CHN: COVID-19 Congressional Response Packages: What’s Passed, and What Advocates are Fighting for Next

Congress has already passed four bills to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting fallout, but advocates are united in saying more must be done.

The first bill, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, was signed into law on March 6. The $8.3 billion emergency supplemental spending bill was passed to help government health officials with research and purchases of medications for treatments and vaccines.

The approximately $190 billion Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 18, contained provisions to provide free COVID-19 testing, increased federal funds to support state Medicaid costs, some increase in nutrition assistance, expanded unemployment insurance (UI) compensation, and paid leave and paid sick days for millions of workers. See this summary from the House Appropriations Committee for more information.

The $2.3 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, contained provisions to provide funding to health care providers and researchers; one-time income assistance (known as Economic Impact Payments or Recovery Rebates) to individuals with incomes under $99,000; $15.5 billion more for SNAP to cover the projected increase in applications and the costs of relief authorized in the Families First Act; nearly $900 billion in loans, grants, and tax credits to businesses; further expansion of UI compensation; $3.5 billion for child care; $150 billion in general grants for state, local, tribal and territorial aid; $31 billion for education assistance; and $400 million to facilitate voting by mail efforts. The bill also included $12 billion in housing and homelessness resources  and placed limited moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, covering property with any federal funding or backing. For more information on the CARES Act, see this detailed analysis from CHN, as well as summaries from Senate Appropriations Committee Republicans and Democrats.

For more on both the CARES Act and the Families First Act, see this captioned webinar and slides from CHN.

The latest package, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, was signed into law on April 24. Sometimes referred to as COVID Package 3.5 because it carried a smaller price tag and was in large part aimed at adding more funds to the oversubscribed small business loans in the CARES Act, the $483 billion package provided about $310 billion more for the Paycheck Protection Program loans to help businesses keep some workers employed, as well as roughly $75 billion for hospitals and other health care providers and $25 billion for expanded COVID-19 testing, including funds to cover tests for those without health insurance. For more information, see summaries from the House Appropriations Committee and the House Small Business Committee.

However, even with the advances these bills made, advocates believe more needs to 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. Advocates believe the next package (sometimes referred to COVID Package 4 or CARES 2) needs to include a number of important pieces to ensure medical treatment and protection is provided for everyone, support the incomes of struggling people, and shore up state and local institutions.

Provisions that advocates are pushing for related to these needs include, but are not limited to:

  • Health care: expand health coverage for the uninsured; ensure free COVID-19 treatment for all; more funding for poor and rural hospitals
  • Aid to states, localities, tribes, and territories: additional funds with fewer restrictions to prevent disastrous budget cuts; an additional increase in federal Medicaid funds (known as FMAP) for states; additional funds for Puerto Rico and other territories; additional funds for the District of Columbia, which was treated like a territory instead of a state in terms of federal aid in the CARES Act. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that state and local governments could need nearly $1 trillion in additional aid over the next three to four years to cope with the pandemic, with additional money for Medicaid and other expenses needed on top of that.
  • Cash assistance: additional stimulus payments to individuals, including immigrants, children over 17, and other low-income people who were left out last time, and with an easier delivery system that doesn’t create barriers to accessing it; expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to provide assistance down the road
  • Housing and homelessness: additional funds to prevent homelessness and ensure housing stability, including $100 billion in emergency rental assistance and eviction prevention
  • Additional aid for workers: expanded and extended unemployment insurance; proper protective equipment and OSHA safety requirements; expanded paid sick days and sick leave to cover all workers; $50 billion in additional aid for child care
  • Nutrition assistance: an increase to the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent and an increase to the minimum monthly SNAP benefit to $30; expansion and extension of child nutrition programs; additional nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico
  • Other: expanded consumer protections and nondiscrimination protections; expanded broadband internet access for underserved communities; COVID-19 demographic data collection; allowing voting by mail in elections
  • For more on what CHN believes should be in the next package, click here and here.

While the Senate is returning to DC this week, the House has not yet announced when it will be back in session. While work on this next package continues, a timeline for passage is uncertain. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has talked about a “go-slow” approach to any new legislation, and has also urged protection for businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19 as a top priority for any new package. Democrats have opposed that emphasis, and have focused on the need for state and local aid and more help for individuals as unemployment surges. The Trump Administration has voiced a willingness to consider more aid to individuals, but President Trump has recently resumed demands 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. 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.