COVID-19 Relief Negotiations Start Back Up: “People’s Lives Depend on It”

Updated Oct. 2 at 12:15 p.m. PT

House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion relief bill—signaling their pessimism over reaching a deal with top Republicans on a bipartisan measure.

On Monday, Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats unveiled a revised coronavirus stimulus package proposal—an updated version of the $3.4 trillion version they passed in May.

“Democrats are making good on our promise to compromise with this updated bill, which is necessary to address the immediate health and economic crisis facing America’s working families right now,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Democrats. “We have been able to make critical additions and reduce the cost of the bill by shortening the time covered for now.”

Soon after, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin began to engage in talks. The resumed negotiations are welcome, as similar talks have repeatedly broken down throughout the past months.

But will the negotiations work? 

“If no agreement seems likely—and it hasn’t been despite months of on-and-off negotiations—Pelosi and House Democratic leaders will hold a vote on their own $2.2 trillion bill as soon as Wednesday and then go home, guaranteeing that Congress won’t send more help until after Election Day,” wrote Sarah Ferris, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan in Politico.

What’s In The $2.2 Trillion Updated HEROES Act?

Specifically, the House Democrats’ new proposal includes:

  • $1,200 stimulus checks: The bill would grant $1,200 for taxpayers that qualify, and $500 per dependent.
  • $600 extra federal unemployment benefit: The updated HEROES Act would reinstate the $600 federal unemployment supplement until the end of January 2021 (this provision ended in July)—“providing a vital safety net for the record number of Americans who are unemployed, including those connected to the gig-economy,” according to the one-pager released by House Democrats.
  • Small business support: The new bill extends the Paycheck Protection Program.
  • Local aid: The package includes a whopping $436 billion in aid to states and cities to help alleviate financial shortfalls linked to COVID-19. (Democrats’ initial offer budgeted $900 billion.) This will be a hard sell for Republicans, who have been opposed to additional city and state aid.
  • Financial support for airline industry: The new bill includes extra funding to keep airline industry workers paid. (The Payroll Support Program, which had provided funding for the airline industry, was set to expire on September 30.)
  • Education and child care: The updated bill includes $225 billion for education and $57 billion to support child care.

Additionally, the proposal includes funding for election security, the U.S. Postal Service, worker safety, food security, along with coronavirus testing, tracing and treatment.

“People’s Lives Depend on It”

It’s long past the time for Congress and the administration to come together and pass a COVID-19 and recession relief bill that rises to the seriousness of the crisis we’re in. Millions of people are out of work through no fault of their own. People’s lives depend on it.

COVID-19 Relief Negotiations Start Back Up: "People's Lives Depend on It"
A pizza shop in Brooklyn in April. (spurekar / Flickr)

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The HEROES Act would mandate that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration finally issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect all workers from COVID-19 and would provide much needed and long overdue support to unemployed workers and their families.

First and foremost, this bill would restore the $600 per week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program through January 31, 2021 (retroactively from September 6th). This $600 in supplemental aid is a critical lifeline, particularly for recipients in states where unemployment compensation is capped at sub-poverty-levels.

These are also the states with the highest numbers of Black, Latinx and Indigenous workers. Restoring the weekly $600 compensation through January 31 is a stop-gap measure until policymakers and their constituents can implement longer-term solutions that address the systematic divestment of unemployment insurance programs in states with the highest numbers of people of color.

Other important provisions include allowing states to waive overpayments of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in cases of equity and good conscience; providing relief for ‘mixed-income’ earners who qualify for only small unemployment benefits because most of their income does not qualify them for unemployment; and clarifying that caregivers are eligible for PUA even when a school or daycare closure is partial.

Finally, the bill would provide states with the resources they need to meet this unprecedented challenge-for example, by extending funding of waiting weeks and interest-free loans for state unemployment trust funds.

Make no mistake: This unemployment package is not perfect. Congress will still need to expand and extend the benefits available to people out of work well into next year and perhaps beyond. Congress should also do more to make abundantly clear in federal law that no worker has to return to an unsafe workplace or risk losing their benefits.

And most important of all, Congress must extend unemployment benefits to all workers, regardless of their immigration status.

Finally, this crisis has shown in the starkest terms how desperately the entire unemployment compensation program needs systematic reform, centered on the Black and immigrant workers who are most often shut out of the system altogether due to decades of intentionally exclusionary policies that hinder us from equal access to labor rights and social programs. Congress must prioritize these much-needed reforms.

But right now, Congressional leaders and the administration must get back to negotiations and pass a robust relief bill without delay.

About and

Rebecca Dixon is the executive director of the National Employment Law Project.
Roxanne Szal (or Roxy) is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.