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COVID-19 Update: A Closer Look at What Congress Is Considering for a “Coronavirus Stimulus” Package

As the world reels from the COVID-19 (coronavirus), the U.S. federal government has only begun to step up its medical and economic relief efforts. As Congress continues to debate over what ultimately becomes the “Phase 3” economic stimulus package, let’s review what they’ve been debating and whether these proposals measure up to what the experts have been recommending.

Why is the Senate stuck in gridlock (again)?
Photo by Andrew Davey

On Sunday and Monday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) failed to round up 60 votes, or even 50 votes, for Republicans’ preferred legislation. Following their votes against the Republican plan on Sunday, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Jacky Rosen (D) said in a joint statement, “The priority for any coronavirus relief legislation must be supporting our hard working families and strengthening our health care system to meet the challenges ahead. We will continue fighting for Nevada until we are confident that the Senate package represents our state’s priorities, and we remain optimistic that the Senate will move quickly and in a bipartisan way.”

Since then, Cortez Masto’s and Rosen’s wishes have inched closer toward being granted as White House officials and some Congressional Republicans have begun to accept Democratic demands for oversight for a corporate relief fund that may total as much as $500 billion, a corporate relief fund that Democrats have largely derided as a “slush fund” for the original draft’s lack of oversight.

Democrats have objected to giving President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin such wide latitude to offer loans and loan guarantees to companies without securing any guarantees that they won’t continue laying off and/or firing workers, or guarantees that these companies won’t just use these funds for stock buybacks and executive pay instead of sharing the relief funds with workers.

Wait, what about the “corona checks”?
Culinary Union
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last week, some reporters and pundits opined on how Democrats were “leading from behind” as Republicans like Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) were signaling support for a universal $1,000 cash payment for U.S. citizen adults. Yet for all the talk about how these and other Republicans were allegedly rushing to embrace former presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s (D) signature UBI policy, Senate Republicans ultimately developed a package of $600 and $1,200 “corona checks” that would have phased in at the federal taxable income threshold and phased out starting at $75,000 of taxable income.

Senate Republicans then removed the bottom income threshold and moved everyone below the $75,000 income threshold to the $1,200 one-time “corona checks” along with an additional $500 per child once it became clear that no Democrats were crossing over to support their initial plan. Still, these one-time payments fall short of what UNITE HERE and Culinary Union leaders and the CBPP policy team say is necessary to make the medically necessary shutdown of non-essential businesses more economically feasible for all the workers affected.

Last week, House progressives like Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) came forward with their own proposals, such as Waters’ bill including $2,000 monthly “corona checks” for all American adults and an additional $500 per month per child. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has since released House Democratic leaders’ own $2.5 trillion economic stimulus package, and that includes one-time universal $1,500 “corona checks” for individuals and up to $7,500 for families with children. Though their “corona check” provision still seems small, there’s more to House Democrats’ new plan that addresses more of what the experts say America needs.

So what else is on the table?

In addition to the $1,500-$7,500 “corona checks”, House Democrats also include “Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation” of $600 per week for qualifying workers who’ve lost work and/or lost pay, $150 billion for hospitals and community health centers to replenish rapidly dwindling supplies (such as ventilators and masks) and treat more patients in need, elimination of patient cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment (including any future vaccine), $60 billion for K-12 schools and colleges and universities, and $4 billion for states to shift their elections to all vote-by-mail (as Nevada will be doing for the June primary). House Democrats’ package also includes business relief funding, but it also includes the oversight and worker protection provisions that progressives like U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) have been demanding.

While Trump has already declared his opposition to House Democrats’ coronavirus economic stimulus package, Pelosi appears to be forging ahead with this plan so she can at least strengthen Democrats’ negotiating leverage and force Republicans to accept more of their demands by including needed aid for state and local governments, health care providers, and the hardest hit workers alongside the more broadly offered “corona checks” and corporate relief funds. 

As we explored last week, and as Governor Steve Sisolak (D) publicly confirmed last Friday, Nevada is already running low on hospital space and medical supplies. And if the federal government doesn’t provide funding soon, state and local governments will soon be running low on cash. This right here is a huge reason why corporate aid and “corona checks” aren’t enough to address this growing problem.

No, a loss of millions of lives isn’t a good plan for sustainable economic recovery.
Photo by Andrew Davey

While Congressional Republican and Democratic leaders are moving closer towards a final coronavirus stimulus deal, Donald Trump declared on Fox News, “I’d love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” As we discussed yesterday, and as medical professionals continue to warn the entire world, (as many as 2.2 million) more Americans will die if we let up on aggressive social distancing efforts too soon. And even if a faster reopening of shuttered businesses allows for a temporary “economic sugar high”, the heightened toll of hospitals overcrowding with terminally ill COVID-19 patients is guaranteed to wipe out any temporary gains from going against the medical professionals’ advice.

As painful as this coronavirus crisis now feels, it’s only getting worse in the near future. Still, if we want to prevent this coronavirus crisis from escalating into a COVID-19 death sentence for millions of Americans, we must get this right.

If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ respective resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Mutual Aid Disaster Relief and local groups like Three Square.

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