Senate Leadership Unveils New Covid Relief Package, Ignores the Postal Service
July 30, 2020
Two and a half months after the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or “HEROES” Act (H.R. 6800), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week finally announced an outline of the Senate GOP’s response.
A $1 trillion relief package called the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act (HEALS Act) was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The bill includes a second stimulus payment of up to $1,200 per adult for singles making up to $75,000 and married couples making up to $150,000 with an additional $500 per dependent. With regards to unemployment benefits, the $600 flat weekly payment would be cut by two-thirds to $200 per week through September, at which point benefits would be re-calculated to cover no more than 70 percent of actual lost wages, not to exceed $500 per week.
Under the Republicans’ new plan, businesses are the central focus. Instead of workplace safety protections, the Senate plan goes out of its way to shield businesses with lawsuit liability protections during the pandemic while leaving workers without an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for the Covid-19 virus. Businesses would also be provided increased tax credits to hire and keep workers. That tax credit would increase from 50 percent of wages to 65 percent. Businesses would also be provided a payroll tax credit of 50 percent to cover workers virus protection costs (i.e., testing, PPE and workplace accommodations). An additional $190 billion would be made available to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) created by the CARES Act earlier this year, directing the funds to businesses with under 300 employees that have lost at least 50 percent of their revenue, allowing a second loan to such firms in order to keep workers on their payrolls. Businesses that operate through the pandemic would also be extended liability protections against Covid-19 medical claims through October 1, 2024.
The HEALS Act also seeks to provide $306 billion in emergency appropriations to agencies for pandemic related work. This includes $118 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services for research, testing and other needs; $105 billion to the Department of Education for reopening efforts of schools; nearly $30 billion for the military, including $8 billion for the defense industries; $20 billion for the Department of Agriculture (for farmers and ranchers), and over $3 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide rental assistance. The proposal also creates “rescue committees” to develop plans and recommendations for Congress, focusing on Social Security, Medicare and other Trust Funds.
Noticeably absent from the HEALS Act is any mention of the Postal Service -- in stark contrast with the House-passed HEROES Act (H.R. 6800), which provides $25 billion to the Postal Service for pandemic relief, authorizes hazard pay for postal employees and other front-line workers, and blocks the Treasury Department from imposing policy conditions on the $10 billion loan to the Postal Service approved in the CARES Act.
These postal omissions from the HEALS Act is surprising given the bipartisan support in the Senate for the “Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act” (S. 4174), includes the $25 billion in funding and the loan provisions of the HEROES Act. It now has now attracted 15 co-sponsors, seven Republicans, Seven Democrats and one Independent.
The loan conditions mandated by the HEROES Act (based on prior debt agreements between the USPS and Treasury) are far more favorable than those made public this week by the Postal Service and Treasury, which also requires the Postal Service’s to give Treasury access to its top 10 competitive and market-dominant negotiated service agreements (NSAs).
The disclosure of CARES Act loan terms comes on the heels of the Postal Service announcing operational initiatives that have raised alarms around the country about slowing the mail delivery and other service disruptions.
“While we are disappointed that Senate Republican leadership did not include relief to the Postal Service in their bill, we continue to work with supporters on both sides of the aisle to ensure that USPS has the necessary funding to maintain vital services and provide hazard pay to frontline postal employees.” said NALC President Fredric Rolando. “Every American and American business that has been relying upon it during the current crisis deserves nothing less. Congress must act now to ensure services continue without interruption to communities and businesses across America.”
The HEALS Act has been met with criticism from Republicans in the House and Senate, some calling it inadequate and others calling it too expensive. Meanwhile, Democrats in the House and Senate are united behind the $3 trillion House-passed HEROES Act, which would, in addition to its postal provisions: maintain the $600 per week pandemic unemployment insurance benefit through the end of the year; mandate an emergency OSHA standard; protect workers’ pensions and health benefits; and funnel much greater aid to cash-strapped state and local governments, hospitals and schools whose employees are battling the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.
Negotiations are just getting started, but the clock is ticking until Congress packs it in and goes home for the August recess. Sadly, tens of millions of unemployed Americans could lose unemployment insurance benefits and protections from home evictions because of the Senate’s delay in acting. The ball remains in the Senate’s court to negotiate with the House and White House to find common ground.
The Senate is set to adjourn August 7th. Over the next week, it is vitally important that members of the Senate hear from us. Call the switchboard at 202-224-3121 or send a message to your members of Congress, especially in the Senate – to tell them that they must include relief for the Postal Service, hazard pay and acceptable terms and conditions for the Postal Service’s Covid-19 line of credit.