Human needs advocates compare Senate’s HEALS Act to House’s HEROES Act – and find it sorely lacking
As millions of Americans lose access to additional unemployment benefits, face the dire threat of eviction and homelessness, and increasingly grapple with food insecurity, advocates from across Iowa and the U.S. last week came together to call upon the Senate to move quickly to pass robust legislation in response the COVID-19 crisis.
The Facebook Live event, hosted by Tax March Iowa, included Sister Richelle Friedman, CHN’s Director of Public Policy and an Iowa native. Friedman spoke critically of HEALS, a legislative package unveiled by GOP senators on Monday, a package that she said falls well short of the $3 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House on May 15.
“Some may be embarrassed by the inclusion of the increased deduction for business meals from 50 percent to 100 percent when there is not one penny for nutrition programs like SNAP,” Friedman said. “Many Republicans did not know HEALS contains nearly $2 billion to build a new FBI building near the Trump hotel in DC to keep the land from being used to build a competing hotel. There are also billions for weapons in the Pentagon unrelated to the current crisis, as well as to pay it back for money the Administration took from it to build the Wall.”
Friedman compared and contrasted the two competing versions of COVID-19 relief legislation – and in most areas found the Senate’s version sorely lacking. She specifically mentioned housing relief, SNAP, money needed to conduct safe and fair elections this November, and the necessity of adequately funding the U.S. Postal Service, which will be tasked with delivering millions upon millions of mail-in ballots less than 100 days from now.
“Congress must provide emergency rental assistance and extend the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. HEROES extends the moratoriums; HEALS does not,” she said. “Advocates are asking for SNAP benefits to increase by 15 percent and the minimum benefit to $30 per month. Those provisions are in the HEROES Act, but not in the HEALS Act. Funds are urgently needed to assure that states can carry out a safe and fair election in November. The HEROES Act has $3.6 billion for that purpose; HEALS has zero. The HEROES Act contains $25 billion to ensure continued operations of the Postal System necessary for long term viability and specifically to deal with what will likely be an overwhelming number of absentee ballots in November; HEALS has no funding for it.”
Laura Peralta-Schulte, Senior Government Relations Advocate for NETWORK, said her group is working on three priority items in the next COVID-19 package – cash payments to struggling families, such as the $1,200 stimulus checks that were distributed to some families earlier this year; extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits; and long-term “structural change” through expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
The good news, Peralta-Schulte said, is that the Senate plan does include cash assistance – but the bad news is that, as with the first round of stimulus checks provided, it precludes certain immigrants from receiving it, meaning that 55,000 Iowa workers and their children would not see the additional aid.
Peralta-Schulte said extending the Child Tax Credit alone eventually could result in a 50 percent reduction in child poverty in the U.S. And she called the cessation of federal UI benefits (for most Americans, the final checks already have been mailed) “cruel for the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and the millions more who will lose their jobs in the coming weeks and months if the virus worsens.”
Connie Ryan, Executive Director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, spoke on behalf of Iowa’s teachers as well as families who want to be able to send their children to school safely. She said the Senate legislation includes $70 billion for local education, but two-thirds of that amount is contingent upon schools re-opening this fall; if they do not re-open with at least 50 percent of students in attendance, the money can be denied. “They’re going to take funding away from schools if they don’t do what (the Trump Administration) says,” Ryan said, adding that Iowa teachers have called for $200 billion in education aid.
Mike McCarthy, Executive Director of the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans, blasted some in Congress for attacks on Medicare and Social Security. He noted that on July 23, President Trump backed away from his earlier demand that the Senate legislation include a cut in the payroll tax, whose proceeds go to fund the two programs. McCarthy called the proposal “cynical, cruel, and totally unacceptable. Using the pandemic as an excuse to cut Social Security is a new low.”
Small business owner and advocate ReShonda Young was critical of the Paycheck Protection Program, passed earlier by Congress, which she said has not helped many of the small businesses it was intended to help. She said 20 percent of small businesses have gone under since the coronavirus pandemic began; among black-owned small businesses, she said the number of failures is double. “A lot more needs to be done to assist small business owners, even as millionaires and billionaires get these handouts,” she said.
Sue Dinsdale, Executive Director of the Iowa Citizen Action Network and moderator of the Facebook Live event, closed the program with a call for “more robust investment in state and local government, in unemployment, in worker protection, in Medicaid, in our schools. These are all things that millions of people depend on for healthcare and jobs. Without it, COVID is going to continue and do even more harm.”
“When Iowans are hurting most, we need to tell our senators that they’re responsible to us,” Dinsdale said. “Not to big corporations. Not to campaign builders. Not to the wealthy. To us. Helping Iowans and Americans is not about partisanship. It’s about our leaders’ moral responsibility to represent us and support us right now with vital aid.”
And she ended the event by urging viewers to call their senators and invoking the memory of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).
“So, in the words of our late, great advocate, Congressman John Lewis, it’s time to get in ‘good trouble, in necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America’.”