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Senate Democrats introduce bill to shore up PPE supply

Senate Democrats introduce bill to shore up PPE supply
© Bonnie Cash

Senate Democrats on Wednesday introduced a bill that would shore up the supply of protective equipment for health care workers as the U.S. faces another surge of COVID-19 cases. 

The bill would appropriate $10 billion for the government to purchase large quantities of masks, gloves, gowns and face shields, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday. 

The bill would also create a $1 billion grant program to help small businesses “retool” their facilities to manufacture protective equipment on a larger scale.

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Democrats introduced the bill as COVID-19 cases surge nationwide in the largest wave of the pandemic. While shortages of protective equipment are not as widespread today as they were at the beginning of the pandemic, they still persist and are likely to get worse as cases continue to rise.

"We must do everything in our power to avoid a repeat of the widespread shortages," Schumer said. 

"We must act to ensure that these heroes have the resources they need to do their jobs, serve our country and help save us from this pandemic," he added. 

The pandemic has caused a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) as every country is competing for the same gear.

Most PPE is manufactured in China, giving the U.S. limited control over the supply chain as other countries compete for the same equipment. 

American business owners have said they are interested in making protective gear but need more financial support from the federal government to hire more workers, buy more manufacturing equipment and ensure they’re not left with unsold surplus.

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Public health experts have called on the Trump administration to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA), which would allow the government to exert more control over the supply chain and compel companies to manufacture needed items.

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' MORE has said he plans to use the DPA to bolster the supply of PPE so the national supply “exceeds demand.” 

“We've also spoken to many experts including those on the Biden transition team, and their reaction has been very positive,” Schumer said.

The bill is unlikely to pass in the current political environment, where Senate Republicans and Democrats have been in a stalemate for months on the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation.