Congress Passes Fourth Coronavirus Response Bill

The Senate amended and passed H.R. 266, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act earlier this week by voice vote. The House took up the measure yesterday and passed it by a vote of 388 (yea) to 5 (nay) to 1 (present). Four Republicans (Biggs – AZ, Buck – CO, Hice – GA, and Massie – KY) and one Democrat (Ocasio-Cortez – NY) voted no. Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) voted present.

The $484B relief package amends the original Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide an additional $310B for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and an additional $10B for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Emergency Grants. The bill also makes agricultural enterprises with 500 or fewer employees eligible for EIDL grants. And it provides set asides of not less than $30B for insured depository institutions, credit unions, and community financial institutions with consolidated assets between $10B-$50B and not less than $30B for insured depository institutions, credit unions, and community financial institutions with consolidated assets less than $10B. To prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, the bill provided an additional $2.1B to the U.S. Small Business Administration for salaries and expenses to administer these programs.

The bill also provides the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) an additional $1T for its Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund. Seventy-five billion is health care providers for health care related expenses or lost revenues that are attributable to coronavirus, and $25B is for research, development, validation, manufacturing, purchase, administration, and expanding capacity for COVID–19 tests to effectively monitor and suppress COVID–19, including tests for both active infection and prior exposure. The HHS Inspector General will receive $6M of the bill’s funds for oversight.

President Trump will sign the measure in a noon ceremony in the Oval Office.

H.R. 266, Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act

What’s Next?

While H.R. 266 is the fourth bill passed by Congress to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Congressional leaders and the administration have described it as an interim step or a CARES Act 2.0 as they negotiate the next package that they are referring to as “phase four.”

Congressional leaders have acknowledged that they need to do more. President Trump said this week that a phase four stimulus would include funding for road projects and expanding broadband service. He also wants a payroll tax cut and tax breaks for restaurants, sports and entertainment interests. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wants to extend enhanced unemployment insurance benefits past their current July 31 expiration, and provide another round of tax rebate checks. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the next bill should include funds for state and local governments, hazard pay for front-line workers, food aid, election security and funds for the U.S. Postal Service. Governors across the country are requesting at least $500 billion for state aid in the next bill. And sixty members of the New Democrat coalition asked House leadership in a letter to include policies in the next coronavirus stimulus bill to help communities start to reopen. The group details proposals on testing, surveillance and contact tracing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), on the other hand, wants to wait and see how the first three stimulus bills work before adding additional debt. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pushed back on McConnell saying that with interest rates very low the cost of carrying the debt to the American taxpayer is quite low.

This next phase of economic stimulus likely will be the last before the 2020 elections. Congress isn’t scheduled to return to D.C. until May 4, but staff and members are negotiating and preparing a phase four in the meantime.