As the coronavirus continues to lay waste to the American economy, legislators are hoping to provide additional relief and to shore up the country’s healthcare system. To that end, Democrats in the House of Representatives have proposed a new relief bill encompassed in an 1,800-page document. The entire body voted on this bill on May 15th.
Though many members of the House of Representatives are not in Washington, D.C., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has introduced a proxy process to allow remote voting. In the face of pushback from Republican colleagues, the speaker referred to the bill as a “momentous opportunity” for Congress and noted that “not acting is the most expensive course.”
Though the proposed bill is voluminous, its key points include:
- Providing state and local governments with almost $1 trillion in relief
- Providing another direct payment to American taxpayers in the form of $1,200 per person and up to $6,000 per household
- Allocating hazard pay of approximately $200 billion for those essential workers who are facing personal health risks while responding to the crisis
- Allocating $75 billion to fund COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, which will facilitate businesses reopening safely and confidently
- Moving the expiration of the $600 per week federal unemployment insurance benefit from its current expiration at the end of July to January
- Providing rent, mortgage and utility assistance of $175 billion
- Creating an extended enrollment period and subsidies for the Affordable Care Act to provide for those who have lost health coverage provided or sponsored by their employers
- Allocating additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and increasing the current maximum benefit by 15%
- Multiple actions designed to strengthen employee retention and keep small businesses afloat, including tax credits and $10 billion in emergency disaster assistance grants
- Funding to facilitate voting by mail and to secure safe elections in the face of the challenges created by the pandemic
- Additional funding to bolster the U.S. Postal Service
Though the government has taken extraordinary steps to date in response to the pandemic, the Democrats are convinced that this bill is necessary in light of the continuing increase in both infections and in the nation’s unemployment rate. With American joblessness matching and exceeding that seen during the Great Depression, they believe that the government needs to take further action, and the additional $3 trillion that this new bill would provide would be the biggest in American history and would bring the total governmental response to $5 trillion.
Even if the plan passes in the House of Representatives, however, comments from GOP senators indicate it is unlikely to meet the same success in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is currently signaling that he will wait for the go-ahead from the president to move forward on any further relief package.
“I’m in discussion, we all are with the administration, if we reach a decision along with the administration to move to another phase, that’ll be the time to interact with the Democrats,” he said. “But what you’ve seen in the House is not something designed to deal with reality, but designed to deal with aspirations.”
Even if another relief plan were to pass, reaching an agreement is likely to be a challenge. There are significant differences between the priorities expressed by the Democrats, who are most interested in easing the fiscal burden being faced by local and state governments, and the Republicans, who have shown a strong interest in protecting businesses from legal responsibility for employee illnesses as they reopen amidst the continuing pandemic.
As the two sides continue to argue, Americans continue to get sick. There are reportedly more than 1.4 million diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and more than 85,000 deaths at the time of this writing.
We will keep you updated on the HEROES Act and any other proposed legislation going forward.