Comparing Major Provisions of the House and Senate Pandemic Relief Packages

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More than two months after House Democrats passed their version of the next installment of pandemic relief for struggling Americans (H.R.6800, the HEROES Act), Senate Republicans and Trump administration officials finally joined the debate and introduced their own: The Heath, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools Act (HEALS Act). 

A quick comparison of the two bills reveals that Washington lawmakers are very far apart. Adding to the complexity of negotiations is the calendar. Without quick action, millions of unemployed Americans will lose enhanced jobless benefits on July 31. 

Key areas of disagreement include:

  • Extension of pandemic unemployment insurance benefits. The CARES Act, which passed in March, established a $600 per week supplemental unemployment insurance benefit to be paid on top of the regular, state-based benefit. Statistical data shows that some recipients earn more on unemployment than from their job, potentially discouraging a return to work. The House bill would extend the existing benefit through January 2021 whereas the Senate proposal would temporarily reduce the benefit to $200 per week and require states to transition to a program that would pay unemployed workers 70 percent of prior wages.   

  • Federal aid for state and local governments. The job loss and reduced economic activity resulting from the global pandemic has significantly reduced the income and sales tax collections that sustain state and local government budgets at the same time the demand for local services has increased. The House-passed HEROES Act would appropriate over $900 billion for state and local governments. The Senate-proposed HEALS Act, would provide states with $105 billion for schools (K-12 and higher education), but would not provide any additional general-purpose relief. Instead, it would grant additional flexibility to state and local governments in how they spend funds available to them in the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which was appropriated as part of the CARES Act in March. 

  • Restrictions on school funding. Both House and Senate bills provide nearly the same amount for schools ($105 billion in the Senate package, $100 billion in the House), but the Senate package includes restrictions. Of the $70 billion allocated for K-12 schools, two-thirds is reserved for schools that are committed to reopening and holding classes in-person – a proposal that House Democrats have rejected. In addition, House Democrats have increased their demand for school funding in light of recent coronavirus outbreaks in the southern and western states. 

  • Liability protections for employers. The Senate’s package includes the parameters for a safe harbor from coronavirus lawsuits for employers that remain open during the pandemic. Rather than protect employers, the House bill aims to protect employees by directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish an enforceable workplace safety standard for infection-control practices. 

  • Direct cash payments for individuals and households. Both measures would authorize a second round of the direct cash payments, and both would expand eligibility to include adult dependents. The House bill, however, would increase the one-time payment for dependents from $500 to $1,200, would make those payments retroactive to enactment of the CARES Act, and would allow undocumented immigrants with taxpayer identification numbers to qualify.   

  • Food aid (food stamps). The House-passed bill includes $10 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as well as a 15 percent increase in the maximum SNAP benefit. The Senate bill includes aid for farmers but not for food programs that benefit the hungry.

  • Non-germane add-ons. The Senate bill includes billions for military weaponry, military aircraft, the construction of a new FBI building, and rescinds $120 million in funding for the southern border wall. The House-passed package includes funding for highways, state elections, pension bailouts, the US Postal Service, and would repeal the cap on state and local tax deductions (a tax break that benefits wealthy taxpayers). Both chambers include additional funding for the 2020 census.

  • Cost. Senate Republicans estimate their package would spend approximately $1 trillion, whereas the House-passed measure would cost approximately $3.4 trillion. 

The tables below summarize key elements of the enacted CARES Act (as amended) and the two recent proposals from the House and Senate.

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