As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause mass unemployment and economic issues in the United States, Congress is putting together another aid package, but as of Friday, Aug. 7, it isn't going well. Considering the proposal is modeled on the March 25 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, you might be wondering if there will be a second coronavirus stimulus check as part of the latest plan. Here's what to know about the proposed package, including who might be eligible for another direct payment.
Senate Republicans introduced the Health, Economic Assistance Liability Protection & Schools (HEALS) Act on Monday, July 27. While the plan doesn’t include any extensions on student loan relief and rental assistance, similar to its predecessor, it has a provision to give eligible people a second stimulus check and extend a boost in weekly unemployment checks, although the HEALS Act’s proposed a significantly lower unemployment stimulus than the $600-per-week additional payout from the CARES Act, which ran out on Friday, July 31.
However, as of Aug. 7, the last day Congress is in session before a planned recess, there was no apparent agreement on the plan. "We’re still a considerable amount apart,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told The New York Times on Aug. 6, following a meeting with congressional leaders. As of Aug. 5, the main debates were over how much money Americans should be getting in unemployment assistance, whether to extend an eviction moratorium, food aid, and a proposed law that would shelter businesses from liability amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
While there are quite a few unsettled provisions, one thing both parties seem to agree on is a direct payment stimulus check. The current proposal for the HEALS Act follows in the footsteps of the CARES Act, and individuals who make $75,000 and under would receive a $1,200 stimulus check, while couples who make less than $150,000 would receive $2,400. Individuals who make up to $99,000 and are married, or joint filers who make up to $198,000, would also get some stimulus money. For individuals whose income surpasses the aforementioned limits, the proposed bill would reduce the amount of their check by $5 for every $100 of adjusted gross income. Addressing a criticized aspect of the CARES Act, which provided a stimulus payment of $500 to dependents under age 17 — leaving out many college students and adult dependents — the proposed HEROES Act would award $500 to all dependents regardless of age.
Both Democrats and Republicans included direct payments in their respective proposed plans, and according to Mnuchin, President Trump, who will have to approve the final bill, also supports the measure. On Sunday, July 26, Mnuchin told Fox News that the Republican-led Senate decided to push for the direct payments instead of President Trump's previously proposed payroll tax cut, saying, "The direct payments are a much quicker way of effectively giving everybody a tax cut, and is much quicker than the payroll tax cut."
If any bill is passed on Aug. 7, Mnuchin told reporters on Aug. 2 that people can expect to get relief as soon as the following week. "I could have them out immediately,” he said. “If I could get [the bill] passed tomorrow, I could start printing them the following week.”
One of the most contested parts of the HEALS plan is the suggested change to enhanced unemployment payouts. From March through the end of July 2020, people receiving unemployment benefits saw their weekly payments bumped by an additional $600 per week, a boost which was intended to keep afloat the millions of workers laid off due to the pandemic. Under the HEALS Act, Republicans proposed cutting the additional weekly unemployment payouts to about $200 a week based on a 70% wage replacement. Under this plan, unemployed people will be receiving, at most, 70% of their previous income in unemployment benefits. Democrats have specifically taken issue with cutting unemployment assistance, pointing to “outdated unemployment systems” which can’t handle a change of a cash amount to a percentage of wages, per CNBC.
While Pelosi said she would not negotiate on the $600 payout amount, it sounds like Republicans might be willing to compromise after the Trump administration signaled its support of the continued $600 increase on Friday, July 31.
On Tuesday, Aug. 4, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was open to extending the $600 unemployment payout after President Trump shifted his stance and signaled his support of the measure on Twitter. “Wherever this thing settles between the President of the United States and his team that have to sign it into law and the Democrats, a not-insignificant minority in the Senate and majority in the House, is something I'm prepared to support, even if I have some problems with certain parts of it,” McConnell told reporters.
Like the CARES Act, the HEALS Act proposes targeting workers as well as small businesses and restaurants that need help. In addition to tax credits, the new plan also includes reemployment and retention bonuses while giving companies PPE loans. For example, they are proposing adding a refundable payroll tax credit where people could refund between 50% to 65% of their wages. Workers in the restaurant industry can also claim 100% meal deductions under the proposal.
However, there’s no shortage of negotiations to be made as the HEALS Act has already drawn controversy for a number of provisions. In addition to the fact that the proposal doesn’t address some immediate needs — an increase in food stamp benefits, a moratorium on evictions, or student loan assistance — it also includes a law sheltering businesses from liability should they be faced with lawsuits from people claiming they contracted coronavirus at the business, including suits from employees alleging unsafe work environments.
On Tuesday, Aug. 4, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hinted there had been compromises made on both sides. “They made some concessions, which we appreciated; we made some concessions, which they appreciated,” he told reporters, while admitting they are still “far away on a lot of important issues.” The Republican-led Senate and the Democrat-led House are likely to clash over some of the details of the HEALS Act, such as $1.75 billion in proposed funding for a new FBI building, which was reportedly pushed for by the Trump administration.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.