The United States Senate has introduced the HEALS Act, the latest proposal for a stimulus check to combat the economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The bill does include another stimulus check paid directly to the American people, but it includes other provisions as well. It also conspicuously ignores some programs lawmakers have pushed hard for, indicating places where negotiation and compromise could take place.
The Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act — HEALS Act — was written by the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with input from the White House. It has a total budget of about $1 trillion — which is less than half that of the CARES Act passed back in March. McConnell and other Republicans ignored the House of Representatives' HEROES Act passed back in May, saying that they would write their own stimulus package instead. The results have sparked a fiery debate in Washington and online.
The HEALS Act has abbreviated versions of programs that have either lapsed since the CARES Act was passed or that were included in the HEROES Act. It offers assistance — albeit less of it — to the estimated 20 percent of American workers that are unemployed right now, according to a report by Forbes.
McConnell's bill focuses more on aiding employers than previous proposals have, in the hopes that employers will do the right thing by keeping their workers on the payroll through this crisis. It also provides controversial protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits, in many cases.
All in all, the stimulus check itself is the most familiar aspect of the HEALS Act, and many are more focused on the other provisions within. Here is a look at how the HEALS Act could impact the average American.
To start, the HEALS Act does include a second stimulus check which is very similar to the first. As it is written now, it is worth $1,200 to any taxpayer who made $75,000 or less on their last tax filing. The payment decreases for anyone with a gross annual income above that, ending at $98,000 per year.
Unlike the HEROES Act, the HEALS Act does not alter the stimulus check eligibility parameters to include adult dependents, certain immigrants or other groups left out of the first payment. Still, it seems like a straightforward part of the bill that will most likely pass without alteration.prevnext
The $600 per week unemployment enhancement included in the CARES Act expired on July 21, and the HEALS Act proposes to replace it with a similar payment of $200 per week. This would be temporary, until state governments could implement the HEALS Act's new plan to provide income-based unemployment worth about 70 percent of a worker's lost income. This would take several months to do.prevnext
Payroll Protection Program
The HEALS Act also orders the extension of the Payroll Protection Program, or PPP. This was meant to give aid to businesses, allowing them to keep employees on the payroll even if they could no longer afford to during the coronavirus pandemic. However, the PPP has been widely criticized, with its efficacy questioned by Brookings Institution economist Joshua Gotbaum.
"Overall PPP hasn't preserved many paychecks," Gotbaum wrote. "A careful study found that PPP-eligible small businesses laid people off just as quickly as other businesses."prevnext
Employee Retention Tax Credit
An employee retention tax credit is another proposal to empower businesses to keep paying workers through the recession, according to a report by CNET. It would incentivize businesses to not lay off employees and wait out the economic downturn of the virus.prevnext
Business Liability Shield
So the HEALS act basically allows employers to force you to work without any kind of liability if you get sick, yet doesn’t provide hazard pay. The extra $600 in unemployment becomes $200.
Honestly, every essential worker should just fucking quit their jobs.— glizzy stardust (@graphicnature_) July 27, 2020
The HEALS Act includes a "Business Liability Shield," which would protect businesses, schools, non-profits, medical facilities and other organizations from lawsuits relating to the coronavirus within their walls, according to a report by Forbes. This would make it extremely hard for employees to seek restitution for contracting COVID-19 at work, or for the loved ones of those who may die of the virus.
Forbes calls this measure a "Republican wish-list item," suggesting that Democrats will not allow it to pass as written.prevnext
Federal Funding for State and Local Governments
Unlike the CARES Act and the HEROES Act, the HEALS Act provides no new federal funding to state and local governments to cover coronavirus testing, treatment or other necessities. Since the White House has repeatedly stated that it is the state and local government's responsibility to see to these factors, critics say that the HEALS Act should provide more money — especially as the time line for the coronavirus pandemic stretches on.
As written, all the HEALS Act does for state and local governments is to make it easier for them to spend the money previously allotted to them under the CARES Act, according to Forbes. With states already stretched to the limit, there is strong evidence that this will not be enough.prevnext
Up to 40 million people could be evicted if the federal gov doesn’t act boldly enough.
Right now, the risks of doing too little for COVID relief far outweigh the risk of doing “too much” for families.
People need rent + mortgage relief, 2nd stimulus check, & extended PUA *now.* https://t.co/tvq1kYEmKP— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 28, 2020
Finally, another conspicuous omission from the HEALS Act is any housing aid for struggling Americans. The CARES Act created a 120-day moratorium on evictions in the U.S. — which had its own shortcomings — but it expired on July 24. The HEALS Act makes no mention of this policy, leaving landlords free to put out-of-work Americans out on the street with no options.
According to a report by USA Today, more than a quarter of adults in the U.S. were unable to make their housing payments in July, and the numbers were similarly bleak in the months before. Some analysts expect housing assistance to be one of the biggest points where Republicans and Democrats must compromise to pass the HEALS Act.prev