Republican “HEALS” Bill is Really the “HURTS Act”

Photo by Gage Skidmore

July 31, 2020 12:06 PM

Back in May, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, a comprehensive bill that would extend the emergency increase of $600/week in unemployment benefits through January 31, grant nearly $1 trillion dollars in emergency support for local and state governments, fund and expand programs to help working people during this crisis, and shore up the teetering U.S. economy.

For over two and a half months, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Republican-controlled Senate have refused to vote on - or even debate - the HEROES Act, and they have also exhibited no sense of urgency to propose their own bill. Meanwhile, the $600 supplemental unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, cases of the Coronavirus and the death rate are rising across the country, uncontrolled, and jobs simply have not returned. Today, many working families find themselves on the brink of financial disaster with little hope of returning to work soon.

On Monday, July 27th, McConnell finally released a Republican proposal: the “HEALS Act.” The inaptly named bill fails miserably to address the current crisis facing many Americans. If passed, it would drastically reduce unemployment benefits and do nothing to help states, counties, and towns to continue to provide critical public services.

$600 Lifeline Ends

As we all know, back on March 27th, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law. The bill was the result of fierce negotiations between the Democrats and Republicans in Congress. While the Republican Party pushed for a $500 billion fund to bailout big business and $170 billion in tax credits for real estate investors, Democrats insisted on providing direct relief to lower income Americans. The Democratic Party succeeded in this goal and the CARES Act included supplemental unemployment benefits of $600/week through the end of July.

The $600-a-week boost was a lifeline for over 30 million Americans whose jobs have not yet returned.

“The last few months have been stressful enough. I worry about my family’s health, my children’s education, and what is going to happen to my job,” said Brahim Hafid, a Houseman at the ROW Hotel. “The extra $600 a week has helped me keep a roof over my head, but unless the Republican Party shows some uncharacteristic decency, my family and I are going to face some very tough decisions.”

Republicans Propose Very Little Aid for Workers

The current version of the “HEALS” Act (the Republican bill) would, if passed, reduce the $600 supplementary unemployment benefits by $400/week to only $200/week through September. Then in October, individuals would receive a supplemental federal benefit that, combined with their state benefit would replace up to 70% of their wages with a cap of $500 per week from the federal government. The bill also gives the President the unfettered power to deny subsidies to states that either cannot afford their share of the wage replacement or are unable to administer this much more complicated formula for computing individual claimants’ benefits. As our members know well, even using the established and simpler method of calculating benefits, New York and New Jersey have had a very difficult time processing the unprecedented volume of unemployment claims this disaster has triggered, causing many painful delays. It would be reasonable to believe these likely obstacles have been planted in the Republican plan precisely for the purpose of dramatically reducing, slowing and blocking the payment of unemployment benefits to workers.

In writing this article, we found it very difficult to find a clear description of the HEALS Act provisions that did not leave many basic questions unanswered. However the most precise description we were able to find was on the CNBC website.

The bill also includes a second round of one-time $1,200 stimulus checks.

Republicans Fight Over Providing Any Money to Workers

Many members of the Republican Party have come out against providing any additional financial relief to American workers. In fact, it was only under intense political pressure that Senate Republicans coughed up the current proposal to pay $200/week in extra benefits. They originally floated the idea of providing only $100/week. The Republicans justification for their insistence on cutting back on unemployment benefits is the fear that workers are refusing to go back to work because benefits are too generous.

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), a leader in the Republican Party, told Fox News “half of the Republicans are going to vote ‘no’ on any more aid. That’s just a fact.”

“The idea that providing adequate, livable unemployment benefits discourages workers from returning to work is insulting. I can attest that the majority of our members want to return to their hotels. They take pride in supporting themselves and their families. They don’t need to be starved in order to be motivated” said HTC President Peter Ward.

Nothing for Critical Public Services

The “HEALS" Act fails to include any additional money for state or local governments. This aid is needed to pay for critical public programs like firemen, EMS, public hospitals, food stamps or providing government healthcare to the growing numbers of uninsured Americans. Many thousands of vitally needed public employees will be laid off precisely when we most need them.

Protections for Big Business

Tucked into the “HEALS” Act are additional protections and funding for businesses. The bill provides liability protections for businesses that face lawsuits due to Coronavirus exposure, more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, and funds to renovate the FBI headquarters.

Bringing the Fight to the Ballot Box

Democratic leaders have committed to fight hard to get more relief for working-class Americans. The threat that millions of angry voters will seek revenge at the voting booth in November may help Democrats bargain for a reasonable relief package.

Every Union member that is able to should register to vote in the November election. The deadline in New York is October 9 and in New Jersey is October 13.

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Robert Casey (D-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Christopher Murphy (D-CT) have all committed to fight for the HEROES Act and adequate emergency relief for American workers.

Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA) opposes the HEROES Act. If you are a Pennsylvania resident, we encourage you to contact Senator Toomey at (202) 224-4254 or visit www.toomey.senate.gov and demand that he do the right thing by his constituents.