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H.R. 7629 (116th): COVID–19 National Memorial Act

Once this is all over, what’s the best way to honor the lives lost in the pandemic?

Context and what the bill does

The U.S. has national memorials to World War I which killed 116,516 Americans, to the Vietnam War which killed 58,220 Americans, and 9/11’s Flight 93 which killed 40 Americans. So what about the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 150,000 Americans to date.

The COVID–19 National Memorial Act would create a national memorial at a to-be-designated location in the Bronx, New York City.

It was introduced in the House on July 16 as bill number H.R. 7629, by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY13).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that this pandemic needs to remain in the public’s consciousness forever, unlike the faint cultural memory of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the US economy, impacted every community across the nation, and wrought unprecedented financial, emotional and physical damage on individuals and families,” Rep. Espaillat said in a press release. “We are in the midst of an invisible war that has so far taken roughly 140,000 lives in the United States, far more than combined loss of American lives during the Vietnam War, the 9/11 attacks, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“Congress must take action to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as properly commemorate the lives lost, to help our nation recover,” Rep. Espaillat continued. “I am calling on my congressional colleagues to join me in this effort to help our nation recover both spiritually and economically from this crisis.”

What opponents say

Although GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statements of opposition, opponents might object to the cost as they’ve objected to the $60 million annual operating cost of the 9/11 Memorial. No explicit dollar amount is mentioned in the bill.

Even some who support the creation of a national memorial may ask: why not in the nation’s capital? The U.S. currently has 30 national memorials, of which 12 are in Washington, D.C. (Plus almost a 13th with the Robert E. Lee Memorial at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, just outside the D.C. border.)

Almost all the rest are location-specific, such as Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, or the site of the Wright Brothers’ first airplane flight in North Carolina. Yet COVID-19 affected every state in the entire country, so why have it in New York City instead of the national capital? And even if New York City specifically, why the Bronx? Rep. Espaillat’s district includes the Bronx, but both in terms of raw number and per capita, the Bronx has the lowest COVID-19 death rate of the five boroughs.

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted one Democratic cosponsor, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD8). Interestingly, no other New York City members of Congress have yet signed on.

It awaits a potential vote in the House Natural Resources Committee. Odds of passage are low in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Last updated Aug 6, 2020. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jul 16, 2020.

COVID-19 National Memorial Act

This bill provides for the establishment of a memorial at a designated location in the Bronx, New York, to honor the lives lost and the heroes who helped the nation to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill also establishes the COVID-19 National Memorial Commission to (1) submit to the Department of the Interior and Congress a report containing recommendations for the planning, design, construction, and long-term management of a permanent memorial; (2) advise Interior on the boundaries of the memorial site; (3) advise Interior in the development of a management plan for the memorial site; and (4) provide significant opportunities for public participation in the planning and design of the memorial.