This has been a challenging year for most Americans and their families. The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the lives of more than 150,000 Americans and decimated the U.S. economy. As of early July, the U.S. unemployment rate stood at levels last consistently seen in the 1930s.
Lawmakers initially fought the financial maelstrom caused by the pandemic by passing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27.
At $2.2 trillion, the CARES Act was the biggest relief bill signed into law in U.S. history. Though it was able to do quite a bit for businesses via forgivable loans and money allocated for distressed industries, the CARES Act came up short for individual workers and their families. A Money/Morning Consult poll from late April found that almost three-quarters of stimulus money recipients burned through their payout in four weeks or less.
Additional stimulus money is needed. To that end, the Republican-led Senate introduced the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools (HEALS) Act on Monday, July 27. Here's a brief rundown of the 20 things you need to know about this proposed piece of coronavirus relief legislation.
1. $1 trillion price tag
First off, take note that the HEALS Act comes in at less than half the cost of the CARES Act, and around a third of the cost of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which was introduced and passed in the Democrat-led House in mid-May. This shouldn't be a surprise, especially given GOP lawmakers' desire to keep an already ballooned federal deficit in 2020 from getting any bigger.
2. $1,200/$2,400 direct stimulus payouts
The HEALS Act contains another direct stimulus payment to workers and senior citizens on Social Security. These maximum payouts are exactly the same for individuals ($1,200) and couples filing jointly ($2,400) as they were under the CARES Act.
3. Qualifying income thresholds are the same as the CARES Act
Qualifying thresholds to receive a stimulus payment are also staying the same. Single, head-of-household, and married tax filers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) falls below $75,000, $112,500, and $150,000, respectively, will net the full payout. On the other hand, single, head-of-household, and married filers with respective AGI's north of $99,000, $136,500, and $198,000 won't receive a dime. Folks who fall in between these upper and lower bounds will receive a reduced payout (a $5 payout reduction for every $100 in AGI above the lower bound).
4. Dependents of all ages qualify
Unlike the CARES Act, which increased a parent's or household's payout by $500 for each dependent aged 16 and under, the HEALS Act has no age-related restrictions on dependents. This means a parent, household, or guardian with a senior dependent or college-age dependent can receive the $500 kicker. It's estimated that 26 million people will become newly eligible to help their parent, household, or guardian receive a larger payout with the HEALS Act.
5. No money for prisoners
If an individual is incarcerated at the time the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) processes HEALS Act stimulus payment, they won't receive a check. The HEALS Act also says that anyone incarcerated for the entirety of 2020 won't be eligible for a retroactive Economic Impact Payment under the CARES Act.
6. Few/no payments to deceased persons
Chalk this one up under the "no duh!" column, but the HEALS Act spells out that individuals who passed away prior to Jan. 1, 2020, won't be eligible for a HEALS Act stimulus payment. It also confirms that CARES Act payouts made to deceased individuals must be returned. It's not a fool-proof plan given that tax returns are used as the payout criteria, but it should cut down on errant payouts.
7. More ways for the IRS to access direct deposit info
If a tax filer has received a federal refund within the past few years, there's a good chance the IRS has their bank account information on file and can directly deposit their upcoming stimulus payout. But for folks who make payments from a bank account to the IRS, the IRS wasn't able to use this information in reverse (i.e., access their bank account info) to make CARES Act-related direct deposits. With the HEALS Act, the IRS will be able to access account info for folks who've paid federal taxes electronically from a bank account after 2017. This may mean faster payouts for more Americans.
8. More payment options
Although direct deposit will, undoubtedly, be the favored form of payment for the next round of stimulus, the HEALS Act authorizes an abundance of new payout options. This includes issuing prepaid debit cards or issuing payment to a Treasury-sponsored account.
9. Payout garnishment OK when in arrears on child support
Just like the CARES Act, the HEALS Act forbids federal and state agencies from withholding a stimulus payment -- with one exception. If an individual is in arrears on their child support payments, then a portion, or all, of the next round of stimulus money can be withheld.
10. Hands off, banks and creditors
One thing the CARES Act failed to clearly spell out is whether or not banks and creditors had a right to Economic Impact Payments if a person was in arrears on a loan. The HEALS Act makes that clear: Banks and creditors wouldn't be able to garnish these payments. Period. Further, these protections would be enforced retroactively to CARES Act payouts.
11. Undocumented workers receive nothing
Although the HEROES Act included provisions designed to allow undocumented workers with a taxpayer identification number to receive a stimulus payment, the HEALS Act does not. Persons without a clear path to U.S. citizenship won't be allowed to receive a payment under the GOP-backed legislation.
12. Enhanced unemployment benefits are reduced
Under the CARES Act, unemployed beneficiaries netted an extra $600 a week between April 1 and July 31. According to Republicans, this added payment was too high and may be responsible for keeping folks out of the workforce. With the HEALS Act, the goal is to replace 70% of a worker's wages while on unemployment. This would result in an enhanced benefit of roughly $200 a week, instead of $600.
13. Additional money for vaccine research
The White House initially balked at adding new funds for coronavirus vaccine research. However, the HEALS Act contains $16 billion in new funding, which will be added to $9 billion in previously authorized funds for a grand total of $25 billion.
14. Schools net $105 billion in funding
The HEALS Act also allocates $105 billion to aid schools and universities. Some $70 billion will go toward K-12 schools (primarily those reopening for in-school instruction), with $30 billion apportioned to colleges and universities. A final $5 billion will be disbursed to state governors to spend as they see fit.
15. A five-year liability shield
Another interesting addition to the HEALS Act is the five-year liability shield that prevents businesses, schools, universities, and hospitals from being sued over coronavirus-related damages. To be clear, this wouldn't eliminate lawsuits, but plaintiffs would need to prove that gross negligence of state and local public health guidelines existed in order to win their case. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested that this liability shield is a line in the sand for the HEALS Act that isn't up for debate.
16. More PPP loans headed to small businesses
Struggling small businesses looking for additional help should receive it under the HEALS Act. In addition to leftover funding, there would be approximately $190 billion set aside in Payment Protection Program (PPP) funds. To qualify, businesses would need to show that their sales have dipped by at least 50%. Further, only businesses with 300 or fewer employees would qualify.
17. No extension of eviction moratorium
One of the bigger gaps in funding between the HEROES Act and HEALS Act can be seen in their approaches to housing assistance. The HEROES Act would give close to $200 billion to assist renters and homeowners, whereas the HEALS Act doles out only $3.2 billion for rental assistance ($500 million of which would cover administrative costs). The GOP proposal also failed to extend the temporary moratorium on evictions of lessors with properties backed by federal mortgage loans, which expired on July 24, 2020.
18. No extension on student loan relief
Under the CARES Act, persons with outstanding student loans were allowed to forgo their payments for a six-month period ending Sept. 30, 2020. Interest also does not accrue during this six-month stretch. The HEALS Act failed to extend this moratorium, implying that come October, interest will again accrue and payments will need to be made.
19. A full tax deduction on business meals
Definitely one of the least-discussed aspects of the HEALS Act is that it would offer a 100% deduction on business meals through the end of 2020. The idea here is to get people back into hard-hit restaurants.
20. The clock is ticking
The U.S Senate's legislative session runs from July 20 through August 7. The Senate then goes on a month-long recess through Labor Day, September 7. There are huge ideological and funding gaps between the HEROES Act and HEALS Act, and lawmakers have very little time to get on the same page.