EducationFederalHealthcareTaxes & SpendingHouse and Senate Duel Over Phase IV Coronavirus Relief Plans

Federal unemployment benefits are set to expire at the end of this week and Congress has yet to solidify legislation for its next phase of coronavirus relief.
July 30, 2020
Senate Republicans unveiled their $1.1 trillion HEALS Act this week as its plan for the next stage of coronavirus relief. Back in May, the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, its own version of phase IV relief with a price tag of $3.4 trillion.

The dueling versions will have to be consolidated through negotiations between the two chambers and the Trump administration. Each offers another round of $1,200 direct payments to Americans and makes available more aid in small business loans.

But what is there to negotiate between the two? Turns out, there’s quite a bit.

Those $1,200 direct payments differ between the plans in that the House’s provides an additional $1,200 for each dependent where the Senate’s offers $500 extra per dependent, like the first round, but this time extends it to include adult dependents.

On unemployment benefits, which expire at the end of July, the House plan would extend the $600 weekly boost on top of regular benefits through the end of the year. The Senate plan, meanwhile, would reduce that to $200 through September.

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Also in the Republican plan is a requirement that states move to a 70 percent wage replacement model, as opposed to the outright $600 benefit Congress offered out of simplicity.

The House plan would also increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, by $35 billion, and includes $175 billion for rental and homeowner emergency assistance aid.

Small businesses are still struggling after varying degrees of closure orders across the country, including in Texas. Senate Republicans’ plan would provide $190 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans which can be forgiven if certain stipulations are met.

In contrast, House Democrats have included $290 billion in additional tax credits for small businesses in various forms.

Other tax deductions in that version include a $137 billion elimination of the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction cap for 2020 and 2021 and an increase in the child tax credit.

The Senate plan, meanwhile, includes $200 billion in tax breaks to businesses for the hiring and retention of workers and $10 billion in back to work childcare grants.

It also provides $111 billion in coronavirus-related health funding, such as $26 billion for vaccine research and diagnostics.

This is dwarfed by the House’s total of $382 billion in health funding that is not limited to coronavirus-related costs, but does include $75 billion for testing and contact tracing.

On education, the House’s plan includes $169 billion to higher education institutions and a student loan forgiveness issuance of up to $10,000. The Senate’s contains $105 billion in education spending with a little less than a third of it going to higher education institutions.

The largest single line item in the House’s plan is $1.13 trillion in aid to local and state governments. Due to the drastic shelving of commerce, governments are hurting after much of their typical tax revenue stream evaporated.

However, aid without any stipulations attached could be simply put toward climbing out of the financial holes the governments, absent of COVID-19, have dug themselves into.

For example, the State of Texas and localities within it have amassed $86 billion in unfunded liability debt — or pension money owed but not accounted for in their budgets. But Texas is not in even close to being in the worst shape on that front. Illinois owes almost three times that, and that number doesn’t include the localities.

The House’s bill does include $48 billion in pension relief aid, a drop in the bucket compared to the nationwide pension debts.

Other various provisions include $190 billion to fund $13 per hour hazard pay for “essential workers” and $3.1 billion in farmer aid.

The Senate’s, meanwhile, contains $20 billion in relief to farmers and $2 billion to fund a new Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters, reportedly at the request of the Trump administration — something that drew a lot of criticism but likely won’t make it into the final version.

The Senate moved to take up the House’s version next week, which means whatever funding is passed will be delayed further than the previous phase supplied. The final fiscal note of whatever compromise is worked out will likely fall between these two versions’ totals as they currently stand.

Regardless, either bill will continue to ramp up federal spending at a time when the economy is crumbling.

All the while, the national debt clock continues ticking unabated, having eclipsed $26.5 trillion.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.