Americans are 'suffering': Janet Yellen demands pandemic relief

"We need to act forcefully to make sure that Americans don’t suffer needlessly."

"This is really an urgent need, and we need to act big, we have to make sure that we provide a bridge so that people aren’t scarred indefinitely by this crisis," Yellen said. "And small businesses around the country, so many of them have closed, they’re the lifeblood of their communities and they really need help to make it to the other side."

The treasury secretary doubled down on her push for President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion economic rescue package, which has faced pushback from Republican lawmakers.

Yellen noted the 18 million people still claiming unemployment insurance, saying that "seeing long lines of people waiting to get food around the country is something we should never see in the United States."

She added that many households and small businesses "are suffering through no fault of their own."

"We’re at a point in our history when we’re faced with not one but two crises -- a pandemic that has impaired the health of Americans and an economic crisis that is as serious as any I've seen in my lifetime -- and I want to make sure that Americans don’t suffer needlessly and that we attend to their needs," Yellen said.

"I think we know what those needs are and we need to act forcefully to make sure that Americans don’t suffer needlessly," she added.

The recently confirmed treasury department head also spoke about the ongoing GameStop stock market saga that has sent Wall Street reeling and seemingly pitted everyday investors against institutional investment firms, saying that she is meeting with regulators and economists Thursday to discuss if "further action" is needed.

"I’m actually hosting a meeting later this morning with top regulators at the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and also the Federal Reserve to discuss recent developments," Yellen said. "We really need to make sure that our financial markets are functioning properly, efficiently, and that investors are protected."

"We’re going to discuss ... whether or not the recent events warrant further action," she added.

Finally, the history-making economist -- who is the first woman to lead the Treasury Department -- said she hopes her legacy will be to make sure Biden's economic rescue package is passed into law to ameliorate the crisis and then to work to "address long-term problems in the labor market and issues of structural racism."

"If I can make a contribution to that, I would feel that that’s a great legacy for me and for the country and the president," Yellen said.

Karen Travers reports for ABC News Radio:

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