The U.S. Congress passed its latest coronavirus relief bill on Friday, but critics say that many of the items in it are not related to the pandemic. The HEROES Act includes economic stimulus and financial aid for the U.S. — including another round of stimulus checks for American taxpayers — but it comes with additional money for projects that are not directly related to curing the virus. Critics say that the Democratic-majority house is pushing partisan issues in a time of crisis.
House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi introduced the HEROES Act on Tuesday, which was passed on Friday. It will now go to the United States Senate and, if it is passed there, to the desk of President Donald Trump. However, some say the bill won't make it that far due to the provisions within it. Among other things, the bill provides new privileges for the cannabis industry in states where it is legal, and new restrictions that business owners may not want to live with.
The Pelosi package will never see the light of day in the Senate.
In the Senate we will work with the Trump Administration to jump start the economy and fund efforts to defeat COVID19.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) May 16, 2020
Criticism for the HEROES Act is already coming from every side. Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal actually voted against the bill, saying it does not do enough for the American people. Like others, Jayapal favored regular payments for her constituents during this crisis, not a one-time stimulus check, and some other measures as well.
On the other side of the coin, some lawmakers in the Republican-led Senate have already said that they will not sign the bill when it reaches them. On Twitter, Sen. Lindsay Graham wrote that the HEROES Act will "never see the light of day."
However, analysts at Business Insider predicted that Graham and other Republicans would approve the bill eventually, with some "compromises." It could be that the seeming unrelated provisions in the HEROES Act are there as easy concessions for Democrats to make.
Whatever the case, some aspects of the bill are raising eyebrows. Here are the six clauses in the HEROES Act that critics are calling "unrelated" to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democrats’ supposed coronavirus bill includes taxpayer-funded studies to measure “diversity and inclusion” in the cannabis industry. It’s a parade of absurdities that can hardly be taken seriously. pic.twitter.com/2aCyOEnnAZ— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) May 15, 2020
The HEROES Act essentially includes the SAFE Act in its entirety — a measure to bolster the growing cannabis industry in states where it is legal. The law would give cannabis-related businesses permission to use the same traditional banking services that other businesses use, since most currently have to deal in cash. The SAFE Act was passed by the House in September and has been under review by the senate ever since.
Democrats argue that the SAFE Act relates to the coronavirus pandemic since cannabis businesses are some of the few operating in many places. They also point out that an abundance of cash at dispensaries creates a dangerous scenario for employees, as it increases the likelihood of a robbery. However, Republicans argue that this is a partisan issue since many still do not support the legalization of cannabis.
The HEROES Act also approves funding for research on racial and gender biases in the cannabis industry, according to a report by Forbes. In particular, it would examine the percentage of legal cannabis businesses owned and operated by minorities and women, and why. Critics have come down hard on this aspect of the bill, feeling that it is not timely for the emergency nature of the legislation.
BREAKING: The House just passed the #HeroesAct to fund:
💰Cash payments to families
👩⚕️Hazard pay for essential workers
🏥Money for testing & tracing
💼Stronger unemployment benefits
🥫Expanded food assistance
🏠Rent & mortgage relief
The Senate must pass this bill immediately.— Rep. Diana DeGette (@RepDianaDeGette) May 16, 2020
Another provision in the HEROES Act provides $200 million for crisis response in federal prisons, where coronavirus outbreaks have been particularly devastating. However, with that comes another $250 million in grants for reintegrating former incarcerated individuals and preventing recidivism. Critics say that this is a problem for another day, though prison reform advocates disagree.
I just voted YES on the Heroes Act to:
☑️Put more money in your pocket.
☑️Extend unemployment benefits.
☑️Provide hazard pay for front line workers.
☑️Increase help to small businesses.
☑️Support states, cities, and schools.
The American people need help. Now.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 16, 2020
The HEROES Act allocates $10 million each for the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Proponents of these programs say that they provide an essential function in the community, and that the economic contraction of the coronavirus pandemic puts more strain than ever on artistic institutions. Still, critics say it should not be a top priority.
Fish & Wildlife
The #HeroesAct that the House just passed provides urgent and necessary help for Americans across the country fighting this health and economic crisis.
Senator McConnell: We need to act NOW.
Americans can’t afford to wait.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 16, 2020
Another $71 million would go to the Fish and Wildlife Service under the HEROES Act, in the hopes of preventing the spread of COVID-19 between humans and wildlife. Scientists are still not very clear on how the coronavirus passes between humans and animals, though in some cases house pets and zoo animals have tested positive for the virus.
Tax cuts for the wealthy: "House Democrats’ stimulus bill rolls back $10,000 SALT cap for 2 years" https://t.co/JakM2JBLHo— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) May 13, 2020
Finally, the HEROES Act would alter the SALT Cap — a tax provision introduced by Republicans in 2017 to limit the number of state and local tax deductions individuals were allowed to make. The SALT Cap was put in place to limit the deductions of wealthy Americans in states with high taxes, such as California, which is why Republicans like Sen. John Cornyn are calling its alteration a "tax cut for the wealthy." However, spokesperson for Pelosi told The New York Times that any changes to the SALT Cap would be "tailored to focus on middle-class earners."
The House has been at home for two months. They gave themselves no assignments except developing this proposal. Yet it still reads like the Speaker of the House pasted together random ideas from her most liberal members and slapped the word “coronavirus” on top of it. pic.twitter.com/pS0EwP5wo5— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) May 15, 2020
It is not clear if House Democrats hopes to get all of these provisions approved, and how they expected to do so with Republicans holding the majority in the Senate. It could be that some or even all of these provisions will be up for revision in the Senate, as some are clearly less pressing than others. Whatever the case, Americans are clearly hoping that lawmakers will act fast to get them another stimulus check to help weather the coronavirus pandemic.