Components of legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., are contained in the latest coronavirus relief package proposed by the Republican majority in the Senate.
The Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools, or HEALS, Act unveiled Monday revises a bill authored by Young to modernize state unemployment insurance systems.
The HEALS Act would provide $2 billion for states to upgrade those systems by Oct. 1, 2023, so they could better handle surges in unemployment claims, adjust wage replacement levels, vary benefits, increase automation, and detect and prevent fraud. Young's bill would do the same things but spend $3 billion and give states until Oct. 1, 2022, to make upgrades.
Young said the HEALS Act includes “some concepts” of another measure he introduced that would establish a loan fund to help employers hurt by states' restrictions on commercial activities and public gatherings.
Young's proposed loan fund – he has sought up to $350 billion – would aid borrowers that saw revenue fall by at least 25% because of the coronavirus pandemic. The HEALS Act would add $190 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program to help borrowers employing fewer than 300 workers and that have suffered at least a 50% drop in revenue.
Both Young's RESTART Act and the HEALS Act would defer loan payments for two years, waive borrower fees, use the Paycheck Protection Program lender network and extend eligibility to some tax-exempt business advocacy organizations.
“However, I believe more of the RESTART Act must be included in order to truly assist the hardest-hit small- and mid-sized businesses that have fallen through the gaps of previous relief programs. I'll continue working with my colleagues to improve upon this proposal and ensure we are caring for those who have suffered the most through no fault of their own,” Young said in a statement.
The HEALS Act would spend $1 trillion and send a second round of $1,200 stimulus payments to Americans earning less than $99,000; reduce from $600 to $200 a weekly boost in unemployment benefits; and increase education funding by $105 billion. It also would provide a liability shield to businesses, schools and hospitals to guard them against lawsuits for coronavirus damages.
Three nonprofit organizations in Indiana – Feeding Indiana's Hungry, the Indiana Institute for Working Families and Prosperity Indiana – issued a joint news release Tuesday stating the package would “do nothing to help everyday Hoosiers struggling during this pandemic.”
The organizations denounced the proposed cut in expanded unemployment benefits and Senate Republicans' failure to increase benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, offer emergency rental assistance and extend a federal moratorium on evictions.
The National League of Cities and the United States Conference of Mayors have criticized the HEALS Act for providing no new aid to municipal governments.
The fiscally conservative Club for Growth also opposes the HEALS Act. The group's president, former Indiana congressman David McIntosh, said in a statement that the legislation “irresponsibly spends” on stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits, and he called the absence of school choice grants for parents “unacceptable.”
The Senate package is the Republican response to the House Democrats' Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act.
That bill would spend $3 trillion in all and spread $1 trillion among city, county and state governments, more than $300 billion on schools and $200 billion on essential frontline workers, extend the $600 boost in weekly unemployment benefits and distribute another round of $1,200 stimulus checks. The legislation does not offer liability protections against virus-related lawsuits.
Republicans split during negotiation
WASHINGTON – The differences over the next coronavirus aid package are vast, and as top White House negotiators returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the leverage is apparent; they met in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.
Republicans are so deeply divided over the prospect of big government spending that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is left with a weakened hand. Striking any agreement between Congress and President Donald Trump by Friday's deadline for expiring aid will be daunting.
“We cannot afford to fail,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.
The outcome will be a defining one for the president and the parties heading into the November election as an uneasy nation is watching and waiting for Washington to bring some end to the health crisis and devastating economic fallout. But McConnell acknowledged the limits with Republicans split: “We've done the best we can.”
– Associated Press