Senate Republicans Monday unveiled their proposal for the next round of federal coronavirus aid—the Heath, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act—but they still need to come to an agreement with Democrats on the package. Here’s where negotiations might get stuck.
First, the GOP plan doesn’t include any new federal relief funds for state and local governments—a major priority for Democrats, who proposed spending more than $1 trillion in additional state aid as part of the Heroes Act passed by the House (but rejected by the Senate) in May.
Instead, the proposal offers more flexibility in spending the $150 billion already allotted to states and municipalities by the CARES Act in March.
Second, the HEALS Act would eliminate the extra $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits, which expires at the end of the week, and replace it with a program that would subsidize 70% of workers’ lost wages; part of that plan would involve reducing the checks to $200 per week until states can make the shift. After the shift, the payment would be capped at $500 or 70%, whichever is lower.
Democrats are highly focused on maintaining comprehensive unemployment benefits during the pandemic and are concerned that overwhelmed state unemployment offices will not be able to switch over to the new plan; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said maintaining the $600 benefits will be her starting point in negotiations with the GOP, according to the Washington Post.
Third, the HEALS Act will also include a five-year liability shield to protect businesses, healthcare providers, and schools from lawsuits brought by workers and employees related to the coronavirus.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) took particular issue with the GOP unemployment plan on the Senate floor on Monday, calling it “unworkable” because it would cut federal unemployment aid by 30%.
The HEALS Act also includes several elements Democrats generally support, including a second round of stimulus checks and more aid for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program.
The GOP’s proposal comes after a week of tense negotiations with the Trump Administration and two months after the Democratic-led House of Representatives passed its own relief proposal, the Heroes Act, in May. With just days until Congress breaks for its August recess and several key benefits of the CARES Act on the brink of expiration, lawmakers are struggling to come to a compromise on what the next phase of federal relief should look like. Meanwhile, some 30 million people are unemployed and dependent on federal assistance.