Democrats’ $3 Trillion New Virus Bill Aids States, Essential Workers
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WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a more than $3 trillion coronavirus aid package May 12, providing nearly $1 trillion for states and cities, “hazard pay” for essential workers and a new round of cash payments to individuals.
The House is expected to vote on the package as soon as May 15, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said there is no “urgency.” The Senate will wait until after Memorial Day to act.
The so-called Heroes Act is built around nearly $1 trillion for states, cities and tribal governments to avert layoffs, focused chiefly on $375 billion for smaller suburban and rural municipalities largely left out of earlier rounds of aid.
It will offer a fresh round of $1,200 direct cash aid to individuals, increased to up to $6,000 per household, and launches a $175 billion housing assistance fund to help pay rents and mortgages. There is $75 billion more for virus testing.
It would continue, through January, the $600-per-week boost to unemployment benefits. It adds a 15% increase for food stamps and new help for paying employer-backed health coverage. For businesses, there’s an employee retention tax credit.
There’s $200 billion in “hazard pay” for essential workers on the front lines of the crisis.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the bill “will be ready” to call lawmakers back to Washington for the vote.
But the 1,800-page package is heading straight into a Senate roadblock. Senate Republicans are not planning to vote on any new relief until June, after a Memorial Day recess.
President Donald Trump has already signed into law nearly $3 trillion in aid approved by Congress.
The new package extends some provisions from previous aid packages, and adds new ones.
There are other new resources, including $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service. There is help for the 2020 Census and the November election. The bill also provides $3.6 billion to help local officials prepare for the challenges of holding elections during the pandemic.
The popular Payroll Protection Program, which has been boosted in past bills, would see another $10 billion to ensure under-served businesses and nonprofit organizations have access to grants through a disaster loan program.
For hospitals and other health care providers, there’s another $100 billion infusion to help cover costs and additional help for hospitals serving low-income communities.
There’s another $600 million in funding to tackle the issue of rapid spread of the virus in state and federal prisons, along with $600 million in help to local police departments for salaries and equipment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill April 21. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)
As states weigh the health risks of re-opening, McConnell said the nation needs to “regroup and find a more sustainable middle ground between total lockdown and total normalcy.”
The Republican leader on May 12 called the emerging Democratic bill a “big laundry list of pet priorities.”
“To those who would suggest a pause, I would say the hunger doesn’t take a pause, the rent doesn’t take a pause,” Pelosi said late May 11 on MSNBC. “We have a big need. It’s monumental.”
But Senate Republicans are in no rush to spend what could be trillions more on aid.
“I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” McConnell told reporters May 11 at the Capitol.
McConnell said he has been in close contact with the White House, assessing the aid Congress has already approved in response to the virus outbreak and next steps.
Trump is expected to meet May 12 with a group of Senate Republicans. “If we decide to go forward, we’ll go forward together,” McConnell said. His priority is to ensure any new package includes liability protections for health care providers and businesses that are reopening.
Senate Republicans are not expected to act on any further aid until after the Memorial Day recess, according to a senior Republican aide unauthorized to discuss the planning and granted anonymity.
The Senate is set to recess at the end of next week for a previously scheduled break, with senators scheduled to return June 1.
The Senate recently reopened its side of the Capitol while the House remains largely shuttered due to the health concerns.
Senators have been in session since last week, voting on Trump’s nominees for judicial and executive branch positions and other issues. The Senate majority, the 53-member Senate Republican conference, is meeting for its regular luncheons most days, spread out three to a table for social distance. Democrats are convening by phone. Many senators, but not all, are wearing masks.
At least a dozen Capitol police officers and other staff have tested positive for the virus, and at least one senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is in isolation at home after exposure from a staff member who tested positive. Other lawmakers have cycled in and out of quarantine.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned that if Trump and congressional Republicans “slow walk” more aid they will be repeating President Herbert Hoover’s “tepid” response to the Great Depression.
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