It’s hard to imagine that just six months ago, life in the United States looked completely different than it does today. People were gathering in groups of more than ten , Lysol and hand sanitizer were still in stock, and a mask wasn’t the first thing you grabbed for a day outside. Instead of the watching track and field events during the summer Olympics, we are anxiously watching the race for a vaccine to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. COVID-19 has completely altered the average American life both socially and economically. Outside of the devastating health crisis, the American government faced an even bigger threat to the economy and its future. Families, small businesses, airline and hotel industries, colleges and entrepreneurs have suffered severely. In just three short months, 20.5 million people were out of work, higher than that of the Great Recession of 2008.
In March, legislators passed a two trillion-dollar stimulus bill called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act also known as the CARES Act. The purpose of this bill was to cushion the blow of an impending recession. The bill provided three hundred sixty-seven billion dollars for small business loans and grant programs. It expanded unemployment to independent workers and increased benefits for all workers by six hundred dollars per week. In addition to that, families also received payments of $1,200 and an additional $500 per child based on their income taxes. Hospitals were allocated $130 billion, while the airline industry received $32 billion in payroll support. The bill also provided $150 billion to state and local governments. Though seemingly very helpful, the big question regarding the CARES Act was whether or not it would be enough to save the American economy from total ruin. It is projected that the United States will lose over 24% of its total gross domestic product by the end of the year. Furthermore, the situation regarding the novel coronavirus is still very fluid and is unpredictable. Towards the beginning of the outbreak while mask mandates were still in place, infection curves seemed to be flattening, however, the gradual reopening of states caused infection and death rates to skyrocket. Scientists still a very far from developing a vaccine that is approved and ready for widespread use. COVID-19 is expected to return for a second wave later this year before the first one is even over. Citizens and businesses required another stimulus package just as large as the CARES Act to keep the economy afloat.
Since June of this year, Democrats in the House of Representatives have been working on a new stimulus package called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act. The HEROES Act was a very ambitious three trillion-dollar stimulus plan that intended to increase the Economic Impact Payments by 200 percent. Almost completely shut down by both House and Senate Republicans, the HEROES Act remains as unfulfilled legislation. Just two weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced a newer, cheaper Republican-approved stimulus proposal called the HEALS Act or The Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools.
The HEALS Act contains similar benefits to that of the CARES Act. Citizens would continue to receive the one-time payments of $1,200, but the federal unemployment insurance checks would decrease from $600 per week to $200 per week. The proposed HEALS Act will also continue the Payroll Protection to support businesses and preserve jobs. In addition to paycheck protection, the HEALS enhances some of the tax credits offered by the CARES and includes some new offers. The employee retention tax credit incentivizes companies to retain employees despite difficult economic conditions that have resulted from the coronavirus outbreak. The work opportunity tax credit benefits employers who hire individuals from certain groups that are considered to face barriers to employment. The safe and healthy workplace tax credit aids business owners in paying for safety-related needs to keep customers and workers protected from COVID-19.The HEALS Act provides a significant amount of funding for procurement opportunities, including some that are non-coronavirus related. TheHEALS Act plans to appropriate $20 billion to support farmers and related businesses and that “$16 billion will be allocated for direct payments to producers and $3 billion will be provided for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase agricultural products. On top of that, the USDA has $873.3 million at its disposal to purchase agricultural products for food banks. As a part of HEALS Act, the Department of Defense also has a slew of procurement opportunities totaling to 18 billion dollars. Some of the opportunities include medical ship maintenance, vehicle upgrades, aircraft procurement, missile procurement, and sonar buoys.
The HEALS Act is still under construction and is yet to be approved by either chamber in Congress. The biggest barrier to this legislation along with the House Democrats’ HEROES Act is partisanship. Without compromise, neither party has the votes to get their stimulus package through Congress, let alone signed by the President of the United States. It is projected that a decision will be reached by Speaker or the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this Friday, August 7.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Leigh-Ann Davis is a student at The University of Georgia majoring in International Affairs and Political Science, graduating in May of 2021. Within her university community, she serves as a member of the Arch Society, University Judiciary and a Campus Tour Leader at the UGA Visitor’s Center. Jessica has worked with the Georgia Public Defender Council, the Partnership Against Domestic Violence, and the Women’s Public Leadership Network. She is from Riverdale, Georgia and her interests include criminal justice reform, international diplomacy, and environmental policy reform.