How Senator Chuck Schumer Saved Our Health Centers

March 16, 2021 3:30 PM

The American Rescue Plan was the first major test for New York Senator Chuck Schumer in his new role as Senate Majority Leader and not only did he manage to deliver the most comprehensive recovery package in the history of our nation – he did it against all odds. The result is a bill that will fund a national vaccination effort, salvage our battered economy, and most importantly, will provide enormous benefits to millions of Americans who lost their jobs and health insurance because of the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senator Schumer passed the American Rescue Plan with zero margin for error. The Democratic Party has the slimmest majority possible in the Senate, with a 50-50 split and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. As expected, the Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate, were dead set on preventing any Democratic success and not a single Republican voted for the relief bill.

Therefore, Senator Schumer had to keep every single Democrat in line – from the most liberal to the most moderate.

“Failure was not an option,” Schumer told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on Wednesday night. The stakes were too high: beating COVID-19, preventing the collapse of our economy, and saving the lives and livelihoods of working people.

“Senator Schumer’s acumen and toughness as Senate Majority Leader led to the passage of a bill that will, without exaggeration, save tens of thousands of lives, rebuild our economy, and prevent millions of laid off workers from losing their homes and savings across America,” remarked HTC President Rich Maroko “His concern for and dedication to New Yorkers, and New York hotel workers, as our Senator quite literally saved our health plan and protected tens of thousands of laid off hotel workers and their families from financial ruin right here at home.”

How Our Health Centers Made it into the American Rescue Plan

Oftentimes, we believe that we can’t play any role in shaping national policy. The evolution of the American Rescue Plan has proven that we can, when enough of us speak with a unified voice to a lawmaker that not only can hear us but has the will and ability to make changes. Our Union actually played a role in getting several important healthcare provisions included in the 628-page American Rescue Plan.

Since last year, when Senator Schumer was the minority leader, HTC President Rich Maroko has been in frequent conversation with Schumer about the effect the pandemic has had on our members’ jobs in general and on our healthcare system in particular. Senator Schumer and President Maroko worked together, looking for solutions to the healthcare crisis facing our members. Because the Senate chamber was controlled by the Republicans at the time, Senator Schumer was unable to accomplish as much in the last relief bill in late December.

This year, during negotiations over the American Rescue Plan, Senator Schumer and his staff spoke to President Maroko and the Union’s political team dozens of times to address how to restore healthcare coverage for our 30,000 NYC-based members and their 60,000 dependents.

One solution: subsidize COBRA. After consulting with President Maroko, Senator Schumer understood how urgent and vital it was to include nothing short of 100% funding for COBRA. When our employer-funded healthcare extension ended, very few members could afford to pay the cost to continue their normal health coverage under COBRA. For a plan as comprehensive and high quality as ours, COBRA can cost as much as $1,999.15 a month for family coverage.

The House of Representatives had passed a version of the American Rescue Plan in late February that would have slashed the cost of COBRA by 85%. While significant, our family healthcare plan would have still cost $299.87 a month.

“$300 a month for COBRA is still prohibitively expensive when you’ve been out of work for a year” explains President Maroko.

If enough laid off workers could not afford COBRA at 85% and decided not to opt-in (which was very likely), our Brooklyn and Harlem health centers would have remained temporarily closed, despite the subsidy.

Senator Schumer fought tooth and nail to bring the cost of COBRA to $0. He also dramatically lowered healthcare premiums for those on qualified health plans and amended the law to specifically allow our Benefit Funds to qualify for PPP loans. This involved first, making 501c(9) organizations, like our Benefit Funds, eligible for these loans and second, adjusting the eligibility thresholds so that our Benefit Funds could qualify.

Between COBRA subsidies and forgivable PPP loans, our Benefit Funds could receive millions of dollars in relief, allowing us to recall hundreds of medical personnel and reopen the Harlem and Brooklyn centers. And not only will our members and their families have their health insurance reinstated through September 30th, but so will millions of unemployed Americans.

“My Democratic colleagues and I find it absolutely unconscionable that so little was done to preserve healthcare for Americans as COVID-19 raged across our nation” said Senator Chuck Schumer. “I am very proud to have worked with HTC President Maroko and your Union to make sure that New York hospitality workers who have found themselves unemployed during this crisis are again able to access their hard-fought healthcare benefits at no additional cost.”

“Our Undying Gratitude”

“No Senate Majority Leader has ever accomplished anything close to passing a bill as audacious as the American Rescue Plan,” remarked President Maroko. “Senator Schumer had the guts to fight for working people, and the skill needed to win. We owe him our undying gratitude.”

Our Benefit Funds are waiting for more details from the federal government. Once we have instructions for how to sign up for COBRA, we will publish the details on our website. Until then, please DO NOT contact the Benefit Funds or visit the Funds’ office to inquire about subsidized COBRA.

    To read more about the American Rescue Plan, click here.