Congress goes on recess with no coronavirus relief measure in sight
The U.S. Capitol is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Katie King.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans hoping for another coronavirus relief bill from Congress will likely have to wait at least another month. House Democrats were unable to reach a compromise with Senate Republicans and White House officials in recent weeks — and now Congress is on its August recess.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, told San José Spotlight she was concerned about the ramifications for all Americans.

“Since House Democrats passed the Heroes Act three months ago, at least 3.75 million more Americans have become infected with the coronavirus and tens of millions of people are still out of work,” she said  “Yet during these challenging times, Senate Republicans and the (Trump) Administration seem to be unwilling to take necessary actions to help slow the virus, save lives and protect the economic security of struggling families.”

In light of the stalemate between the House and the Senate, President Donald Trump signed executive orders last weekend he said would provide virus relief by deferring taxes and offering eviction protection and temporary unemployment aid. The legality of these orders has been called into question, as the constitution gives taxing and spending powers to Congress. It’s also unclear how or when some of his orders would take effect.

Lofgren said the president’s actions will not provide real relief and have only caused administrative and budgetary chaos.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday the president’s orders don’t provide enough support for state or local governments.

“Clearly those executive orders do not meet the totality of need and the totality of requests that governors of all political stripes, mayors and the like, advocates and individuals expected of the federal government,” he said.

Under Trump’s proposal, states would be expected to cover 25 percent of a $400 per week unemployment supplement. Newsroom said this would cost California at least $700 million per week. The only way this would be feasible, he said, was if California made significant cuts to crucial services or placed additional burdens on businesses and individuals.

“The state does not have an identified resource of $700 million per week that we haven’t already obliged,” he said. “There is no money sitting in the piggy bank.”

During a recent news conference in New Jersey, the president said he had no concerns about the legality of his executive orders.

“They work very nicely,” he said. “It would be nice to be able to do it with the Democrats, but they’re really just interested in one thing, and that’s protecting people that have not done a good job in managing cities and states.”

Although Congress was unable to reach a compromise, both the House and the Senate have proposed legislation intended to help the nation recover from the pandemic.

The Democrat-held House passed the Heroes Act, an approximately $3.4 trillion tax cut and spending bill. Among other provisions, it includes housing relief, hazard pay for essential workers, another round of direct payments to individuals and nearly $1 trillion for local, state and tribal governments. It also extends the $600 weekly unemployment supplement, which expired at the end of last month, until early next year.

On the other hand, the Republican-held Senate introduced and supported the Heals Act, an approximately $1 trillion stimulus package that also provides another round of direct payments. It does not include hazard pay or additional funding for local and state governments. It also cuts the unemployment supplement down to $200 a week until October, when it would switch to a new system that provides up to 70 percent of an individual’s former wages until capping out at a maximum of $500 per week.

Democrats largely condemned the Republicans’ proposal for not providing enough assistance, while Republicans criticized the Democrats’ measure for spending too much money.

Lofgren said she was especially alarmed by Republicans’ unwillingness to allocate funds for state and local governments that are facing significant budget shortfalls. According to the congresswoman, California had a $5 billion budget surplus in January and is now facing a more than $50 billion budget deficit because its revenue stream disappeared.

“By all accounts, Republicans are refusing to secure jobs for teachers and first responders, provide adequate COVID testing or protect our elections and Postal Service,” she said.

During a recent congressional hearing, election experts told Congress it would take significantly more resources for states to run safe and secure elections in the COVID-19 environment. A study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at New York University Law School, estimated this cost to be approximately $4 billion.

The Senate and House will formally reconvene on Sept. 8 and Sept. 14, respectively.

Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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