As the debate over the 'Phase 4' coronavirus stimulus package ratchets up, two distinct approaches to the economic recovery are revealing themselves.
House Democrats' $3 trillion HEROES Act, which passed in May, offers greater financial support for state governments, a higher unemployment insurance supplement, and eviction protections for renters. Senate Republicans' $1 trillion HEALS Act, which was introduced Monday night, is focused more on offering tax credits and loans to businesses hurt by the pandemic.
One of the more controversial measures of the HEALS Act, which Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not negotiate on, provides companies liability protections against potential lawsuits from employees who contract coronavirus while on the job — though this does not include cases of gross negligence.
The HEROES Act does not include these protections, instead directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue safety guidelines for employers.
The HEALS Act would provide $190 billion in funds for first-time and second draw loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, but it would restrict the second draw to firms with fewer than 300 employees that have lost at least 50 percent of their revenues in the first and second quarter.
The total loan amount would also drop from $10 million to $2 million, or 2.5 times a company's total monthly payroll costs. Loans would be forgivable if at least 60 percent goes to payroll.
The Democrats' bill would remove this threshold altogether, allowing companies to use the money however they pleased and still be eligible for loan forgiveness.
The Republican legislation also authorizes the Small Business Administration to provide up to $100 billion in low-cost loans to businesses in low-income census tracts that have fewer than 500 employees and have lost at least 50 percent of their revenue since the outbreak started.
The bill would raise the cap on the employee retention tax credit, expand the work opportunity tax credit to new groups including those left unemployed by COVID-19, and create a new payroll tax credit worth up to $1,000 for each of the first 500 employees for expenses related to employee protection, including personal protective equipment, testing, and cleaning supplies.
House Democrats targeted frontline workers directly, with $200 billion set aside for essential workers such as grocery clerks, childcare workers, nurses, and doctors. This includes a $13-an-hour pay raise for those who make under $200,000 until they receive an extra $10,000.
What measures survive the negotiation process is anyone's guess, but Democrats and Republicans alike have taken turns denigrating the others' proposals.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set a deadline of August 7 to pass a bill.