CHN: Advocates Continue to Push for Next COVID-19 Congressional Response Package

With the number of coronavirus cases – and struggling Americans – increasing across the country, advocates continue to push the Senate to act on another federal response package. Congress has already enacted four bills to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting fallout, but advocates are united in saying more must be done to address both the country’s economic recovery and provide immediate and longer-term support to those whose needs were left out or not adequately addressed in the previous packages. To this end, the House has passed a fifth bill, but it is currently stalled in the Senate.

The latest response bill, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, was passed by the House on May 15; one Republican joined most Democrats in supporting the legislation, while 14 Democrats and one Independent joined most Republicans in opposing it. Advocates celebrated many provisions of the $3.5 trillion bill (H.R. 6800), which included nearly $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments to help address budget shortfalls, $100 billion in rental assistance for low-income households, and $24 billion for SNAP/food stamps and other nutrition programs through FY 2025. The bill would also fund another round of direct payments to individuals, including many immigrants left out of the CARES Act; expand sick days and medical leave for workers; provide $3.6 billion to states to help support safe elections and increased access to voting by mail; and extend unemployment insurance, among other things. CHN said in a statement about the bill, “The HEROES Act takes needed steps to help families afford food and rent. It recognizes that states and localities will not be able to provide essential services without plugging the yawning gap in revenues caused by the pandemic shutdown. It addresses what Americans are going through now by improving and extending unemployment benefits, paid leave, and cash aid….[T]he legislation needs to move forward.” For more specifics on the HEROES Act, see these materials from the House Appropriations Committee.

However, the bill has stalled in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has vowed to let it die. Instead, he has said Republicans will assess economic conditions in July before deciding if they will draft and take up legislation after the chamber’s July 4 recess. He has previously urged protection for businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19 as a top priority for any new package, which Democrats oppose. Reports are that Republicans are split on another round of stimulus payments to individuals, with some in favor of rebates for everyone and some, like White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, saying rebate checks could be limited to those who have lost work; others are opposed to an additional round of direct aid altogether.

The Trump Administration has voiced a willingness to consider more aid to individuals, but President Trump has also repeatedly demanded that any new package include a payroll tax cut, which Democrats and economists have opposed as ineffectual stimulus that would undermine the stability of Social Security funding if its reduced revenues were not replaced from the general fund.

The severity of current economic conditions and the surging number of COVID-19 cases around the country have pushed both Majority Leader McConnell and the Trump Administration to express more openness to another relief bill: McConnell has talked about a $1 trillion package; members of the Trump Administration have mentioned $2 trillion. But the Senate will leave for its July 4 recess without having acted, and will not return until July 20. That leaves very few days before the $600 per week Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments and the eviction moratorium expire.

Meanwhile, House committees continue to hold hearings on the importance of an increased federal response. On June 23, the House Budget Committee held a hearing on “Health and Wealth Inequality in America: How COVID-19 Makes Clear the Need for Change,” while the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on “The Child Care Crisis and the Coronavirus Pandemic.” Other House committee hearings last week related to COVID-19 focused on the Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic, access to telehealth for veterans, and more.

And in an effort to urge the Senate to act on the HEROES Act – or at least parts of it – House Democrats have been introducing bills that would address important provisions they want enacted soon. For example, the full House could vote as early as this week on the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act (H.R. 7301). This bill contains the housing and homelessness resources passed in the HEROES Act, including $100 billion in emergency rental assistance, a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, and more. See the National Low Income Housing Coalition site for more information on the housing provisions in bill and the HEROES Act.

House Democrats also introduced a bill last week “to expand the availability of quality child care, help workers return to their jobs when it is safe, and enable America’s economy to recover from the COVID-19 recession.” The Child Care for Economic Recovery Act would provide a tax credit of up to $3,000 for one child and up to $6,000 for two or more children for low- and middle-income families , as well as create a tax credit for child care providers and offer $10 billion to improve child care facilities and infrastructure. In addition, two bills introduced last week would provide partial fixes for spouses of immigrants who were denied federal relief in the CARES Act.

For more information on the contents of all of the previous COVID-19 Congressional response packages, as well as information on what advocates are pushing for in the next package, see the May 4 Human Needs Report. For more on what CHN believes should be in the next package, click here and here. For many more resources, including statements from many of CHN’s members on the legislation that has passed and on their priorities for additional action, see CHN’s COVID-19 resource page here.