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Legislative Updates

House and Senate Negotiate Third COVID-19 Stimulus Bill

Congress is moving toward the adoption of a third law this month designed to combat the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus virus known as Covid-19. The worldwide epidemic has plunged the country into a major public health emergency and the U.S. economy into a deep recession.

The first two “stimulus” laws adopted in March addressed funding for the public health agencies combatting the pandemic and the expansion of paid leave and family leave for those affected by the Covid-19 virus.

The third bill, the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or CARES Act (S. 3548), is a massive economic relief and stimulus measure aimed at the entire U.S. economy and the sectors most damaged by the pandemic. Unfortunately, the $2 trillion bill, which is set to be approved by both Houses of Congress by the end of the week, offered little help to the U.S. Postal Service, despite the best efforts of the NALC, the mailing industry and our bipartisan allies in the House.  It offers an additional $10 billion line of credit to overcome the initial impact of the coronavirus emergency.  (see Stimulus Package Three Update: Postal Service Relief)

Last week, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a $1 trillion relief bill focused on helping the airlines, hotels, small businesses while proposing cash payments to families who filed a tax return in 2019 ($1,200 per person and $500 per dependent child for individuals earning up to $75,000 annually or couples earning up to $150,000 per year). To increase pressure on McConnell to do more for workers, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi introduced the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Family Act” in the House of Representatives, which allowed Senate Democrats to push the Senate majority to make greater concessions in several areas.

Senate Democrats focused on significant shortcomings in the CARES bill – including the fact that low-wage workers (who made too little to file a tax return) were excluded from the relief payments and that the $425 billion fund for corporate financial relief failed to require companies receiving the assistance to maintain employment or refrain from using the proceeds to buy back stock or pay executive bonuses. Both these shortcomings were addressed with Democratic measures, expanding the payments to low-wage workers and improving the transparency and accountability of the corporate aid program.

Aided by the Pelosi bill, Senate Democrats also successfully negotiated the inclusion of a major expansion of Unemployment Benefits that raises the weekly benefit by $600 per week and extends the coverage for up to four months. They also secured $158 billion in aid for state, local and tribal governments, which face a collapse in tax revenues with the recession, and boosted aid for the nation’s hospitals and public health systems that face a surge in patients suffering from Covid-19 disease.  

Unfortunately, many excellent provisions in the House bill failed to make it into the final legislation due to opposition of the administration’s negotiators. Most notably, relief for the Postal Service – though it did provide $400 million in assistance to state and local election bodies to expand vote by mail and overcome threats to the November 2020 election posed by the pandemic. 

Other problems that were ignored or given inadequate treatment included the devastating impact the recession will have on the already weakened pension insurance system run by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, and the need to combat hunger among millions of poor school children who have lost access to free and reduced rate meals at schools across the country that are closed to slow the spread of the virus.

Given the scope of the crisis, there is every expectation for further rounds of stimulus legislation.  A major infrastructure bill, a pension reform package or a broader election security bill may be taken up in the weeks and months ahead.  NALC will work to include major assistance to the Postal Service and its employees in these further efforts.  (see President Rolando's statement)

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