WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats unveiled an economic relief package of epic proportions Tuesday in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The sweeping legislation dubbed the “Heroes Act” by Democrats carries a $3 trillion-plus price tag — more than the combined total of four coronavirus response bills passed this year.
Democrats called it “bold” and “transformative” and said it is needed to meet the deep and dire health and economic challenges posed by the pandemic. It focuses on workers, small businesses, testing and includes direct payments to individuals.
Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore participated in a Midwest press call on the bill on Wednesday morning with Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) Andre Carson (D-Ind.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.). They cited highlights of the bill and the values they believe it reflects, including support for local and state government.
The House bill would provide nearly $1 trillion in aid to state, local, territorial and tribal governments, which are facing massive revenue losses as a result of shutdown orders. Direct aid to state and local governments has been controversial in Wisconsin. On Friday, 43 Wisconsin Republican legislators sent a letter to the state congressional delegation, urging them to reject any package that includes a bailout of the states, in particular, Illinois.
The Democrats’ package included money intended to help governments continue to fund police officers, firefighters, teachers, school administrators, health and sanitation workers and other public sector employees, including $5 billion in community development block grants, according to Moore, to support not just local and state government but healthcare facilities and nursing homes as well.
“School districts and at local levels our health departments have already spent down resources combating COVID-19 and they need to be made whole,” she said. ““The notion that local governments can go bankrupt is really a non-starter.”
The bill would also establish a “heroes’ fund” to give essential workers additional hazard pay.
“Love and praise is one thing, but these folks need our support,” said Moore. “One of the things that this pandemic has really elucidated is the difference in pay and compensation and comparable work from folks we’re now calling frontline workers. We’re now calling these folks essential workers, and before the pandemic, they were invisible.”
Moore cited the “guys mopping up the emergency room floor,” home healthcare workers and others “risking their safety for our community” as the reason she fought to include $200 billion for this fund.
She added that many essential workers are parents who are also teaching their kids at home. When they leave for their jobs they need safe childcare, so legislators allocated $850 million for child care for essential workers.
The House is slated to vote on the bill — which is nearly 2,000 pages long — on Friday, according to Roll Call.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not expected to take up the legislation anytime soon. He told reporters Tuesday that he wants to pause before moving forward with another coronavirus bill. If and when they do move forward, Republicans are going to insist on “narrowly targeted” legislation that addresses problems, McConnell said, adding that the Heroes Act fulfills a wide array of Democratic Party aspirations.
Schumer chastised McConnell on the Senate floor earlier in the day. “We here in Congress have an obligation to do the nation’s business during this time of crisis,” he said. “But at this critical juncture in our nation’s history, the Republican leadership, led by Leader McConnell, is ducking their responsibility, plain and simple.”
McConnell has resisted giving aid to cities and states, but said last month he might be open to such a provision in exchange for legal protections as the economy reopens, according to CNN. He reiterated that stance Tuesday, saying that addressing the “liability issue” is essential to ensuring a smooth reopening.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota called the House bill “a laundry list” of items that reflect Democrats’ long-term political agenda. “It’s not going anywhere, and we all know that,” he said.
Direct payments to taxpayers
The House bill would provide individuals with another round of direct payments, building on legislation passed in March that approved payments of $1,200 for many adults and $500 for many children. This bill would provide additional payments of $1,200 per family member, with a cap of $6,000 per household.
It would also expand a loan program for small businesses so that it reaches underserved communities and nonprofit organizations; strengthen an employee retention tax credit so more employers can keep employees on the payroll; and help unemployed workers maintain employer-provided health insurance coverage.
The legislation would also include more money for testing, tracing and treatment; extend unemployment benefits; bolster housing assistance and food security programs; and provide resources to ensure safe elections and other government functions.
And it would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor to set infection-control standards.