Bills and Rates

Senate Republicans unveil pandemic response proposals

Senate Republicans this week released a set of proposals to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The seven separate bills will be combined into the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act.

The Senate will not take up the measure. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Senate Republicans and the White House hope House and Senate Democrats will immediately start negotiations on compromise legislation.

The bills include provisions regarding:

  • Unemployment insurance and employment tax incentives;
  • Education and healthcare;
  • Small business and the Paycheck Protection Program;
  • $306 billion in emergency appropriations;
  • Liability protections for employers;
  • Reinstatement of the business meal deduction;
  • U.S. manufacturing of PPE, semiconductors, and critical minerals; and
  • Public debt and federal trust funds.

Under the Senate Finance Committee’s “American Workers, Families, and Employers Assistance Act,” the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) program would be modified to allow expenditures from up to 90 days after the last day of a government’s fiscal year 2021 -- rather than December 31, 2020 -- and allow some CRF funds to be used to cover revenue shortfalls.

On the latter, to use CRF to cover revenue shortfalls, a direct recipient (a state or large city or county) must certify that it has distributed at least 25 percent of its CRF funds.

Also, no recipient may use more than 25 percent of CRF funds to cover revenue shortfalls.

In addition, the legislation states that CRF funds cannot be used to pay for pension or post-employment benefits or to replenish rainy day funds. A recipient that distributes CRF to another recipient cannot oppose additional restrictions beyond those already provided under the law or regulations.

The legislation would also require the Department of Treasury’s Office of the Inspector General in its audit determination to prioritize audits of:

  •  Governments that did not distribute at least 25 percent of the total amount of the payments received under this section to localities within the jurisdiction, if any; or
  • Governments that imposed a condition, requirement, or restriction on funds distributed to a locality that do not align with either the CARES Act or the provisions in this act.

Under the “Safe to Work Act,” all state laws, including common law, that impose liability for coronavirus exposure would be preempted, creating a single cause of action for gross negligence or willful misconduct.

The cause of action governs any covered claim against almost any defendant, including natural persons, schools, colleges, charities, churches, government agencies, associations, and businesses. A similar regime is established for coronavirus medical liability claims.

The emergency supplemental spending bill would provide $1.5 billion in additional funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

It also provides $105 billion to help get students back to school and provide for the continued learning of all students in elementary and secondary education and higher education, with two thirds of funding reserved for public and private schools that plan to conduct in-person classes.