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House introduces fourth major response package to pandemic

Today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or “HEROES” Act (H.R. 6800), the fourth major legislative package put forward in response to the pandemic.

The $3 trillion package, which was co-sponsored by the chairs of 10 major House committees, includes a $25 billion appropriation to the Postal Service to offset postal revenue losses resulting from the pandemic-induced economic shutdown. It also provides for hazard pay for letter carriers and other front-line essential workers in the amount of $13 per hour, subject to a $10,000 cap. And it effectively blocks the Treasury Department from imposing policy conditions on the Postal Service’s access to the $10 billion Covid-19 credit line enacted in the CARES Act – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (PL 116-136).  

“These provisions are an improvement and a first step in keeping the Postal Service stable, given the huge loss of letter mail volume due to the pandemic, ” NALC President Fredric Rolando said.

NALC continues to call attention to the need for relief for the duration of the crisis—to fully cover the difference between postage revenues and total USPS expenses during this crisis as well as a  mechanism to reimburse the Postal Service for the cost of Covid-19-related  leaves.

The HEROES Act follows three previous Covid-19-related packages and one supplemental package that have been signed into law: the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (PL 116-139), the CARES  Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (PL 116-127), and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (PL 116-123).

In general, H.R. 6800 includes $875 billion in aid to state and local governments as they struggle to cope with rising emergency workforce costs and shrinking tax revenues. These developments have threatened the jobs of many frontline responders across the country such as medical workers, first responders, teachers and others. The $875 billion in funding is broken up into three categories: for states, counties, and municipalities.

Other important provisions in this far-reaching legislation:

One measure included in the bill has divided the U.S. labor movement -- the so-called GROW Act (the Give Retirement Options to Workers Act), which would allow certain multi-employer pensions to create “hybrid or composite” plans with both defined benefit and defined contribution elements. Its inclusion has led some major unions to oppose the overall legislation. NALC has not taken a position on the GROW Act but hopes that the AFL-CIO’s task force on retirement security can broker consensus on this important issue.

On the issue of protecting the right to vote during this pandemic, the stimulus package also seeks to improve the safety of in-person voting and to expand early voting with $3.6 billion in grants to states. The bill also mandates that all registered voters be given access to no-excuse absentee voting in the November 2020 election. Recent negative comments from the White House on vote-by-mail elevated the issue and could complicate negotiations on the final package down the line. NALC is not actively lobbying on this issue; our primary goal is to secure congressional funding for the U.S. Postal Service so that the agency and letter carriers can continue to provide essential services to the public.

It is important to note that this bill is subject to change during negotiations among congressional leaders. Initial comments from Senate Republicans were harsh, with some saying that the bill is “dead-on-arrival” in the Senate.  However, there is no question that more aid is needed throughout the country for many sectors. NALC will monitor the negotiations between congressional leaders and the administration to keep letter carriers informed.