Will There Be More Coronavirus Stimulus Checks?
Members of Congress are already talking about the next relief package. What should be in it?
By Spencer Bokat-Lindell Mr. Bokat-Lindell is a writer in the Opinion section. April 16, 2020
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The $2 trillion (and potentially $6 trillion) relief package that Congress passed at the end of March was the largest in American history, and it also wasn’t enough. Mere days after President Trump signed that bill into law, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was already talking about the need for a “Phase 4” bill to help stanch the economic bleeding that the coronavirus continues to cause.
Congress isn’t expected to return to the Capitol until May 4 at the earliest, but the debate over what the next relief package should look like is already heating up. Here are some of the issues expected to be at stake.
A second (or third, or fourth) check?
As part of the last relief package, every adult with a Social Security number making less than $99,000 per year was promised a one-time direct cash payment of up to $1,200. But many lawmakers feel a single check is not enough:
- A coalition of 62 Congress members — including Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — have urgedSenate and House leaders to make the payments monthly.
- Pelosi supportsthe idea of at least some additional payments, and President Trump has said that if another round of stimulus is needed, he would “absolutely” consider the idea.
The Republican Senator Josh Hawley, however, has proposed a different policy: Make the federal government cover 80 percent of wages for workers at any U.S. business, up to the national median wage, until the crisis ends. Many European countries have opted to preserve jobs in this way, which The Times’s editorial board has argued is far superior to the American solution of expanding unemployment benefits.
Senate Democrats have also proposed a “heroes fund” to provide a $25,000 pay increase to essential workers, including health care providers, grocery clerks and delivery drivers, along with a one-time $15,000 bonus to recruit new essential workers.
A longer lifeline for small businesses, states and hospitals
The last relief bill included $349 billion in loans for small businesses to stay afloat. But The Times’s editorial board, among others, criticized the program for providing less than a third of what some experts estimate is needed to stave off layoffs and bankruptcies. And sure enough, the program is already out of money.
Democrats blocked the effort, however, and Speaker Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, responded with their own proposal that would double the size of Mr. McConnell’s:
- They, too, called for an additional $250 billion in small-business loans, but with stricter conditions on how and to which businesses they would be granted.
- They also proposed $100 billion to provide hospitals with testing and personal protective equipment, $150 billion for state and local governments, and a 15 percent increase to the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit (also known as food stamps.)
But Mr. McConnell returned the favor of blocking that proposal, which means small businesses, hospitals, local governments and SNAP recipients will have to wait until lawmakers can negotiate in person. That may be just as well for Governors Andrew Cuomo and Larry Hogan, who say states and territories need at least $500 billion in federal aid, not $150 billion.
Fixing the health insurance mess
In the United States, roughly half the population relies on employers for health insurance. As the fraught saying goes, “If you like your employer-based plan, you can keep it.” But if a pandemic costs you your job, the only thing you keep is the pandemic.
With millions of Americans now losing their coverage, Ella Nilsen reports at Vox that Democrats have introduced a plan to increase subsidies for COBRA, a program that allows laid-off employees to continue buying into their plans. As Ms. Nilsen explains, COBRA is prohibitively expensive, “but if more people are able to access it with these extra subsidies, it could possibly help fill a large gap in insurance coverage.”
The benefit of this plan is that it allows for relatively seamless continuity of coverage, and “getting unemployed workers onto COBRA can happen very quickly,” Larry Levitt, the senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Ms. Nilsen.
But as the health care policy analyst James Medlock points out, COBRA subsidies are also an expensive solution, since they effectively function as a transfer of public money to for-profit insurers. And, as the writer Molly Crabapple notes, if you didn’t have employer-sponsored insurance before the pandemic, COBRA won’t help you.
Another way to prevent the number of uninsured from skyrocketing is to expand Medicaid, as Senator Doug Jones has proposed. Others have called for lowering the eligibility age of Medicare to 0 (effectively enacting a version of Medicare for all).
This isn’t good enough.
Millions of American’s don’t qualify for COBRA, especially low-income communities and people of color. Lower the Medicare age to 0 for at least the duration of COVID crisis. We need to help people, not for-profit health insurers.https://www.vox.com/2020/4/14/21219461/democrats-new-plan-keep-laid-off-workers-insured …
Safeguarding the right to vote
Democratic leaders want to make mail-in voting a priority in the next coronavirus relief bill, as Tara Golshan reports for HuffPost, but they’ll need another $1.6 billion to fund Senators Amy Klobuchar’s and Ron Wyden’s plan to guarantee every American a secure mail-in paper ballot. “We must reform our election systems, so that sheltering in place can also mean voting in place,” Ms. Klobuchar wrote in an Op-Ed for The Times. “And we must do it now, while we still have the time to preserve everyone’s ability to vote in November.”
But Republicans, including the president, staunchly oppose the idea, falsely claiming that the practice is prone to widespread fraud and would advantage Democrats. “You want to hold up the bill because you want to change election law for November, because you think that gives you some political benefit?” Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, told reporters last week. “That’s disgusting to me.”
“We have a different value system about what voting means to a democracy. And clearly, we want to remove all obstacles to participation,” Ms. Pelosi responded.
Getting good data
Black and Hispanic Americans appear to be dying of Covid-19 at rates far higher than white Americans, as The Times’s editorial board writes. In Michigan, for example, black residents make up just 14 percent of the population but over 40 percent of Covid-19 deaths. But while data about the age and gender of patients is being gathered, there is no consistent racial and ethnic information across the states, according to The Washington Post’s Eugene Scott.
[Related: A thread from The Times’s Nikole Hannah-Jones on Covid-19’s racial disparities]
To better protect vulnerable populations, and by extension the entire country, against the virus, several Congress members, including Representative Ayanna Pressley and Senator Elizabeth Warren, have drafted a bill requiring the collection and reporting of race-specific data to be included in the next relief package.
It couldn’t be clearer that public data & urgent action will help us deploy resources and save lives. Our Black and brown communities face a crisis within a crisis. @RepRobinKelly @ewarren @BLeeForCongress @KarenBassTweets & I have a new bill to address ithttps://www.theroot.com/congress-must-mandate-release-of-coronavirus-demographi-1842860786 …
What about the virus?
“The first rule of virus economics is that you gotta stop the virus before you can do anything about the economics,” Austan Goolsbee, an economist at the University of Chicago, told Politico. “If we’re spending trillions, I don’t understand why we’re not throwing hundreds of billions at the things we need to stop the spread.”
More than 800 economists from both parties have signed a letter urging Congress to focus on ending the pandemic, according to Politico, but what measures Congress might take to that end, beyond Ms. Pelosi’s and Mr. Schumer’s proposal, remains to be seen. Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, has reportedly called for “a South Korea-style approach” to public health along with “a World War II-style approach” to manufacture tests, masks and other equipment.
“Any dollar we spend today on defeating the virus will save thousands of dollars in spending later,” Mr. Raskin said. “We’ll never restore the economy until we stop the spread.”