Four months after the passage of the CARES Act, the GOP Senate has finally put forth its proposal for the fifth coronavirus relief bill.
As expected, the bill, called the Health, Economic, Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools Act (or HEALS Act), authorizes a second coronavirus stimulus check, with Americans in line for another direct payment. It also provides some help for the unemployed, but not as much as the CARES Act did.
So what's the GOP's new $1 trillion coronavirus relief bill exactly? Here are some key provisions.
1. A second coronavirus stimulus check
After floating the idea of limiting the second round of COVID-19 money to people with lower incomes, the GOP instead opted to repeat the coronavirus stimulus checks authorized under the CARES Act, but with more help for adult dependents this time. Under the HEALS Act:
- Single tax filers with incomes up to $75,000 will receive checks valued at $1,200 per adult.
- Married tax filers with incomes up to $150,000 will receive a combined check of $2,400 per couple.
- An additional $500 will be provided for dependents regardless of age (under the CARES Act, money was available only for dependents 16 or younger).
- Payments phase out at a rate of $5 per $100 in income above these limits, with no payments available to those with no dependents once their income hits $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for married joint filers.
The Democratic-controlled House has passed its own bill, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (or HEROES Act), which expands eligibility for the dependent payment to all dependents and raises it to $1,200 (capped at a maximum of three dependents).
The GOP's bill mirrors the expanded eligibility for dependents but it doesn't offer the extra money the HEROES Act provides. Still, this change means as many as 26 million more dependents will be provided with funds under the HEALS Act than under the CARES Act, which was passed in late March, 2020.
2. A smaller boost to unemployment benefits
The CARES Act provided an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits on top of what states normally offer. The expanded benefits are slated to last only through July 31, although Democrats would extend this deadline to Jan. 31, 2021, in the HEROES Act.
Republicans aren't on board with continuing that larger supplement, which has resulted in an estimated 67% of jobless workers receiving more in unemployment than they did in wages from their jobs.
Instead, the GOP's bill provides an extra $200 per week until September, after which workers will be entitled to receive benefits valued at the lesser of $500 or 70% of lost wages. The flat $200 bonus is intended to provide time for states to transition to a new system that enables them to provide the 70% payment (states also get $2 billion to implement these changes, since many unemployment benefit systems are outdated).
This will mean a big cut to income for some workers, which could have broader economic impact when it inevitably reduces consumer spending.
3. Liability protections for reopening businesses
In a bid to hasten the reopening of the economy, the GOP bill provides what it calls "strong" protection for companies, hospitals, schools, and other entities from lawsuits related to COVID-19 exposure. They'd be protected against liability for exposure to coronavirus unless they are grossly negligent.
4. Money for schools
The Trump Administration is pushing for schools to reopen, so it comes as no surprise that the GOP bill includes targeted funding of around $100 billion to aid in that effort.
5. Help for small businesses
The CARES Act provided help for companies in myriad ways, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which authorized billions of dollars in forgivable loans to businesses that keep employees on the payroll.
The HEALS Act includes a sequel to the program aimed at preventing more layoffs, but businesses will need to meet more stringent requirements to qualify. The new funding (valued at $190 billion) will be limited to businesses with 300 or fewer workers, while the CARES Act allowed companies to apply for forgivable PPP loans if they had up to 500 employees. Companies will also have to prove that they experienced at least a 50% reduction in gross revenue to be eligible.
Under the HEALS Act, companies will have more flexibility in what PPP funds can be used for. Among other things, companies will now be eligible for loan forgiveness if they use funds to provide added protection for workers.
What happens next?
The GOP bill has the support of the Trump Administration, but there's no guarantee it will even pass in the Senate as some Republicans have expressed concerns over the costs of more relief.
The HEALS Act leaves out several key provisions important to Democrats that are included in the HEROES Act, including substantial additional financial aid to states hit hard by falling revenue and coronavirus-related costs (the GOP bill does provide more flexibility for how states use the aid that was authorized under the CARES Act). Democrats have also objected to the liability protections for business, and some key figures on the left have indicated they believe the GOP's relief for the unemployed doesn't go far enough.
Still, despite their disagreements, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are eager to provide help to Americans struggling in the 2020 recession. With expanded unemployment benefits expiring Friday, July 31, it's all but certain that negotiations will continue, and there's a good chance a compromise bill will pass this week and be quickly signed by President Trump.