CHN: COVID Relief Package Remains Elusive

While millions of Americans continue to suffer economic hardship brought on or worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, the possibility of passing another relief bill in Congress before the election looks unlikely. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continued talks throughout the week last week, but a deal has not yet been announced. According to reports, critically needed aid for states, cities, localities, territories, and tribal governments remains a sticking point in the negotiations, as do strong worker safety protections and whether businesses, health providers and others will be immune to lawsuits related to the coronavirus.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought to the floor a “skinny” relief bill that would provide only a fraction of the funding sought by Democrats and the White House. According to CQ, the bill (S. 178) would cost $519 billion over a decade, far short of the $2.2+ trillion sought by Democrats. It contained no food or rental assistance, no state or local fiscal relief beyond insufficient school aid, and a short-term fix to jobless benefits that cuts the previous $600 weekly benefit in half. A procedural vote to move forward with the bill failed along party lines (51-44; 60 votes needed) on Oct. 21. The bill was nearly identical to another GOP bill that also failed to advance in the Senate in September. The Senate on Oct. 20 also voted on another GOP proposal that would have authorized a second round of loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, but that bill also failed to garner enough votes to overcome a procedural hurdle (CHN has received a loan under the PPP program).

Senate and House Democrats have objected to doing multiple smaller bills, saying a large, comprehensive COVID-19 relief package is necessary to help the millions of struggling Americans. The Democratic-led House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) on May 15 and passed an updated version of the bill, HEROES Act 2.0 (H.R. 925), on October 1; neither have been taken up in the Senate. Analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and CHN’s weekly COVID-19 Watch highlight the need for a comprehensive aid package.

While several pandemic relief measures were enacted earlier in the spring, vital assistance for workers, renters, and small businesses has already expired, including the $600 per week supplemental unemployment benefits and job protections for airline workers; many more measures are set to expire Dec. 31, including eviction and foreclosure moratoria for federally-backed mortgages and some renters, deferment of federal student loan payments, and more. The Congressional Progressive Caucus Center has a list of expiring COVID-19 relief measures, along with extension dates proposed by the House legislation, here.

If a relief package doesn’t pass Congress before the election, it could still move in the lame duck session that follows the election, either as a stand-alone bill or attached to the spending bill package that will be needed to keep the government funded. The current stopgap spending measure, also known as a Continuing Resolution, runs out on Dec. 11.