Sanders, Khanna introduce bill to produce face masks for all Americans
Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allocate $5 billion in federal funding to deliver face masks to every American household through the U.S. Postal Service as the nation struggles with rising coronavirus cases in multiple states.
The legislation, which would direct the funds to the domestic production of face masks through the Defense Production Act and other means, was introduced Tuesday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), along with more than three dozen Democratic lawmakers.
“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,” Sanders said in a statement.
At a Senate hearing last month, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of the White House’s COVID-19 task force, said he would support any program that made masks more accessible and widely worn.
“There’s no doubt that wearing masks protects you and gets you to be protected. So it’s people protecting each other,” Fauci said in response to a question from Sanders. “Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it is giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of.”
Earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance urging all Americans to wear face masks to stem the spread of COVID-19 after mounting evidence suggested universal mask-wearing could be extremely effective in containing it.
The lawmakers on Tuesday pointed to a Goldman Sachs analysis that found mask-wearing could result in $1 trillion in the economic benefits through avoidance of strict lockdown measures.
“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,” Khanna said in a statement, referring to a specific type of mask.
“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,” he continued. “If we’re asking folks to wear a mask, which is absolutely essential, it’s on us to provide one.”
In recent weeks, dozens of states and cities have issued mask mandates, though lawmakers argue that unless the government also provides face coverings, those mandates could put some residents at a disadvantage.
Meanwhile, others have refused to wear masks where mandates are present, calling them an infringement on personal liberty.
President Trump has said he has no intention of issuing a national mask mandate, preferring to leave that decision to state and local governments.