The Republican COVID-19 Relief Plan
Table of Contents:
Four months after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act , Senate Republicans have unveiled their proposal for a second relief bill. The Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act comes at a critical moment. Unemployment benefits outlined in the CARES Act will expire at the end of July, the federal moratorium on evictions is expiring, and many states are struggling to balance school and business reopenings with a surge in COVID-19 infections.
A Rejected Proposal
The HEALS Act isn’t the first we’ve seen of a second COVID-19 relief bill. House Democrats proposed and passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act back in May. Extending unemployment benefits and providing for a second round of stimulus checks, the $3 trillion bill only barely made it through the House. Progressives and centrists alike dismissed aspects of the bill as either reaching too far or failing to reach far enough.
It was dead on arrival in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the bill outright, calling its provisions for the U.S. Postal Service and mail-in voting “a laundry list of pet priorities.” President Trump suggested at the time that he was in “no rush” to see another stimulus bill take effect.
What’s in the HEALS Act?
Predictably, the Republican proposal allocates significantly less stimulus money than the HEROES Act. Providing for $1 trillion in new spending, it also reflects some of the GOP’s own pet priorities. One aspect of the bill that should prove particularly unpopular among Democrats is its liability protection for businesses and schools that reopen during the pandemic. These institutions, McConnell said in June, “should not have to live in fear of a second epidemic of frivolous lawsuits.”
Join our newsletter
Sign up today for free weekly updates on senior health and finance news.
And don’t worry, we hate spam too! You can unsubscribe at anytime
Another element that’s sure to cause controversy is changes to unemployment benefits. While the CARES Act provided for $600/week in federal support (in addition to state-provided aid), the HEALS Act would cut these weekly payments to $200. Many Republicans are on record stating that they believe these payments are discouraging Americans from returning to work. They were one of the most contentious pieces of the CARES Act and should inspire spirited debate throughout the next week.
The bill also allocates funds to many causes that have earned bipartisan support. These include COVID-19 testing and treatment, vaccine development, precautionary measures for schools, and economic relief for struggling small businesses.
One piece of the HEALS Act that should look familiar is its plan to send out stimulus checks. Under this proposal, eligible taxpayers will receive a check for up to $1,200. The eligibility requirements and income-based scale remain unchanged, but young adult dependents will now receive $500 payments of their own.
Negotiations to Come
Democratic leadership has already been far kinder to the HEALS Act than Republicans were to the HEROES Act. In a televised interview with CNN, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer suggested that House Democrats would pass a version of the bill — even if it does not reintroduce $600/week in unemployment benefits. “Look,” he said, “it’s not $600 or bust,” before citing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call to negotiate based on “values” rather than “red lines.”
The comments suggest that a clash between the party’s progressive wing and centrist leadership could be incoming. Any Democratic pushback is likely to face strong opposition in the Senate. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham has suggested that half of GOP senators will vote ‘No’ on any spending beyond what they’ve already proposed.
Whatever comes next, Congress doesn’t have long to act. Representatives and Senators intend to take a month-long recess on August 7th.