The White House and Senate Republicans have reached an “agreement in principle” on GOP priorities for another COVID-19 relief package but legislative text is still in the drafting phase, as negotiations in earnest with Democrats have yet to commence. (The Hill, NPR, and Law 360, July 23)
- Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) outlined GOP priorities during a July 22 floor speech on the next COVID-19 bill. (News release and transcript of Portman’s comments and YouTube video.) Republicans are reportedly in broad agreement on issues such as a liability shield for businesses from frivolous COVID-related lawsuits, a new targeted round of forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for small business, and funds to help schools re-open, but “[w]e’re still developing the bill,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). (B-Gov, July 23)
- The GOP proposal is also expected to include additional unemployment benefits that expire this month, but less than the $600 per week boost Congress approved in March as part of the CARES Act. (Roundtable Weekly, March 27 and July 17). Republicans’ next plan is expected to fall within the $1 to $1.5 trillion dollar range.
- The Democratic starting point for negotiations is the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) passed by the House of Representatives in May (See one-pager; section-by-section; state and local relief summary and Roundtable Weekly, May 22). Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) expressed her conference’s perspective that the GOP’s relief proposal “falls very short of the challenge that we face in order to defeat the virus and to open our schools and to open our economy." (July 23 news conference video, The Hill)
Healthy Workplaces Tax Credit
Bipartisan support is growing for a “re-opening tax credit” in the next COVID-19 response package, which could offer businesses assistance in helping defray extra costs associated with workplace cleaning, disinfecting, personal protective equipment, and virus testing. (The Hill, July 16 and Roundtable Weekly, July 17)
- Additionally, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) this week introduced the Healthy Workplaces Tax Credit Act, which proposes a refundable payroll tax credit with a phased amount based on the number of a business’s employees that would cover 50% of costs associated with PPE, cleaning, disinfecting, testing, and reconfiguring workspaces (Portman news release , July 20). Rep. Tom Rice introduced companion legislation in the House.
- A broad business coalition, including The Real Estate Roundtable, urged Congress on July 16 to include a “healthy workplaces” tax credit in the next coronavirus relief bill. (Coalition letter, July 16 and Roundtable Weekly, July 17)
Liability Protections and Minority Credit Legislation
Governors from 21 states urged Congress this week to provide “common sense” civil liability protections to health care workers, businesses, and schools in the next COVID-19 response package. (Governors’ Letter, July 21)
- Separately, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced legislation on July 21 to invest $17.9 billion in low-income and minority communities especially hard-hit by the COVID-19 crisis. Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY) introduced companion legislation in the House.
- The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act would provide eligible community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) with capital, liquidity, and operational capacity to expand the flow of credit into underserved, minority, and historically disadvantaged communities.
- The sponsors aim to include the measure in upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation to help small businesses remain solvent and expand operations, while providing affordable access to credit for lower income borrowers.
Congress faces a tight deadline to address a multitude of economic and health policy issues related to COVID-19 in an omnibus bill before breaking for its August recess. (The Hill, July 20)