Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package

Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package
© Greg Nash

California Democratic Reps. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff to subpoena top DHS official, alleges whistleblower deposition is being stonewalled Schiff claims DHS is blocking whistleblower's access to records before testimony GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power MORE and Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds On The Money: Half of states deplete funds for Trump's 0 unemployment expansion | EU appealing ruling in Apple tax case | House Democrats include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package The movement to reform animal agriculture has reached a tipping point MORE on Tuesday urged congressional leaders to provide for distributing free masks to all Americans as part of the coronavirus aid package that's currently being negotiated.

In a letter to the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate, Schiff and Khanna called for provisions in the aid package that would promote widespread mask use, including sending free masks to all via mail as well as funding for a public service announcement campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and research on masks' efficacy.

"While nothing short of a vaccine or a cure can truly end the threat of this virus, we must aggressively pursue simple and affordable courses of action that can mitigate infections and save tens of thousands of lives. Relative to the billions of dollars that we spent on critical steps like testing and contact tracing and the trillions that we spent on economic relief, masks are a low-cost intervention," Schiff and Khanna wrote.

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Democratic leaders and Trump administration officials said Tuesday that they are aiming to reach a deal on the next coronavirus aid package by the end of this week, following more than two weeks of slow-moving talks. Enhanced unemployment benefits that provided recipients an extra $600 per week already expired at the end of July. 

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline MORE told reporters after a closed-door meeting with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Will Democrats attempt to pack the Supreme Court again? MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act Will Democrats attempt to pack the Supreme Court again? Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' MORE (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday said they were not yet close to a deal, but said: "We did try to agree to set a timeline that we're going to try to reach an overall agreement if we can get one by the end of this week, so that the legislation could be then passed next week."

Schiff and Khanna have both introduced bills that would provide free masks to Americans to help encourage widespread use. Schiff's bill would order the Department of Health and Human Services to create a program to provide free cloth face masks to anyone who requests one via the U.S. Postal Service, while a similar bill that Khanna introduced with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Sanders tells Maher 'there will be a number of plans' to remove Trump if he loses Sirota reacts to report of harassment, doxing by Harris supporters MORE (I-Vt.) would also allow the masks to be picked up at locations like pharmacies, schools, COVID-19 testing sites and post offices.

The bill from Khanna and Sanders would allocate $5 billion to produce and distribute masks, while Schiff's would authorize $25 million for the National Institutes of Health research on facial coverings' effectiveness in reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

More than half of U.S. states have mandated the use of facial coverings when people are out in public. President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE, however, has said he doesn't intend to issue a national mask mandate and prefers to leave it up to state and local governments. 

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Trump began urging Americans to wear masks last month after previously resisting wearing a mask in public and mocking others, like former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Joe Biden should enact critical government reforms if he wins MORE, who did follow the recommendation first issued by the CDC in April to help limit the spread of viral droplets.

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTillis appears to reinforce question about COVID-19 death toll Overnight Health Care: Trump signs largely symbolic pre-existing conditions order amid lawsuit | White House puts off action on surprise medical bills | Rising coronavirus cases spark fears of harsh winter NY health officials to review any vaccine approved by Trump MORE, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, said at a Senate hearing in June that he would support distributing masks for free to encourage more widespread use.

"There’s no doubt that wearing masks protects you and gets you to be protected. So it’s people protecting each other. Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it’s giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of," Fauci said.