Bipartisan Congressional Group Releases New COVID-19 Relief Proposal

By Katherine Goelz 

On September 15, the Problem Solvers Caucus (PSC) revealed a new $1.52 trillion “Bipartisan COVID Relief Framework” in an attempt to break the stalemate between House Democrats and Senate Republicans regarding additional coronavirus relief. PSC, which consists of 25 Republican and 25 Democratic House Representatives, is led by Congressmen Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Tom Reed, a Republican from New York. The proposal is named “March to Common Ground,” and according to the PSC, its main objective in delivering this proposal “is to inspire negotiators to return to the table.” 

March to Common Ground attempts to reach a compromise on several issues that have deadlocked negotiations between the House and Senate. A major example is a proposed $500 billion in aid for state and local governments, compared to the nearly $1 trillion allocated by the unsuccessful Heroes Act and the $150 billion in the HEALS Act. PSC’s framework would provide $450 per week in unemployment assistance for eight weeks, which would increase to an amount of up to $600 per week or 100% of the individual’s previous weekly wages, whichever is lower. This is a compromise between the $600 per week proposed by the House and the initial $200 weekly payments suggested by the Senate. 

A second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans will also be available under the framework, with $145 billion remaining from the original PPP to be reappropriated and another $95 billion in new funds to be added to the program, for a total of $240 billion. “Distressed businesses” will be given priority to receive loans. In contrast, the HEALS Act provided an additional $190 billion to the PPP and the Heroes Act did not allocate new funds to the PPP. 

Certain key aspects of the HEALS and Heroes Acts were also included in the March to Common Ground proposal. Liability protections for businesses, a Republican goal in the HEALS Act, are covered under the PSC’s framework of “protections for entities which follow enhanced OSHA guidelines.” Additional funding of $1 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and $10 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are also included in the proposal. This represents a 15% increase in maximum WIC benefits through March 2021 and a 15% increase in maximum SNAP benefits through July 2021. The Heroes Act also proposed a 15% increase to the maximum SNAP benefit.  

The framework allocates $25 billion for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, the same amount proposed in the HEALS Act. The Heroes Act had earmarked $75 billion. Finally, PSC’s framework would provide a second round of direct stimulus payments of $1,200 per individual, with an additional $500 distributed for each dependent. The direct payment amount of $1,200 is the same figure under both the HEALS and Heroes Acts. The HEALS Act also provides $500 for each dependent. However, under The Heroes Act, an additional $1,200 is provided for each dependent, up to a maximum of three dependents.  

After the failure of the Senate’s “slimmed-down” stimulus bill to reach a 2/3 majority vote on September 8th, it had appeared that negotiations on a second stimulus package were unlikely to restart until after the November 3rd election. But perhaps a bipartisan compromise, which appears to have been reached, or at least attempted, under the March to Common Ground framework, may finally succeed in bringing both parties back to the negotiating table. 

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