The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27th. It was the third emergency bill addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, but the first to have a major provision for direct payments to Americans, with most adults receiving $1,200. "This isn't even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief. Emergency relief. That's what this is,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of the bill back in March.
Yet even as the CARES Act was being passed, there were calls for more emergency relief. Forty-seven days since that bill, we still haven’t seen a second round of direct stimulus payments announced. It continues to float around as a vague hope, a carrot on a stick, while Americans grow more desperate and more states and businesses push instead for reopening before it’s safe to do so.
When we spoke to Refinery29 readers about the stimulus check, several said that $1,200 would barely last a month if they were laid off. Meanwhile, the number of unemployment claims since mid-March is at over 33 million now, and many states have struggled to start paying benefits to unemployed Americans who need money urgently. Florida in particular has been met with criticism for its handling of unemployment payments; just 28% of those who filed since mid-March have started receiving benefits. Nevada still hasn’t implemented the expanded unemployment benefits that allow gig workers to be eligible during the pandemic.
Stunned by the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, Congress came together to show bipartisan support for the CARES Act. But no relief proposal since then has had the same support from Republicans. A new bill called the HEROES Act was proposed yesterday by House Democrats. It’s a $3 trillion measure that would offer another $1,200 in direct payments to Americans, but it proposes other crucial provisions too: $200 billion in hazard pay for essential workers, $175 billion in assistance for rent, mortgages and utilities, $75 billion in testing and contact tracing, $3.6 billion for mail-in voting, as well as expanding the $600/week Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to January 2021, forgiving $10,000 of federal student loans for every borrower, expanding emergency paid family, medical, sick leave — and even trying to save the post office.
It also increases the amount you receive for each dependent from $500 to $1,200, up to a total of 3 dependents. And it’s no longer just children under 17 who qualify, but any dependent you correctly claimed on your taxes, fixing the loophole that meant many college students were getting no stimulus money and neither were their parents.
Republicans have made it clear they find the deal unacceptable. McConnell and Senate Republicans called the bill “dead on arrival.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the proposal a “waste of taxpayer time” on Twitter:
House Democrats just released an 1,800-page liberal wishlist that was crafted behind closed doors and includes bailouts for blue states and giveaways for billionaires. This spectacle has 𝐧𝐨 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞 of becoming law.— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) May 12, 2020
What a waste of taxpayer time.
Yet in terms of additional stimulus payments, the HEROES Act pays out less than other proposals that have been floated, including the Emergency Money for the People Act, proposed by Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) in mid-April, which offers a monthly stimulus payment of $2,000 for at least six months. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) proposed a stimulus check of $2,000 every quarter. Another plan calls for up to $4,500 to be given to each individual this year.
There has also been criticism from Democrats that the bill doesn’t do enough, with Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) specifically calling for the inclusion of the Paycheck Guarantee Act, which would help companies cover payroll for at least three months, guaranteeing continued pay for workers. People have also criticized the bill for giving money to private health insurance companies, which have not seen negative financial impact from the pandemic yet.
More emergency relief wouldn’t just be about ensuring Americans can get by; it would also work to prevent deeper, long-lasting damage to the whole economy. “We ought to do what we can to avoid these outcomes, and that may require additional policy measures,” said Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in a speech today. “Additional fiscal support could be costly, but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.” He also noted in the speech that 40% of households making less than $40,000 a year lost a job in March.
Will the Senate heed the Fed’s warning and the countless calls for more relief now? "I don't think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately. That time could (come), but I don't think it has yet,” McConnell told CNN on Monday. President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin continue to express support for a payroll tax cut, though experts say it will not help the average American. The House is expected to vote on the HEROES Act as early as Friday.