Dems unveil $3T pandemic relief bill, includes Peters’ ‘Heroes Fund’

A sign at an East Lansing long-term care facility, May 2, 2020 | Susan J. Demas

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats unveiled an economic relief package of epic proportions Tuesday in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The sweeping legislation carries a whopping $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. The House is slated to vote on the bill — which is nearly 2,000 pages long — on Friday, according to Roll Call.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not expected to take it up anytime soon, telling reporters Tuesday he wants to pause before moving forward with another coronavirus bill. If and when they do, Republicans are going to insist on “narrowly targeted” legislation that addresses problems rather than fulfills the Democratic Party’s aspirations, he added.

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U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) 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.”

The House bill would provide almost $1 trillion in aid to state, local, territorial and tribal governments, which are facing massive revenue losses as a result of shutdown orders. The funding is intended to help governments continue to fund police officers, firefighters, teachers, school administrators, health and sanitation workers and other public sector employees.

The bill would also establish a $190 billion “heroes fund” to give essential workers hazard pay, something proposed by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.). Frontline workers would include health care professionals, grocery workers, food supply workers, home care workers, first responders, pharmacists, delivery and postal workers and others. These workers would be eligible for a pay increase of $13 per hour from the start of the public health emergency until 60 days after it ends for a maximum of $10,000.

“So many people in Michigan and across the country are working hard and performing essential duties to help our communities confront this pandemic, and they deserve extra compensation for their dedication and heroic sacrifice,” said Peters. “I’m encouraged that the House has included a provision based on my ‘Heroes Fund’ proposal and will keep pushing to ensure our frontline workers receive the extra pay they deserve.”

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McConnell has indicated resistance to aid for 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.

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.