Where Is The Senate GOP’s $1 Trillion HEALS Act? Here’s What We Know About The Mysteriously Splintered Proposal

After a week of tense negotiations with the White House and one false start, Senate Republicans on Monday released their plan for the next coronavirus relief package: the Heath, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. But the legislation didn’t come all at once: instead, it trickled out from a handful of Senators and committees in different outlines and bills, including a few items that predate the Covid-19 crisis.  

The splintered presentation was so unusual that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), used it as a point of attack on the Senate floor Monday after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unveiled the conglomeration, describing the Republicans’ approach as “a metaphor for their first 100 days: lack of unity. They can’t even put one bill together—they are so divided.” Here’s what Senate Republicans are proposing and where to find all the details, which in some cases appear in multiple bills. We tracked them down so you don’t have to. 

All of the GOP proposals might not yet be available to the public, so we’ll update this post when we know more. And of course, Democrats will have to agree to all of this before it can become law. House Democrats passed their plan—the $3 trillion Heroes Act—back in May. Read more about that here.

The American Workers, Families, And Employers Assistance Act

The bill, from Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), covers the reduction of federal unemployment benefits, the second round of stimulus checks, an expansion of the employee retention tax credit created in the CARES Act last March, and new tax credits for employers that purchase PPE like masks and gloves. It also has Covid-19 protections for nursing homes, and tweaks Medicare benefits—including a provision that Medicare premiums won’t rise for anyone in 2021.

Stimulus checks

The bill’s stimulus checks are similar to the checks in the CARES Act, with a few tweaks. Eligible adults making less than $75,000 per year would receive a $1,200 direct payment, and eligible couples (filing jointly) making less than $150,000 per year would receive a $2,400 direct payment. There would also be $500 payments for each dependent, regardless of age, meaning parents would get extra for college students they support (which didn’t exist in the CARES Act).  The payments would phase out gradually as income goes up, disappearing completely at $99,000 for individuals and $198,000 for couples, with phase-outs extending higher for those with dependents. 

Over the weekend, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the second round of checks could go out as soon as next month, although the timing is obviously dependent on when a bill finally passes. 

Unemployment 

Republicans don’t want to extend the extra $600-per-week federal unemployment supplement from the CARES Act—a benefit that expires this week. Instead, they’re proposing cutting that payment to $200 per week until states are able to implement the GOP’s new formula—the federal supplement would be calculated individually to give workers no more than 70% of their previous wages, when state and federal payments are combined. (Some would get less than 70%, since the maximum federal check would be $500 a week.)

A memo from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies first reported by NPR suggested it could take between eight and 20 weeks for overwhelmed state unemployment offices, with their creaky computer systems, to transition to a scaled payment system. 

The Safeguarding America’s Frontline Employees To Offer Work Opportunities Required To Kickstart The Economy (SAFE TO WORK) Act

This bill, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), creates the liability protections for companies that McConnell has said are a “red line” item for Republicans. 

The SAFE TO WORK Act is a five-year “shield” for businesses, healthcare providers, and schools. Protections would be retroactive from December 1, 2019 and last through October 1, 2024. It would prevent businesses that follow certain guidelines from “being sued into oblivion while ensuring bad actors…will still be held accountable,” Cornyn said in a statement. 

Democrats have said that any relief spending should prioritize worker safety, not protecting employers and corporations.

Keeping American Workers Paid and Employed Act 

This bill, introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), would allow certain small businesses to take a second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loan. The bill would make the loan forgiveness process easier for small businesses that originally received less than $150,000. It would also create a $60 billion long term working capital loan program for the industries and businesses most affected by the pandemic. 

Read more about the PPP changes here.

Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Committee Proposal 

The plan, introduced by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies chair Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), is a grab bag of grants and new programs for a handful of different agencies, including the Department of Labor, the CDC, and the Department of Education. 

Most notably, it includes $105 billion for schools (including a large portion reserved for schools that physically reopen as President Trump has demanded), some $15 billion for childcare, $16 billion for testing, and more than $40 billion for vaccines and Covid-19 research—elements which appear in legislation elsewhere in this list.

Coronavirus Response Additional Supplemental Appropriations Act

Senate Appropriations chair Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) put forth a $306 billion proposal that would allocate federal money for agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Commerce. While it overlaps in part with the Labor/HHS proposal, it also includes $20 billion for farmers and ranchers and $30 billion for the military, including money to replace funds taken by President Trump to fund his border wall. 

Time to Rescue United States’ Trusts (TRUST) Act

This bill, introduced by Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in 2019, has been revamped and is suddenly in the spotlight again as part of the GOP stimulus plan. It would set up “Rescue Committees” to study the changes needed to make government trust funds for Social Security and Medicare actuarially solvent over 75 years. Critics say the bill is designed to fast track cuts to Social Security and Medicare by working on plans behind closed doors. Once the Social Security Trust fund is depleted (perhaps as early as 2029 as a result of the Covid recession), payroll tax revenues would only cover about 79% of benefits.

Safely Back to School and Back to Work Act 

Another bill from Senate health and education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), would provide some relief for the most strapped student loan borrowers but would not extend the student loan payment deferral which was included in the CARES Act and is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30th. Read more about that here. 

It would also provide scholarships for K-12 private school students, provide federal support for childcare providers, bulk up the national stockpile of medical supplies, and provide more money for diagnostic testing development and disease tracking. The extra $105 billion also appears in Sen. Alexander’s proposal.

The broad plan also includes the School Choice Act, below. 

School Choice Now Act

This legislation from Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is included under the umbrella of Sen. Alexander’s health and education proposals. It would provide emergency funding for scholarship organizations, create a new tax credit for contributions to scholarship-granting organizations and allow states to create their own tax credit scholarship programs. It would also shift oversight of education providers to states and away from the federal government.

Restoring Critical Supply Chains and Intellectual Property Act

This bill, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), aims to shift the production of personal protection equipment (PPE) like masks, gowns, and gloves and other critical medical supplies from China to the United States. It would also have the federal government bulk up its PPE stockpile, with the goal of reaching 100% domestic sourcing in five years, and establish a $7.5 billion tax credit to make sure the United States has enough manufacturing capacity to meet that goal. 

Supporting America’s Restaurant Workers Act

This bill, from Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) would increase the tax deduction for business meals from 50% to 100%.

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