation to the nation requires us to move forward. Do you want to say anything on that?
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (23:45)
Chuck Schumer: (23:45)
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: (23:49)
I think the Senator is spot on, which is that we welcome bipartisan support, and there is bipartisan support for this bill among everyday working people, including half of Republicans. Now, the choice is in the Republican conference if they want to actually reflect that support among actual Republicans throughout the country. But our number one priority is to help people. Our number one priority is to get people the help that they need, to get them stimulus checks, to get them expanded access to healthcare, to protect their housing. That’s our number one priority. And we don’t want to let anything get in our way of our number one priority. And so, we welcome that bipartisan support, we enjoy that bipartisan support among everyday regular people in this country, and we’re going to do what they have sent us to Washington to do.
Chuck Schumer: (24:41)
Thank you, everybody. I think we’ll call it a day. Got to go to Washington.
Speaker 12: (24:45)
Senator, can I ask you as question about-
Speaker 7: (24:47)
What do you need, Dave?
Speaker 12: (24:48)
I just wanted to ask him [inaudible 00:24:49].