The United States Senate's Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act — or, HEALS Act — will likely be the next economic relief bill passed in the U.S., and there is a lot to understand about the legislation. It aims to boost the American economy through the coronavirus pandemic, but not all of the ideas represented in it are widely popular.
The HEALS Act was written by the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It includes another stimulus check, which is perhaps its biggest similarity to the last major COVID-19 relief bill, the CARES Act. Beyond that, the HEALS Act adds a number of new items that Republican leaders think the country needs to combat the pandemic, and ignores many of the prominent provisions of previous packages. It attempts to do all of this on a considerably lower budget.
The HEALS Act is not law yet, although many lawmakers expect it to be before the week is finished. Lawmakers are facing several deadlines to get a stimulus package passed, and the HEALS Act might be their best chance at a compromise. Already, Congress passed a stimulus bill back in May that would have provided a second stimulus check by now, but the Senate ignored it, waiting until now to propose a counter offer.
After this week, the Senate is scheduled to leave for a three week recess. In the meantime, millions of Americans are struggling even harder now that their unemployment enhancement has expired. Here is what you need to know about the HEALS Act as lawmakers debate over it.
For most people, the centerpiece of the HEALS Act is the stimulus check. It is written to be very similar to the first round — $1,200 for anyone who made $75,000 or less on their last tax filing, with the amount dropping incrementally beyond that point. Anyone with a gross annual income of $98,000 or more will not receive a stimulus check.
Both parties have said they are more or less agreed on the stimulus check itself, so that is not what is holding up the negotiations. However, the checks cannot be prepared or distributed until the entire bill passes.
It is worth noting that the stimulus check has been changed from the first round to include adult dependents, and to curb the amount of checks sent to deceased Americans. Prisoners and undocumented immigrants will get nothing, and as before, the payments cannot be garnished for anything except for overdue child support, according to a report by The Motley Fool.prevnext
One of the biggest changes to the stimulus check itself this time around is that adult a taxpayer who claimed dependents will get a $500 payout for each of them, regardless of their age. Previously, adult dependents did not get their own stimulus check, nor did their guardians get the $500 credit applied for underage dependents. While this will be a big help to many families, it is not exactly what many adult dependents were asking for.
In many cases, the adult dependents who did not get stimulus checks were full-time college students, many of whom lost their part time jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. They received no check of their own, and their parents did not get the $500 credit, leaving them with nothing. Many would rather that adult dependents be eligible for the full $1,200.
This is all the more urgent because the HEALS Act does not extend the student loan relief included in the CARES Act. The first bill ensured that college students would not need to make payments on federal student loans until September, and although the coronavirus crisis will likely go on past that point, the HEALS Act does not add more time to this provision.prevnext
A key factor in negotiations over the HEALS Act is the price limit: $1 trillion. For reference, the CARES Act cost $2.2 trillion, and the HEROES Act would havecost $3 trillion if lawmakers had passed it. Citing concerns about the rising national debt, Republicans have said that they are not willing to raise the price tag of the HEALS Act over $1 trillion.prevnext
The front lines of the debate over the HEALS Act is undoubtedly its policy on emergency unemployment enhancements. The CARES Act provided an extra $600 per week on unemployment payments, but that program expired on July 31. The HEALS Act would reintroduce those payments, but cut them to $200 per week. Even this would only be temporary, as the HEALS Act would instruct states to calculate a new unemployment enhancement for each individual person, consisting of 70 percent of their lost wages — up to $500. This would be up and running in October, and in the meantime millions of Americans would be struggling.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she and other Democrats will put their foot down on this point, insisting that the Senate extend the $600 unemployment benefit as-is. So far, this appears to be the crux of their disagreement with the Senate and with the White House.prevnext
Republicans also have another point where they say they will not budge in negotiations: liability shields. McConnell's bill includes legal shields to protect businesses, schools, hospitals and other public spaces from coronavirus-related lawsuits for at least five years. The idea is to promote re-opening public spaces without fear of being sued, though public health experts say that it is not safe to reopen to public spaces in the U.S. yet.
The liability shields may not have an immediate impact on most Americans, but they could be extremely significant in the years to come. McConnell has said that this point is not up for negotiation.prevnext
Another CARES Act provision that the HEALS Act does not extend is a moratorium on evictions. The CARES Act stated that property owners could not evict tenants from a building if the federal government had backed their mortgage until at least Sept. 30. While this did not protect everyone, it was meant to prevent a housing crisis in addition to a pandemic and an economic recession. The HEALS Act offers nothing for those who cannot make a rent or mortgage payment.prevnext
The Senate Republican plan:
- $29,400,000,000 for the Pentagon
- $0 for hazard pay
- $0 for nutrition assistance
- $0 for the uninsured/under-insured
- $0 for the Postal Service
- $0 for state and local governments
- 100% deduction for three-martini CEO lunches
What a disaster.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 27, 2020
The GOP COVID-19 bill includes
$2 billion for F-35s
$1.75 billion for an FBI building
$1 billion for surveillance planes
$375 million for armored vehicles
$360 million for missile defense
$283 million for Apache helicopters
$0 for millions facing eviction
It's Dead on Arrival— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 28, 2020
Finally, one of the most contentious items in the HEALS Act is a 100 percent tax deduction on business meals through the end of 2020. The idea here is to create an incentive for people to go out to restaurants, which are struggling during this crisis. Again, public health experts say that going out for non-essential trips like this right now is not safe and will drive the infection rate up.0comments
To many critics, the business meal deduction is emblematic of the problems with the HEALS Act. It insists on a tight budget, yet includes funding for federal construction projects, military equipment and business lunches while ignoring the impending homelessness crisis and the 20 percent of American workers who are unemployed.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic itself is still spreading in the U.S. The number of new cases and COVID-19 deaths is still rising, and over 150,000 Americans have now died. The Senate is scheduled to go on recess on Friday, Aug. 7, giving lawmakers less than a week to work out the terms of the HEALS Act — or whatever stimulus package is passed.prev