House Democrats have fired the opening salvo in what could be a long and contentious battle over the next coronavirus relief effort.
The $3 trillion, 1,815-page coronavirus relief package unveiled Tuesday called the HEROES Act has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate. But it gives the party a chance to set out its priorities. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “we must think big for the people, now, because if we don’t it will cost more in lives and livelihood later. Not acting is the most expensive course.”
Pelosi said the provisions in the bill are built largely around the four previous bipartisan relief measures signed into law. It includes economic stimulus, additional money for coronavirus testing and tracing capabilities, direct aid to individuals, and additional support for state and local governments, hospitals and small businesses.
The bill calls for an additional $1,200 direct payment to people making up to $75,000 and would provide $1,200 per child, a big increase from the $500 per child aid in the CARES Act. It also includes hazard pay for front line health care workers, provisions to help farmers, and protections for renters and homeowners who face eviction or foreclosure.
A number of bills and ideas from the Democratic members of Colorado’s delegation made it into the bill.
Rep. Joe Neguse has been a vocal advocate for additional state and local aid. The HEROES Act includes $375 billion in aid to local governments. Neguse said he’s “proud” that this additional funding is included.
“We must meet this moment. We must ensure that every city and county in America has the resources they need to survive and prosper through this crisis,” he said in a statement.
The local aid would not go through the state, but the bill does divide up aid based on size, with one pot of money for communities with populations greater than 50,000 and another for those smaller. The CARES Act has been criticized because only communities with half a million people received aid directly, the rest will have to fight/lobby/work with the state to get some of the CARES money.
This bill also provides an additional $500 billion in aid to state governments directly. It was legislation originally introduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter.
Still, the total aid to state and local governments is short of what some governors say is needed. Five Western states, including Colorado, sent a letter to Congressional leaders to ask that the next aid package include a trillion dollars in direct help for state and local governments.
Neguse’s bill to appropriate $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service has also been wrapped into the HEROES Act, as are anti-price gouging provisions he called for and additional funding for the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps. He also called for $11.5 billion in funding to help the country’s homeless population. It’s an amount that is also included in the Democratic package.
A bill that would forgive loans for students that go into the public health sector, sponsored by Rep. Jason Crow, is also included. Crow worked with John Douglas, the executive director of Tri-County Health Department, on the idea, which they argue would help boost the number of people entering the public health profession, as well as get those individuals to underserved areas. A bill to increase access to capital for small businesses backed by Crow also made its way into the package.
Rep. Diana DeGette called the bill “bold.”
The Act includes a legislative fix she had been asking for, one that would let state and local governments take advantage of a payroll tax credit for employees affected by the coronavirus. The credit was created by the bill that expanded paid sick and family leave. Another DeGette proposal in the package would set up a study on the short and long-term health impacts of the novel coronavirus.
“More than a million Americans have now tested positive for the coronavirus. While many have recovered, we still don’t know how this unprecedented virus — or new treatment options — may impact their health moving forward,” she said.
In addition, the HEROES Act would support chambers of commerce, by making them eligible for nonprofit assistance, a move advocated by Democrats Crow, Neguse and Perlmutter, as well as Republican Reps. Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn.
Not all the provisions in the bill are strictly COVID-19 related. Perlmutter’s SAFE Banking Act, which allows legal marijuana businesses to access banking services, is also in the bill. Marijuana businesses were largely left out of the previous aid efforts, including the Small Business Administration loans because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.
Unlike the last four relief measures, the HEROES Act bill isn’t the product of bipartisan negotiations, which many Republicans are quick to note.
Lamborn said via Twitter that the HEROES Act is “long and filled with liberal excess. I will stand against this massive $3 trillion Democrat wish list bill.” He and others are calling for more targeted aid in the next coronavirus package.
Certain elements of the bill actually run counter to what some Republicans are pushing for. For instance, the Democratic package calls for continuing enhanced weekly unemployment benefits through January of 2021. Some are concerned that the expanded benefit is more than what recipients would earn working, giving them little incentive to look for a job.
Republican Rep. Ken Buck on Tuesday introduced legislation that would cap the amount of the expanded unemployment benefit at 100 percent of a person’s previous wages.
Republican leaders in Congress are advocating for “a pause” before moving another relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said any future relief measure would have to include expanded liability protections as hospitals, schools and businesses start opening up, to prevent people from suing if they contract COVID-19 in their facilities. He’s warned leaving that out would be a “red line” for the GOP. It is not in the House bill.
The House could vote on this measure as early as Friday.
Editor's Note: The story has been updated to mention Rep. Perlmutter's bill for additional state aid which was included in the HEROES Act.