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Congressional Updates

When the coronavirus first began to spread across the U.S., Congress took swift action to combat the disease and protect the American people.  On March 4, 2020, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, an $8.3 billion emergency spending package.  The bill, enacted into law two days later, provided funding for research and development of vaccines; public health prevention, preparedness, and response; and low-interest loans to small businesses impacted by the crisis.  However, as cities and states around the country began to close schools, recommend social distancing, and take other measures to slow the spread of the disease, it became clear Congress would have to do more to protect the health and financial security of the American people.
 
The following week, on March 14, 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, H.R. 6201, which was later signed into law by the President. The bill included proviions to:
  • Expand food assistance for vulnerable children and families, including through SNAP, WIC, school meals, and food banks;
  • Establish free coronavirus testing;
  • Provide a pathway for employers to extend emergency paid sick leave to workers;
  • Strengthen unemployment benefits;
  • And provide additional funding to states for Medicaid and other programs as they face the ongoing economic consequences of the pandemic, among other provisions.
I was proud to see the Pandemic EBT Act, which I introduced with Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott, included in this package.  The bill allows states to provide cash assistance (Pandemic EBT) to households with children who, if not for the closure of their school, would receive free or reduced-price school meals.  These measures were critical to providing immediate relief to those impacted by the evolving public health crisis.
 
The continued spread of the pandemic and its impact on the economy underscored the need for Congress to build upon these first two actions and provide additional support for students, families, workers and small businesses.  On March 27, 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, H.R. 748, a bill that was subsequently signed into law by the President. The CARES Act:
  • Provides up to $1,200 per person in direct assistance;
  • Expands unemployment insurance to cover 4 months of unemployment insurance, provide$600 per week above one’s base unemployment compensation benefit, and extend benefits to freelance and independent contractors;
  • Provides $100 billion in emergency funding for health care supplies and investments;
  • Provides $350 billion in loans and grants to small businesses;
  • Provides $150 billion for a state and local Coronavirus Relief fund;
  • Provides $30 billion in emergency education funding;
  • Provides $25 billion in emergency transit funding;
  • Provides $1.25 billion for public housing authorities to address increased operational costs and ensure current tenants remain safely and stably housed; and
  • Provides $450 million for local agencies and food banks, selected by states, to provide low-income people with emergency food assistance.
On March 23, 2020, the House of Represenatives passed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 266) to increase funding for small businesses, hospitals and increased testing capacity in the U.S. The bill, later signed into law by the President, provides $470 billion in funding, including:
  • $310 billion for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with $30 billion reserved for community-based lenders, small banks and credit unions and $30 billion for medium-sized banks and credit unions;
  • $50 billion for the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program;
  • $10 billion for the SBA’s Emergency Economic Injury Grant program;
  • $75 billion for hospitals and personal protective equipment for health care workers; and
  • $25 billion to increase testing capacity.

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