CHN: Senate GOP Expected to Release COVID Response Package This Week

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to release his party’s latest coronavirus response package this week. While details are not yet known, the bill is expected to be much smaller (roughly a third of the cost) and less comprehensive than the $3 trillion HEROES Act passed by the Democratic-led House on May 15.

According to reports, the Senate GOP package is expected to contain some money for state and local governments, but that money may be earmarked for education to get schools reopened. Providing additional money to schools is a bipartisan priority, but advocates are concerned that the Republican plan may not provide the money needed for other support for states, localities, territories, and tribes that are suffering. It is reported that the GOP bill may include $70 billion for education funding, of which 10 percent would be available for private schools; such diversion of funds would be opposed by Democrats. However, President Trump and some other Republicans have said that additional aid for education should be conditioned on schools reopening in the fall; Democrats resist this idea.

In lieu of other funds for state and local governments, the Republican plan may loosen restrictions on the expenditure of the $150 billion previously approved by Congress, which could only be used for expenditures related to COVID-19. On July 17, Sen. Schumer pressed for $1 trillion in state and local aid at a press conference with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; AFSCME is a member of CHN. States and localities have lost 1.5 million public jobs through June, and revenues have plummeted.

The Senate GOP plan may also include an extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation that expires in late July, but it is expected to be less than the $600 per week currently in place and likely will not last as long as the proposal in the HEROES Act, which runs through Jan. 31, 2021. Another round of stimulus checks for low-income people may also be included. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has reportedly said he wants language in the package that would allow the hardest hit businesses to apply for a second round of funding through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with reports that the Administration may also be seeking another $150 billion to add to the loan program, which currently has $100 billion left to give out. (The Coalition on Human Needs has received a loan under the PPP program.) Democrats continue to push for additional priorities in a relief package, such as an extended and expanded eviction moratorium and $100 billion in rental assistance, expanded low-income tax credits, increased SNAP and other nutrition benefits, and more.

According to The Hill, Sen. McConnell’s plan may also include a five-year protection for businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19, retroactive to December, 2019 and extending to 2024, which many Democrats oppose while instead pushing for stronger worker safety protections. The Trump Admin has threatened to veto a new relief bill if it doesn’t include a payroll tax “holiday,” despite the fact that such a policy would give billions of dollars to employers while providing no assistance to the 20 million unemployed Americans; Democrats and some Republicans oppose this as well.

On the other side of the aisle, Senate Democrats unveiled a proposal on July 16 that included $350 billion in child care, job training, health care, and more for minority communities. House Democrats plan to unveil two bills (H.R. 7027 and H.R. 7327) this week focused on providing additional money for child care providers and expenses.

The goal is to have a coronavirus relief package passed by both chambers before the August recess begins. The Senate is currently scheduled to leave DC after the first week in August; the House is scheduled to leave at the end of July, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signaled that she could either keep the chamber in session or call members back to pass legislation if a compromise is reached. For information on pandemic relief packages that Congress has previously passed, see the June 29 Human Needs Report.