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Free masks for all? Ro Khanna, Bernie Sanders propose mailing them out

July 28, 2020
In The News

A mask in every mailbox — that’s what Rep. Ro Khanna wants to make reality under a new proposed law.

The Fremont Democrat and Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, have introduced legislation that would respond to the surge in coronavirus cases by distributing three “high-quality,” reusable face masks to all Americans through the Postal Service, for free. The bill would also provide medical-grade N95 masks to health care workers at no cost.

Although the face coverings would be provided through the Postal Service, the bill would also require that they be distributed to homeless people and that mask-pickup sites be designated in communities.

The proposal would set aside $5 billion for the effort.

“If we can afford a $740 billion defense budget, we can afford to send every American a face mask,” Khanna said. “We are the wealthiest country on Earth, yet our health care workers are still facing a shortage of N95s, 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and scientific experts say wearing masks can significantly reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Gov. Gavin Newsom is among many state and local officials around the country to mandate that people wear them in public when safe physical distancing is impossible.

Along with the masks, the legislation would require the government to pass out a one-page flyer with information about masks and how to wear them.

The bill would direct officials to invoke the Defense Production Act and take other emergency action to distribute the masks.

The legislation is co-sponsored by more than three dozen Democrats, including California Sen. Kamala Harris and Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee.

“The fact is, this administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a failure,” Harris said. “Its inaction when it comes to fully implementing the Defense Production Act and preparing our country’s stockpile of protective equipment and supplies, including masks, has been disastrous and deadly.”

The bill, which has no Republican co-sponsors, faces long odds. The Democratic-run House, GOP-controlled Senate and Trump administration are focused on negotiations over a new coronavirus relief package, and the sides remain far apart. The House passed a $3 trillion bill in May that the GOP criticized as a Democratic wish list, and Senate Republicans answered this week with a $1 trillion package that Democrats called woefully inadequate.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has asked congressional leaders to make further aid to states dependent on whether they have mask mandates, but that has yet to be adopted.