Earlier this week, House Democratic leaders unveiled their new HEROES Act with just over $3 trillion in relief funds for state and local governments, social safety net programs, support for essential workers at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, and much more.
Today, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) held another of his biweekly tele-town halls to talk about what’s in the HEROES Act and why he’s determined to continue fighting for more relief funds for constituents who are still in dire need of relief.
Does the HEROES Act stand any chance of saving anyone’s day?
As we discussed in detail yesterday, the HEROES Act includes just over $915 billion in aid for state, municipal, and Native American tribal governments. In addition, the HEROES Act includes Rep. Steven Horsford’s proposal to fully subsidize COBRA health insurance for select furloughed and laid-off workers, along with an expansion of the FMAP that sends federal Medicaid funds to the states.
The HEROES Act also includes a second round of $1,200+ “corona checks” for most Americans (who were earning $75,000 or less annually before the pandemic), an extension of unemployment insurance expansion through at least January 2021, an extension of SNAP expansion through September 2021, an extra $13 per hour hazard pay for a broad swath of essential workers, additional funding and support for expansion of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, and $3.6 billion for election protection (including resources to allow for more voting by mail and PPE for poll workers).
Already, President Donald Trump and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) have labeled the HEROES Act a “non-starter”, throwing into doubt whether Republicans will give this fifth COVID-19 relief bill any chance of becoming law. Yet at the same time, a growing chorus of progressives inside and outside Congress are threatening to oppose the bill unless it includes policies like a paycheck guarantee for workers, stronger workplace safety rules (instead of legal liability protection for employers), restrictions on corporations utilizing their CARES Act bailout funds to go on “merger and acquisition” shopping sprees, and expansion of Medicaid and/or Medicare to cover uninsured and underinsured Americans rather than the more limited (yet still expensive) COBRA subsidy plan.
“We have worked to ensure that the needs of our constituents throughout Nevada are being provided.”
– Rep. Steven Horsford
Amidst the growing debate over the HEROES Act, Horsford himself weighed in earlier today, along with Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D), Assembly Member Will McCurdy (D-Las Vegas), Assembly Member Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), and Dontae Scott of the (publicly funded) Nevada Affordable Housing Assistance Corporation. And of course, they addressed the ongoing challenges facing Nevadans in the midst of the pandemic.
Horsford opened the call by acknowledging, “I know many of you have not been able to access the assistance programs you need.” He then promised that despite the hiccups at the federal and state levels, “We have worked to ensure that the needs of our constituents throughout Nevada are being provided.”
As with previous calls, multiple constituents asked about Nevada DETR’s continuing struggle to fully implement the CARES Act’s unemployment insurance expansion. Horsford reminded constituents, “They have a small staff to process over 450,000 claims. They are under an enormous backlog. They have hired a vendor to help them process this enormous backlog.” He, McCurdy, and Torres then voiced hope that DETR will begin accepting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for “gig workers” next week.
“We’re not going to let [casinos] reopen until everyone feels safe. We’re also trying to be mindful of when workers feel mentally ready to return to work.”
– Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick
In addition to questions on unemployment, constituents also asked about returning to employment. In response to a constituent who works as a mechanic and thus far has been the only person in his workplace to wear a mask, McCurdy commended him for speaking out. “There have already been guidelines released on how businesses can be opened. You’re doing exactly what you should be doing in reaching out to ensure all your coworkers are protected,” McCurdy said. He and Horsford then encouraged him to remind his employer of the state’s “Stay Safe to Stay Open” rules for reopening.
Later in the call, a casino waitress in Nye County explained that she and her mom have type two diabetes and that she’s worried about her and her mother’s safety once she returns to work. Kirkpatrick, who co-chairs Governor Steve Sisolak’s (D) Local Empowerment Advisory Panel, responded, “We’re not going to let them reopen until everyone feels safe. We’re also trying to be mindful of when workers feel mentally ready to return to work.” The Nevada Gaming Commission has approved guidelines for reopening casinos, but it falls short of the Culinary Union’s workplace safety demands.
A salon owner then talked about the conundrum she’s been placed in due to state and county health officials classifying her business as a spa that can not reopen during Phase One, and she promised to only offer salon services that Sisolak has allowed to resume. Kirkpatrick responded, “The concern we have is over facial contact, but you can call our office for help.”
“We want you to keep your health plan. You will not have to change your providers or change your deductible.”
– Rep. Steven Horsford, describing his COBRA subsidy plan that’s largely been integrated into the HEROES Act
During the call, constituents also asked about health care. One constituent explained that she gets her health insurance from her union and her spouse gets his from his employer, but that they will lose their insurance if they lose their jobs. Horsford responded, “I’m working on the Worker Health Protection Act. It will provide 15 months of coverage. We want you to keep your health plan. You will not have to change your providers or change your deductible.”
As we’ve previously mentioned, the HEROES Act only provides nine months of subsidized COBRA, and that’s only available for those people who are eligible for COBRA. Still, Horsford proclaimed, “We are working to pass this COBRA protection for families just like yours.”
In response to questions on COVID-19 testing, Kirkpatrick said, “We are testing anybody and everybody who wants to get tested. We have additional testing set aside for the surge of folks who need it, but there’s testing for anybody and everybody.”
Earlier in the call, Horsford noted, “[The HEROES Act] will also provide funding for more testing and contact tracing that we need to safely reopen.” But as long as our institutions are plagued by so much “truth decay” that even medical science gets bogged down by partisan politics, it remains to be seen how much more Horsford and the rest of Nevada’s Congressional delegation can realistically deliver.
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 District, Washoe County Health District, Carson 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’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square.