House proposes $3 trillion coronavirus aid package
By Danny Karel
House Democrats have proposed a $3 trillion coronavirus aid package — the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act — which would extend sweeping financial support to state and local governments, hospitals, businesses, families, individuals and frontline workers.
The bill seeks to establish a $200 billion “Heroes Fund” which would finance hazard pay for frontline workers and incentivize the recruitment of health care employees to “secure the workforce needed to fight the public health crisis.”
Congressman Ted Lieu of California’s 33rd District, which includes several Westside neighborhoods, believes these funds would buffer Americans from ongoing economic uncertainty.
“We can’t have a comprehensive response to this pandemic without expanding support for our frontline workers, and getting more money into the hands of Americans,” he said. “This bill does both of those things and much more.”
The bill has since passed in the House of Representatives, but there is slim chance it will make headway in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“A lot of people are asking if the HEROES Act is too big, if we overreached as Democrats,” said Congressman Jimmy Gomez, whose Congressional District includes Eagle Rock and Highland Park, during a call with reporters hosted by Congressman Lieu, who also co-chairs the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. “My response is this: When your house is on fire, you want as many fire trucks at your house putting out that fire as possible.”
The HEROES Act is a massive bill, certainly in terms of scope but also as a document, containing more than 1,800 pages. Republicans were quick to dismiss it as partisan.
After the bill was announced on May 12, US Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina declared the package “dead on arrival.” Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota called it “a messaging exercise from House Democrats… an effort to try to create talking points for the 2020 election.”
Republican hostility to the bill’s gargantuan price tag reflects something deeper than standard-fare partisanship — it points to the fundamental difference in the way both parties have chosen to address the crisis. Democrats would rather spend big and now, hoping that by pumping emergency aid into the country it will staunch economic bleeding and help suppress the spread of the virus. Republicans prefer a wait-and-see approach.
“I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in response to the bill. “That time could develop, but I don’t think it has yet.”
Congresswoman Judy Chu of Pasadena summarized the Democrats’ position: “We cannot afford to wait, because people are in urgent need right now.”
Significant funds would also be allocated to ramp up the country’s ability to track and test for the virus, in addition to financing hazard pay for frontline workers.
“If they don’t get that assistance, they may get laid off,” said Congressman Lieu.
“We can’t have a healthy economy without healthy workers, so the bill commits another $75 billion for testing and tracing so that we can implement a science-based approach to safely opening our country,” Congresswoman
The HEROES Act would also send nearly $1 trillion in cumulative aid to cities and states, helping local governments stay afloat amid devastating revenue losses that have been compounded by the cost of combating the virus.
The bill would also initiate a second round of direct stimulus payments — another $1,200 for individuals, up to $6,000 per family. It would also extend the $600 weekly increase to unemployment benefits through January 2021.
In addition to direct stimulus payments, homeowners and renters would receive relief in the form of $175 billion directly targeted to rent payments and mortgages. These funds would be prioritized based on income. Student loan debt up to $10,000 would also be canceled for all borrowers, leaving millions debt-free.
The popular Payroll Protection Program, which helps nonprofits and small businesses to keep employees on payroll, would be buffered, while the struggling US Postal Service would receive $25 billion in aid.
Several billions more would be spent to help ensure “safe elections” and an accurate census.
Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman, representing the West San Fernando Valley, praised the comprehensiveness of the bill, but also found something critical missing: adequate funding for COVID-19 research.
“We are providing many, many trillions to bandage the wounds this disease is inflicting on our people and our economy,” Sherman told reporters over the phone. “But we have to beat the disease, and less than one-tenth of one percent of the money in this bill — and prior bills — has gone to the NIH (National Institutes of Health) for [COVID-19] medical research. We need a treatment, and ultimately, of course, we need a vaccine.”