Senator Bernie Sanders wants to send all Americans three free face masks to help them protect their health and reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
The Masks For All Act of 2020 would set aside $5 billion of federal funds for the production of “high-quality, reusable masks.” The masks would then be distributed around the country by the U.S. Postal Service, ensuring every person in a U.S. state, territory, or tribe would each receive three, free of charge.
The bill was introduced Wednesday, in the senate by Sanders and in the House by California representative Ro Khanna, who also served as national cochair for Sanders’s 2020 presidential bid. It was developed with the help of Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama.
Thirty two states have now implemented mandatory face mask laws of some kind, but they don’t specifying how and where residents can procure the equipment. “If we can afford a $740 billion defense budget, we can afford to send every American a face mask,” Khanna said in his office’s press release. “Far too many vulnerable Americans are being left to figure out how to procure this basic need…If we’re asking folks to wear a mask, which is absolutely essential, it’s on us to provide one.”
Various reports have shown the protection masks can provide protection, and curb the rate of transmission. One study showed that extensive mask wearing could save 40,000 lives in the U.S. by November 1. And, a Goldman Sachs analysis predicted that it could save the economy $1 trillion—despite many authorities panicking to prematurely restart the economy while the virus is still rampant.
“We are the only high-income country in the world where infections and deaths are skyrocketing instead of falling. That is an absolute scandal,” Sanders said in his announcement release. “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.”
Under the proposed act, the masks would also be made available for homeless people and individuals living in shared or communal quarters, such as prisons, shelters, and assisted living facilities. Healthcare workers would also receive free surgical masks and N-95 respirators.
To make distribution easier, the government would also establish pick-up points in convenient and accessible community locations, such as pharmacies, post offices, and COVID-19 testing sites, so people can acquire additional masks if needed.
In a virtual Senate hearing June 30, Sanders asked Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, if he would support an effort to ramp up production of masks and send them to every American. “Yes, of course,” Fauci replied. “Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it’s giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of.”
Fourteen other Democratic senators have cosponsored the bill, including Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as have 30 Democrats in the House. It’s also been endorsed by numerous organizations and unions, including the American Federation of Teachers, the Working Families Party, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.
No Republicans have cosponsored the bill.