House unveils $3 trillion virus bill including second round of stimulus checks, state aid


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a more than $3 trillion coronavirus aid package Tuesday, providing nearly $1 trillion for states and cities, “hazard pay” for essential workers, and a new round of cash payments to individuals.

The House is expected to vote on the package as soon as Friday, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said there is no “urgency.” The Senate will wait until after Memorial Day to act.

Lines drawn, the pandemic response from Congress will test the House and Senate —and President Donald Trump—as Washington navigates the crisis with the nation’s health and economic security at stake.

The “Heroes Act” from Democrats is built around nearly $1 trillion for states, cities, and tribal governments to avert layoffs, focused chiefly on $375 billion for smaller suburban and rural municipalities largely left out of earlier bills.

The new package extends some provisions from previous aid packages, and adds new ones. The bill offers:

  • Another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, increased to up to $6,000 per household
  • $175 billion housing assistance for rents and mortgages
  • $75 billion for virus testing
  • $600-per-week boost to unemployment benefits extended through January
  • 15% increase for food stamps
  • New help for paying employer-backed health coverage
  • An employee retention tax credit for businesses
  • $200 billion in “hazard pay” for essential workers the front lines of the crisis
  • $25 billion for the Postal Service
  • Help for the 2020 Census
  • $3.6 billion to help local officials prepare for the challenges of voting during the pandemic on November 4
  • $10 billion for the popular Payroll Protection Program to ensure under-served businesses and nonprofit organizations have access to grants through a disaster loan program
  • $100 billion for hospitals serving low-income communities
  • $600 million to tackle the virus in state and federal prisons
  • $600 million to local police departments for salaries and equipment

Trump has already signed into law nearly $3 trillion in aid approved by Congress.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the bill “will be ready” to call lawmakers back to Washington for the vote. But the 1,800-page package is heading straight into a Senate roadblock. Senate Republicans are not planning to vote on any new relief until June, after a Memorial Day recess.

McConnell on Tuesday called the emerging Democratic bill a “big laundry list of pet priorities.” He said it’s not something that “deals with reality.”

McConnell said he is working with the White House on next steps. His priority is to ensure any new package includes liability protections for health care providers and businesses that are reopening. Trump is expected to meet Tuesday with a group of Senate Republicans.

“I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” McConnell told reporters earlier this week at the Capitol.

As states weigh the health risks of reopening, McConnell said Tuesday the nation needs to “regroup and find a more sustainable middle ground between total lockdown and total normalcy.”

Top GOP senators flatly rejected the House bill. “What Nancy Pelosi is proposing will never pass the Senate,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third-ranking Republican.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, “I don’t think there’s a sense of urgency to do it now.” He noted that already-approved money still hasn’t “gone out the door.”

The Senate recently reopened its side of the Capitol, while the House remains largely shuttered due the the health concerns.

Senators have been in session since last week, voting on Trump’s nominees for judicial and executive branch positions and other issues. The Senate majority, the 53-member Senate Republican conference, is meeting for its regular luncheons most days, spread out three to a table for social distance. Democrats are convening by phone. Many senators, but not all, are wearing masks.

At least a dozen Capitol police officers and other staff have tested positive for the virus, and at least one senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is in isolation at home after exposure from a staff member who tested positive. Other lawmakers have cycled in and out of quarantine.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned that if Trump and congressional Republicans “slow walk” more aid they will be repeating President Herbert Hoover’s “tepid” response to the Great Depression.

Pelosi is dug in for a fight, believing the state governors and city mayors support the Democratic effort.

“To those who would suggest a pause, I would say the hunger doesn’t take a pause, the rent doesn’t take a pause,” Pelosi said late Monday on MSNBC. “We have a big need. It’s monumental.”

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