What’s the story?
- Republicans and the Trump administration on Monday unveiled their version of the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation, which aims to provide about $1 trillion in funding for “kids, jobs, and healthcare” amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spoke on the floor, and said:
“We have produced a tailored and targeted draft that will cut right to the heart of three distinct crises facing our country - getting kids back in school, getting workers back to work, and winning the healthcare fight against the virus. Kids, jobs, and healthcare.”
- The Republican bill ― known as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act ― is being introduced to serve as a reference point for negotiations with Democrats, who passed their $3 trillion Heroes Act through the House on a mostly party-line vote in May. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the GOP proposal “totally inadequate” after McConnell spoke on the floor, and his remarks came as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) held a meeting about relief package negotiations.
- For any coronavirus relief package to become law, it will need enough bipartisan support in Congress to get 60 votes in the Senate and pass the House with a simple majority before getting the signature of President Donald Trump. Four coronavirus relief bills, including the $2 trillion CARES Act, have been signed into law so far this year.
- It remains to be seen if Congress will be able to quickly reach a compromise that allows a package to become law before the end of the month, when the House is scheduled to begin a five week recess and provisions of the CARES Act expire.
What’s in the GOP plan?
- Education Relief Funding: An Education Stabilization Fund would be established with $105 billion in flexible funding for states to use on early childhood education, elementary & secondary education, or higher education based on the needs of the state. States would be required to maintain their education funding at at least the same proportional level as in 2019 to receive Education Stabilization Fund grants.
- Healthcare Relief Funding: The Dept. of Health & Human Services would receive $118.4 billion in funding, including $87.1 billion for a Public Health & Social Services Emergency Fund that would compensate healthcare providers ($25 billion); support testing & contact tracing ($16 billion); develop vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics ($20 billion); distribute a vaccine ($6 billion); and add medical devices, treatments, and supplies to the Strategic National Stockpile ($2 billion).
- Coronavirus Relief Payments: Another “recovery rebate” payment of up to $1,200 per adult, with an additional $500 per dependent, would be provided under the GOP bill. The rebate would be distributed with the same eligibility criteria as the first round of coronavirus relief payments.
- Unemployment Insurance: Enhanced federal unemployment benefits would continue at a rate of up to $200 per week through September, and starting in October they would be replaced with a payment of up to $500 that is designed to replace 70% of lost wages when combined with state unemployment insurance. (Currently, enhanced federal unemployment benefits total $600 per week through the end of the month, but the federal benefits have been criticized for paying some beneficiaries more in unemployment benefits than they received at their prior jobs & creating a disincentive to return to work.)
- Hiring & Retention Payroll Tax Credit: The GOP bill would increase the employee retention payroll tax credit enacted under the CARES Act from 50% of wages paid by employers to employees during the pandemic from 50% to 65%. It would also establish a payroll tax credit for expenses related to workplace employee protection measures.
- Liability Protection: Healthcare providers, schools, businesses, and non-profits would be protected from COVID-19 exposure lawsuits if they have made a good faith effort to comply with mandatory public health guidelines.
- Negotiations between Republicans & Democrats on the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation will begin in earnest.
- If lawmakers are able to reach an agreement on the next coronavirus relief package, votes could occur as early as this week.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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