Amid the ongoing pandemic, the new HEALS Act proposal is up for negotiations within the United States Senate and the U.S. Congress over the next week, and there are some significant changes lawmakers want to see. The legislation has some items that critics would like to remove, but it has plenty more that they would like to add. With a strict price cap on the bill, there is no telling how these provisions could make it into the final draft.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled his proposal for the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act — or, HEALS Act — on Monday. The $1 trillion package includes a stimulus check similar to the last one Americans received, but beyond that, it looks far different from past legislation. As critics on both sides of the aisle were quick to point out, the bill is missing some vital programs and funding to help the U.S. withstand the coronavirus pandemic.
The criticism comes from some Republicans as well as Democrats, and lawmakers in the Senate as well as the House of Representatives. They have pointed out some programs that have helped Americans weather the pandemic so far, questioning why they were not extended or expanded in the HEALS Act.
To some extent, this is a symptom of Republicans' fear of raising the national debt more than is necessary. Back in March, the CARES Act cost a record-breaking $2.1 trillion, and in May, Congress passed the HEROES Act, which would have cost about $3 trillion if the Senate had not dismissed it.
However, lowering the price tag is not the only consideration in what is left out of the HEALS Act, as critics point out some of the things McConnell did include, indicating his different priorities. Some of the criticized items include federal construction projects, military spending, and even enormous deductions for lawmakers during business lunches.
If they have their way, lawmakers will convince McConnell to reorganize his priorities to exclude some of those items and include some of the ones below instead. Here is a look at what critics say is missing from the HEALS Act.
The emergency enhancement to unemployment payments guaranteed by the CARES Act provided $600 per week to laid off Americans, but that program expired this month. Many expected any stimulus package to extend that program, but McConnell's legislation proposes something very different. Under the HEALS Act, unemployed Americans would get an additional $200 per week in their check.
Even that would be temporary, as the bill also instructs state and local governments to prop up a new system for calculating unemployment payments based on past income. Critics argue that this is impractical, and unecessary, as the previous system was working well for many people.
According to The Washington Post, this is the major point where Democrats intend to put their foot down in negotiations. They will insist on extending the $600 unemployment enhancement before considering any other compromises.prevnext
State and Local Government Funding
The CARES Act provided funding for state and local governments to perform coronavirus testing and other pandemic-related functions, and the HEROES Act proposed to provide even more. The HEALS Act provides no new funding for these programs, but instead revises the rules from the CARES Act so that states and municipalities can do more with the money they already have.
According to a report by Forbes, the CARES Act prohibited states from using this federal funding to cover budget shortfalls resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. The HEALS Act would remove this restriction, allowing states to use this money much more broadly. The biggest restriction left on this money would be to stop it from being used for state employees' pension plans.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
The CARES Act imposed a 120-day moratorium on evictions from any properties where the government had backed the mortgage. At the time, many critics argued that this was still not enough, yet the HEALS Act does not even include an extension of this measure. The moratorium expired on July 24, and the HEALS Act is in no hurry to extend or replace it.
According to a report by USA Today, more than a quarter of Americans were unable to make their housing payment in July, and the number is expected to continue to rise. Serious proposals over the last few months have ranged from federal housing assistance programs to full-on rent and mortgage cancellations, in order to prevent a mass homelessness problem in the midst of a pandemic.prevnext
Another big problem critics cite in the HEALS Act is the general lack of a clear timeline or cohesive plan to get the law passed and implemented. According to Forbes, Sen. Ted Cruz asked: "what the hell are we doing?" when presented with the bill, while McConnell said: "Hopefully we can come together behind some package we can agree on in th next few weeks."
The lack of urgency on this project has frustrated critics of the HEALS Act, including working Americans in need of assistance. Democrats have repeatedly pointed out that they passed a stimulus bill back in May, but rather than working with them on compromises, McConnell led the Senate to table the issue for two months. This lack of concern with the timeline implies to some that McConnell does not really want to pass a stimulus package at all.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
Among the items Democrats and Republicans are expected to squabble over in the HEALS Act is a program creating extensive "liability shields," protecting business owners from lawsuits if people contract COVID-19 on their premises. McConnell told CNBC on Tuesday that this is a point where he will not negotiate at all, while his political opponents not only want this measure removed — they want it replaced with hazard pay for workers who do have to show up during this crisis.
Several of the more obscure stimulus plans have included robust harzard pay enhancements for essential workers, though so far none have passed. Lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders continue to insist on paying workers for the risk they are taking just by showing up during this outbreak.prevnext
The Republicans' COVID-19 plan? 100% deductions for rich people to go out for three-martini lunches while millions of Americans are facing hunger and eviction.
Pathetic is too mild a word. pic.twitter.com/LMVJrao2xQ— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 28, 2020
Similarly, critics have called for the HEALS Act or other stimulus packages to include food assistance, as about 20 percent of American workers are unemployed at the time of this writing. Since the pandemic began, programs like food banks and community pantries have been stretched to their breaking points, and many lawmakers are calling on the federal government to help ensure Americans are fed.prevnext
We are in a historic economic crisis with no end in sight—now is not the time to slash additional unemployment benefits by $400 a week.
I won’t stop fighting for $2,000 monthly payments and extending unemployment benefits.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 29, 2020
Finally, some legislators are still beating the drum for a stimulus check to be sent out every month until the coronavirus crisis is over. As recently as Wednesday, Sen. Kamala Harris assured her Twitter followers that she is still "fighting" for her plan for a $2,000 per month stimulus check to be sent to Americans until at least three months after the COVID-19 pandemic is officially over. A similar plan stalled in Congress, but for those in need any sliver of hope is welcome.prev