On Tuesday, May 12, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced a new COVID-19 relief bill. The bill — a startling 1,815 pages which can be read here — expands on many provisions of the CARES Act passed in late March.
The bill also includes several provisions for Veterans. Fittingly, it’s called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act; or, the HEROES Act.
However, analyzing the HEROES Act at all may turn out to be a moot point. Two days after the House shuffled it to the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dubbed it “an unserious product from an unserious majority.” Furthermore, President Donald Trump declared it “DOA.”
So why don’t Republicans like the HEROES Act? Well, the most obvious case against it is the price tag. At $2.2 trillion, the CARES Act was the most expensive single piece of legislation ever passed by Congress. And the HEROES Act aims to up the ante to the tune of $3 trillion — something many Republicans are not even willing to consider.
In addition, the bill calls for canceling a percentage of student loan debt, which Republicans view as unrelated to the coronavirus and unnecessary.
But in the time it’s taken Congress to argue over another bill, over 36 million Americans have filed for employment. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), now weeks old, pegged the unemployment rate at near 15%. Later, they said it was probably closer to 20%. Even if all states were to reopen tomorrow, the fact remains that many of the jobs lost simply won’t be there to return to, leaving millions of families without the means to pay their bills.
As the state of the economy worsens, the likelihood of a bill making it through the Senate increases. Let’s take a closer look at the HEROES Act.
The HEROES Act
According to Pelosi, the HEROES Act is focused on three main ideas: opening the economy safely and soon, honoring our heroes and providing direct relief to millions of affected Americans.
And those three ideas are remarkably uncontroversial. In fact, in a new poll by ScottRasmussen.com, 82% of Democrats, 63% of Republicans and 71% of Independents support additional federal spending. That leaves just 14% of voters who believe Congress should stop spending money.
What is controversial is exactly how much money should be spent, and what it should be going to. The Senate is currently taking a wait-and-see approach — trying to analyze how the CARES Act affected the economy, and whether or not Americans need another stimulus bill. As it stands now, they won’t consider one until after the Memorial Day recess.
Democrats, on the other hand, argue that immediate action needs to be taken; and that in many cases, the one-time $1,200 check sent to taxpayers isn’t enough to pay one month’s rent, let alone cover food or medical costs.
In light of this, the HEROES Act expands on many provisions of the CARES Act, and adds a few of its own. Here are the biggest highlights.
The HEROES Act: At a Glance
- More stimulus checks. The HEROES Act calls for another round of one-time, $1,200 checks to single filers, and $2,400 to married filers. The income limit is set at $75,000 and $150,000, respectively. The main difference is that each dependent, up to three in a household, would also earn a $1,200 check, instead of the $500 they received under the CARES Act.
- Extended unemployment benefits. The CARES Act tacked on an extra $600 to every week of unemployment insurance for those who qualify for it. It also made it possible for gig workers and independent contractors to collect on those benefits. Under the HEROES Act, these benefits would be extended to January 2021; and gig workers can still collect regular unemployment through March 2021.
- Student loan forgiveness. This provision is new. While the CARES Act postponed student loan payments temporarily, the HEROES Act postpones them through September 2021 and also cancels up to $10,000 for some federal and private loan holders.
- Rent and mortgage assistance. This was the chief concern when the pandemic hit, and many Americans have been unhappy with the way the government has handled this. The HEROES Act would provide around $100 billion in rental assistance and $75 billion in homeowner assistance.
- Hazard pay. The bill aims to protect our heroes, which in this case, includes healthcare and other essential workers on the frontlines. And that protection comes in the form of a $200 billion fund for hazard pay. All essential workers would receive $13 extra an hour on top of their regular pay through the end of the year, up to $25,000 for Americans making under $200,000, and $5,000 for those making above.
Veterans and the HEROES Act
It can’t be denied that Veterans are also our heroes, and they are included under the HEROES Act.
For now, the VA has passed some of its own measures, temporarily halting collections for Veterans struggling to pay their bills. But the HEROES Act aims to expand on this and take the weight off of Veterans’ soldiers.
Here’s what Veterans can expect if the HEROES Act is passed:
- Health insurance. Under the HEROES Act, the VA would be required to treat any Veteran who lost their employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic.
- Mental healthcare access. Reservists, National Guardsmen and Veterans supporting the COVID-19 response would all be eligible for mental health treatment at VA centers.
- Further suspension of VA debt collection. Instead of having to file a claim, Veterans who are in debt simply won’t have to pay for it until 60 days after the end of the emergency healthcare provision.
- Hazard pay to VA workers. The VA has been criticized for not providing hazard pay to its staff, and the HEROES Act would give an additional $13 per hour to these essential workers.
- Paid sick leave for VA workers.
- Support for homeless Veterans. Homelessness has become an even bigger problem during the pandemic, when the message “Stay at home” cannot be applied to everyone. Seeing as how Veterans make up a disproportionate amount of the homeless population, it especially affects them. The HEROES Act aims to provide food, shelter, clothing and toiletries to homeless Veterans, as well as help them get into permanent housing.
- More money to disabled Veterans. Benefits would increase by up to 25% and pay for caregivers and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Aside from these special provisions, Veterans would also receive the one-time stimulus check, extended unemployment benefits and rental and mortgage assistance along with everyone else.
While no bill is perfect, it speaks to the American people’s desperation that 86% of voters want Congress to pass more legislation. Whether that’s the HEROES Act — and how long we’ll have to wait — remains to be seen.