Too little, too late: A breakdown of the HEALS Act

Image: Vice

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On Monday, Senate Republicans released the details of the HEALS Act, their version of a  fourth coronavirus relief package – a version that offers too little, too late. The bill is a pathetic and morally bankrupt response to the numerous crises currently plaguing Americans.

Below, we go over what’s in the bill, including exclusions that are desperately needed in the next recovery package, and where it fails to adequately address the needs of vulnerable Americans.

What’s missing:

  • Eviction moratoriums & renter protections: On July 25th, federal eviction protections expired. Many state level eviction moratoriums have already timed out, while a confusing patchwork of state, county, and city level moratoriums keep millions of American in a precarious position for the next couple months absent federal bans. The Senate’s plan offers zero protections for those facing the horrifying situation of possibly losing their homes. It’s estimated that 40% of all renter households are at risk of eviction – that’s nearly 40 million people who could become homeless within the next year. In the middle of a pandemic, that’s not just cruel, it’s public health malpractice.
  • Not enough UI money: This bill slashes unemployment assistance from $600 dollars a week to a dismal $200 dollars a week, as well as excluding some self employed and gig workers who had previously qualified for benefits. Thirty million people still rely on that bonus assistance to pay their rent, bills, and keep food on the table, and with only 1 job available for every 4 unemployed workers, there are few available options for additional income. We are hardly near the end of this economic and health crisis and pulling the rug out from underneath vulnerable Americans would significantly prolong our recovery.
  • No funding for states and localities: The economic slump has left states and cities across the nation facing one the largest revenue shortfalls in recent history. To make up for the loss, localities are expected to cut many public services like housing, transit, safety, and sanitation. Without additional aid, thousands who rely on these essential services will be left with ineffective, hollowed out public agencies that will both hamper recovery and drag on the crisis for years to come.
  • No election security funding: States are facing the massive hurdle of rapidly shifting toward mail-in voting, socially distanced polling stations, early voting, and a litany of other measures that will reduce the likelihood of voting centers becoming superspreader locations. However, this does not come cheap. This bill offers zero towards election security, forcing Americans into the impossible choice of either giving up their health and safety, or giving up their vote.  
  • No hazard pay: The crisis is still here, and frontline workers need the money they’ve earned for working during this crisis more than ever. In this bill, Republicans offered zero dollars in additional aid for the essential workers that keep our economy and healthcare system running. Like usual, Republicans decided to protect business interests rather than the workers who are putting their lives on the line for an abysmally low wage.
  • No repeal of the Grassley Giveaway: In a previous coronavirus aid package, Republicans hid a $160 billion dollar tax cut for 43,000 of the wealthiest Americans within the bill. This tax cut did nothing to help the efforts against COVID and amounted to a larger payout than most hospitals or state governments received. 
  • No expansion for the CTC and EITC: These working family-friendly tax credits were created as part of the CARES Act in order to provide relief for the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Rather than expand these crucial tax credits and protect at-risk communities, Republicans decided to forgo any relief for them – they’ve proved time and again that they only provide tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. 

What IS included: 

  • Business meal deductions: This provision allows individuals to deduct 100% of the cost of food and drink (up from the current 50%) ordered at restaurants for business purposes. While Larry Kudlow, chief White House economic advisor, claims that this deduction will bring increased business to small restaurants, what it really does is give him and his buddies free meals on the taxpayer’s dime. 
  • New FBI Headquarters: Added on behalf of the Trump administration, this $1.75 billion dollar proposal would fund a brand new FBI headquarters just blocks from Trump’s DC hotel. Trump initially derailed the agency’s plans to relocate their headquarters to the DC suburbs in 2016, when officials at his company realized a competing hotel was vying to build at the prime downtown location. It should come as no surprise that President Trump is blatantly promoting this self-enriching proposal during the midst of the worst economic downturn in a decade which is a new low, even for Trump.
  • Liability Protection: Under HEALS, a five year ‘Liability Shield’ will protect businesses, schools, non-profits, and medical facilities from coronavirus-related lawsuits. This leaves workers with no opportunity to seek compensation if they catch coronavirus at work because their employer refused to provide adequate PPE or maintain social distancing. All this does is prioritize corporate interests over worker safety.
  • Military Funding: HEALS allocates nearly $30 billion dollars towards military and defense. Defense contractors and top Republican donors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, are poised to walk away with a score of new military contracts. Mitch McConnell will gladly hand over $686 million dollars to build a couple  F-35 fighter jets for our already massive arsenal, but refuses to lift a finger to help Americans struggling to pay rent. 
  • Private School Funding: $105 billion dollars are allocated towards private and public schools under the HEALS act, but the majority of the funding is only available to the schools that chose to open their doors in the fall. Trying to force in-person instead of setting up and funding a system of remote learning, will increase the risk of exposure to our children, faculty, staff, and parents. 

The bottom line is that Republicans had over 10 weeks to craft a bill that would adequately address the economic downturn and give working Americans much-needed relief. Instead, they doubled down on their longstanding agenda of enriching corporate America at the expense of workers and the economy. Their ‘I-got-mine’ approach to politics is despicable during good times, but to continue this cavalier attitude during a global pandemic is outright flagitious.

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