Two proposals sit in the United States Senate that would provide a fourth round of federal relief during the coronavirus pandemic. The first is called the HEROS Act and has been sitting at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk for ten weeks after passing the House. The second called the HEALS Act was introduced on July 27th after closed-door discussions between Senate Republicans and the White House. The two seem far apart. Bottom line is most people recognize Congress needs to do something to help citizens navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Below is a top-point summary of my breakdown from initial reports on the proposals. As negotiations get underway, and more is reported, the breakdown will likely need updating.
Senate Republicans and White House officials have recently met to devise the $1 trillion HEALS Act. Here are some of the key takeaways from early analysis:
- Unemployment Insurance: Reduce the extra covid-19 related unemployment insurance from $600 – which expires on July 31st – and set it at $200 a week. This reduction is set to be coupled with a transition in states to provide 70% wage replacement for workers who lost their job in the pandemic.
- Second Stimulus: Much like the first. $1,200 per qualifying individual.
- Paycheck Protection Program: A narrower version of the PPP. Businesses with 300 or fewer employees and a loss in income of 50% or more would be eligible for a second round of forgivable loans.
- Testing: $16 billion to the states for testing and tracing. An emphasis would be on schools, employers, child care, and nursing facilities.
- Business Deductions and Credits: 100% business meal deduction. Deductions on employer purchases of tests and personal protective equipment. Enhanced employee retention tax credit.
- Vaccines and Therapeutics: $26 billion for the development and distribution of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
- Education: $105 billion for education stabilization. The purpose would help schools adapt to teaching during the pandemic. Additional funding would be available for schools that get students back at 50%.
- FBI Headquarters: $1.8 billion for a new FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C.
- Military and Defense Spending: $30 billion to military and defense is being reported. Building of planes and ships. It appears some of this money would replace funds lost to these projects when President Trump declared a national emergency and moved defense spending already allocated by Congress to the border wall.
In an ideal world, the two sides would get together, hash out the differences of their proposals, and fund the priorities at a negotiated level. Get rid of the items that don’t belong. For example, why the hell is there nearly $2 billion for a new FBI building? Unfortunately, the real world of American politics leaves me less-than optimistic this will be quickly resolved even during a deadly pandemic.
Urgency is needed. There are a lot of hollow words from politicians echoing that sentiment this week. McConnell – who refused to take up the HEROES Act passed ten weeks ago – now stands at podiums saying there is a “sense of urgency.” No shit. The unemployment insurance lifeline overwhelmingly passed in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act expires at the end of this week. It will lapse right as rent is due and unemployment ticks back up as states reverse their plans to fully reopen because McConnell and Senate enablers sat and did nothing for weeks. No hearings. No amendments. Nothing besides approving judges and taking days off. Perhaps they thought the pandemic would one day just disappear?
There are items in both proposals the public can rally behind. To get something across the finish line and to the President’s desk it will take public pressure. Call or email your representatives and tell them to act now.