Yesterday in Washington, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a new COVID Relief bill. The product of negotiations within the Senate Republican caucus, and between it and the White House, the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act largely looks to leave our Nation’s state and local governments to fend for themselves, despite mounting revenue losses and increased expenses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill would make changes to the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), which was established in the March CARES Act, allowing local recipients of CRF resources to use their allocations to cover revenue losses. States would be able to use CRF funds to close revenue gaps only if, and after, they reallocate at least 25 percent of their total awards to counties and municipalities.
The HEALS bill would provide businesses, hospitals, schools, and universities with strong protections against liability lawsuits for damages related to the virus. Injured employees, customers, patients, and students would need to assert both gross negligence and violation of state and local public health guidelines to proceed in court; and Federal Courts would have exclusive jurisdiction on COVID-19 cases.
The bill also includes $105 billion in education aid, $70 billion of which would be dedicated to K-12 schools. Two-thirds of that $70 billion would be directed to schools meeting the ‘minimum opening requirements’ for in-person instruction.
The bill looks to address public health needs by spending $16 billion on testing, sending another $16 billion to the National Institutes of Health, and extending an additional $3 billion to the Centers for Disease Control. It also includes funding for another round of direct stimulus checks, increased funding for small business support, and a complicated plan of reduced Federal support for the unemployed.
Negotiations with Senate Democrats and with U.S. House Leadership are now possible.
As a reminder, back in May, the House passed the HEROES Act, which includes close to $1 trillion in support for State and local governments. Every New Jersey municipality would qualify for HEROES Act help.
We will keep you posted, as negotiations develop. In the meantime, please contact Senators Menendez and Booker and your Representative in the House. Thank them for their past support, and impress upon them the absolute need for direct local aid in, what will likely be, Congress’ last COVID relief bill, before the November elections.