Washington – Sen. Chuck Schumer on Monday unveiled the outlines of what he hopes is the next massive federal coronavirus bill, a massive package that would cost at least $750 billion and is aimed at tossing lifelines to businesses and individuals who are suffering financially because of the crisis.
Businesses are being ordered to close. And many business sectors have been hurt by a lack of customers, including airlines and hotels. The number of layoffs and furloughs is growing every day.
On Monday Gov. Ned Lamont mandated the shuttering of bars, restaurants, movie theaters, concert halls and gyms. Other governors are taking more drastic measures.
“We will need big, bold, urgent federal action to deal with this crisis,” Schumer said. “The kinds of targeted measures we are putting together will mainline money into the economy and directly into the hands of families that need it most.”
The Senate has yet to approve the second earlier coronavirus package approved by the House. It would pour millions of dollars into the state — about $440 million alone in an increase of the federal government’s share of the cost of Medicaid, or HUSKY as the health program is known in the state.
The House voted in a bipartisan manner on Saturday, but the bill needs technical corrections and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., does not want to take it up until those corrections are voted on. The corrections could not be approved by unanimous consent because Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, objected for hours to their approval that way, delaying the fixes needed on the bill.
Both Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., spoke on the Senate floor urging McConnell to hold a vote on the second coronavirus bill anyway.
Murphy said he is concerned Senate Republicans will insist on new changes to the House bill, which would require the House to vote again. He may be right.
Even as a Johns Hopkins University tally confirmed the number of coronavirus cases in the United States had rapidly risen to more than 3,800 and the number of deaths to more than 70, some Republican senators are challenging the House bill.
“The president and states already have adequate authority and funding to address the current situation,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. said.
Johnson also said the House-passed bill would force small businesses “to pay wages they cannot afford.”
Blumenthal said “the failure to act is unconscionable and inconceivable. We need to act now,” he said.”If not tonight, tomorrow morning. The loss of time is a loss of opportunity.”
Gohmert dropped his objections late Monday, making it likely the Senate will vote on the House-approved coronavirus bill Tuesday.
A moratorium on foreclosures
Like that stalled second coronavirus bill — the first was an $8.3 billion measure aimed at bolstering health resources — the new bill Schumer proposed Monday would be subject to changes by the GOP, which has its own priorities.
Schumer’s latest proposal, which could be introduced as soon as Tuesday, aims to address hospital and coronavirus treatment capacity. He outlined in broadly, but has offered few details.
Building on the second House-approved coronavirus bill, the third package would further expand unemployment insurance and increase the federal share of Medicaid costs.
It would also grant debtors a new grace period on the payment of all federally backed loans and impose a federal moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.
The bill would also fund emergency childcare, especially for health-care workers and first responders, and help school districts with remote learning as more and more of the nation’s schools shut down.
Congressional Republicans and the White House may insist the third coronavirus bill bail out certain industries – the airlines, in particular, which are asking for a $50 billion bailout. And President Donald Trump is likely to want a cut in Social Security payroll taxes – for both employees and employers.
Nevertheless Schumer has started the ball rolling on new federal emergency spending.
Connecticut’s lawmakers hope the third coronavirus bill will address some what they believe are shortfalls in previous legislation.
For instance, the second coronavirus bill mandated that many, but not all, businesses provide at least two weeks sick leave for their workers, at 100 percent of an employee’s normal salary, up to $511 a day. These businesses would receive a 100 percent tax credit for the cost of providing sick leave.
The bill would also provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave at 67 percent of a worker’s normal wage, up to a $200 per day cap. Companies would get an immediate credit in the Social Security taxes they pay to cover the cost of this leave.
But the mandate applies only to companies with fewer than 500 workers and the legislation allows companies with fewer than 50 workers to apply for hardship exemptions.
“While this will help millions, millions are still left out” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, who helped fashion the sick and family leave measures.
The original bill, introduced by House Democrats, did not have these carveouts. They were added during negotiations over the bill by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Treasurer Steven Mnuchin.
According to the Labor Department, 89 percent of workers at companies with more the 500 employees have access to some paid sick leave, with an average of eight days offered — well short of the 14-day quarantine prescribed for people who may have the coronavirus.
In a worst-case scenario, 6.7 million U.S. workers could be left without any sick pay at all, says the liberal- leaning Center for American Progress.
“If the concern is economic security, we’re protecting many workers, and if the question is contagion, we’re not doing as much as we should,” said Elise Gould, senior economist and the Economic Policy Institute.
DeLauro hopes to strengthen the sick leave provisions in the third coronavirus bill.
Meanwhile, Murphy says Congress hasn’t properly addressed the nutritional needs of pre-schoolers. The second coronavirus bill loosens federal regulations so schools can deliver food to kids who receive free or reduced-price meals or set up centers inside or outside the school where students can be fed.
But the bill did not address the needs of pre-schoolers who are fed in pre-schools and Head Start programs.
“Child nutrition is going to be a developing crisis,” Murphy tweeted on Monday. “Distributing food through K-12 schools isn’t enough. As day cares, preschools, and Head Starts close, Congress needs to fund food distribution programs for infants and toddlers.”