The HEROES Act: Policy Overview and Political Prospects for the Latest COVID-19 Relief Bill
On May 12, U.S. House Democrats introduced a massive, $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, and are expected to pass it as soon as this week. This legislation marks the beginning of negotiations on what is expected to be the fifth legislative action to address the COVID-19 crisis in Washington.
The more than 1,800-page bill surpasses the landmark Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law in late March, in every way except bipartisan support. The HEROES Act is comprehensive, including funds and policies to support state and local governments, Medicaid programs, small businesses, unemployment insurance, food security, the postal service and 2020 elections.
The new legislation is expected to be quickly advanced by Speaker Pelosi with a floor votes as early as this Friday. Despite the anticipated swift passage in the House, the HEROES Act is meeting strong resistance among Republican leaders in the United States Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remarked earlier this week that Congress should pause before moving to another law, though a number of members of the Senate Republican caucus have been weighing in with requests of their own. While not likely to become law in its current form, the HEROES Act lays down a marker for Democrats’ priorities as negotiations with the Senate and the Trump Administration commence.
HEROES Act: Opening the Economy, Honoring Heroes and Sending Money to Americans
Speaker Pelosi characterized the HEROES Act as a measure standing on three pillars: opening our economy safely and soon; honoring our heroes; and, then, putting much-needed money into the pockets of the American people. The below summary includes policy highlights of the new legislation but is not comprehensive of every section of bill.
State and Local Support
- $1 trillion to state, local, territorial and tribal government for fiscal relief.
- $100.15 billion in education funding for states, school districts, and institutions of higher education.
- $15 billion for highways.
- $15.75 billion for transit agency relief.
- $3.6 billion in grants to states for elections.
- $2 billion in CDC funds for state, local, territorial and tribal public health departments.
- Repeal the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions.
- $100 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to provide additional relief to hospitals and health care providers.
- 14% increase in Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) payments to state Medicaid programs.
- $75 billion to support testing and contact tracing activities to monitor and suppress the virus.
- Special enrollment period for uninsured Americans to seek health insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges as well as a new special enrollment period for Medicare.
- $7.6 billion for Health Centers through the Health Resources and Services Administration.
- $4.7 billion for COVID-19 research at the National Institutes of Health.
- $2.1 billion for the Indian Health Service.
- $4.5 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for therapeutics and vaccines, manufacturing facilities, and innovation in antibacterial research.
- Eliminates cost sharing for Medicaid beneficiaries and the uninsured for COVID-19 treatment.
- Additional funding to combat COVID-19 fraud.
Worker Protections and Support to Individuals
- $200 billion “Heroes’ fund” to provide hazard pay to workers deemed essential during the pandemic.
- Second round of $1,200 stimulus checks to certain Americans, up to $6,000 per household.
- Extends additional $600 per week for unemployment insurance through January 31, 2021.
- Expands the CARES Act’s employee retention tax credit, increasing the credit from 50% to 80% of qualified wages and increasing the employee wage limit from $10,000 per year to $15,000 per quarter.
- Requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to require all workplaces to implement infection control plans.
- $3.1 billion for workforce training at the Department of Labor.
- $175 billion in housing assistance, including $100 billion in emergency assistance for low-income renters.
- $10 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as well as a 15% increase to the maximum SNAP benefit.
- Up to $10,000 in student loan forgiveness.
- Expands the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to include all nonprofits; provides another $659 billion for the PPP as well as an additional $10 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program at the SBA.
Other Government Support
- $25 billion to shore up the United States Postal Service.
- $410 million for the Census Bureau.
How We Got Here
While technically the fifth major legislative measure to be considered in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the HEROES Act has been labeled “COVID 4.0” in Washington. That is because the most recently passed legislation to provide additional funds to small businesses and health care providers was deemed “CARES 2.0.” To date, Congress has passed, and the President has signed into law, four COVID relief packages.
The first bill was the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which was signed into law on March 6. The legislation, as we detailed in a March 5 alert, focused primarily on public health funding, including sending funds to states for COVID-19 response, and included $8.3 billion in funding.
The second law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, was signed into law March 18, and changed Congress’s focus from public health response to aid to employees and families. The legislation, as we detailed in a March 16 alert and a March 18 follow-up, included major paid leave mandates, food aid and support to states’ unemployment insurance programs.
On March 27, the historic CARES Act was signed into law. With a total price tag of $2.2 trillion, CARES directs financial aid and regulatory relief to health care providers, businesses and individuals. (We assessed the major CARES Act provisions in a March 26 alert and continue to track CARES Act developments and implications for stakeholders throughout the economy.)
When the popular PPP ran out of funding, Congress passed the fourth legislative vehicle. Also known as “CARES 2.0,” the $484 billion Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, which we discussed in an April 28 alert, expanded the small business loan programs and increased funding to health care providers through the Department of Health and Human Services’ provider relief fund.
Now that the House Democrats have laid down a marker, Senate Republicans may respond in the coming weeks. Given Leader McConnell’s recent hesitation with moving quickly, a counterproposal is not likely soon. However, as negotiations continue, the Senate Republicans may respond with legislation that provides additional support to distressed industries, considers liability protections to health care providers and businesses, and supports job growth. Under any scenario, it is very likely that Congress will remain deeply engaged in policy and funding support to confront the pandemic and resuscitate the economy.