Lawmakers still battling over coronavirus relief
Debate over coronavirus relief heated up Friday. Photo by Elizabeth Mendez.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legislators continued to clash this week over coronavirus relief efforts as millions of Americans struggled with unemployment, looming evictions and rising virus death rates.

“I see a light at the end of the tunnel; we just don’t know how long the tunnel is,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol. “But we have to move quickly, more quickly, because that light at the end of the tunnel may be the freight train of the virus coming at us if we do not act to contain it.”

House Democrats have battled for months with Senate Republicans and White House officials over the next coronavirus relief measure.

The House in May passed the Heroes Act, an approximately $3 trillion tax cut and spending bill intended to help the nation recover from the pandemic. 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 last week, until early next year.

In turn, the Republican-held Senate introduced the Heals Act, an approximately $1 trillion stimulus package that also provides another round of direct payments. It does not, however, 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.

Additionally, the Senate’s proposal includes a liability shield to offer schools and businesses some protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits.

House Democrats criticized the liability shield as an effort to protect negligent employers and condemned the Heals Act overall for offering too little assistance. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) decried the House’s legislation as a “multi-trillion-dollar socialist manifesto.”

“Our Democratic colleagues want to pretend it is controversial that taxpayers should not pay people more not to work than the people who do go back to work,” he wrote in a July 28 Twitter post. “The American people don’t call that a controversy. They call that common sense.They call that basic fairness.”

In Silicon Valley, congressional leaders are pushing for measures to prevent layoffs and evictions.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, told San José Spotlight Congress must step up and support local and state governments. California had a $5 billion budget surplus in January, she said, but is now facing a $50 billion budget deficit because its revenue stream disappeared.

“If we don’t provide some help there’s going to be massive layoffs from state and local governments and among schools, adding to the unemployment problem,” she said.
Lofgren said city and state leaders also need more funding for the November elections, which will be more costly because of the pandemic. A study at the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at New York University Law School, advised Congress to provide $4 billion for this purpose. Lofgren said this should be a bipartisan issue, as both red and blue states need to hold safe elections.

The congresswoman added that housing support and enhanced unemployment benefits were also crucial for recovery efforts.

“If we don’t get some relief in terms of mortgage relief, as well as for renters, we’re going to have massive evictions and that’s going to really aggravate the health situation that we have,” she said.

Other Silicon Valley Democrats spoke out on social media about the need for coronavirus relief. Reps. Anna Eshoo and Ro Khanna recently took aim at the Senate’s proposal.

“Where is the concern for our constituents?” Eshoo asked on Twitter. “We’re standing on the edge of a catastrophic cliff. House Democrats want to pull the country back. The White House and Senate Republicans want to take us over the edge.”

Khanna said Americans needed immediate support.

“This isn’t some theoretical debate,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “It’s 35 million people waking up today to eviction notices, overdue bills and no prospect for relief. Six hundred dollars a week is the least we can do.”

The Employment Development Department in California has processed more than 9.7 million claims for unemployment benefits since the start of the pandemic, according to information this week from the EDD. The department paid an average of $792 million per day in unemployment benefits during the last week in July. This is a 1,033 percent increase over the average daily benefits paid during a similar week at the height of the Great Recession.

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

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