Next COVID-19 relief bill: Bipartisan support for 2nd stimulus check, but disagreements on unemployment aid, school funding, more

Republicans are expected to unveil their $1 trillion counteroffer to the House bill
Two months after House Democrats approved a $3 trillion COVID-19 aid package, Senate Republicans are poised to unveil their $1 trillion counteroffer this week.

It would be the fifth coronavirus relief bill since the spring, when Congress dispensed and President Donald Trump approved nearly $3 trillion in emergency aid.

Now, with the pandemic worsening and the current round of aid running out, lawmakers need to pull the country back from the looming COVID-19 cliff before it's too late.

Here's a look at those relief bill proposals -- which includes second stimulus checks, business loans and school spending -- as well as what could happen if Washington doesn't act quickly.

McConnell's $1T proposal


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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke about the next stimulus package during a visit to Kentucky.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to roll out the GOP bill soon, but key GOP senators are wary about its $1 trillion price tag.

McConnell hit "pause" on the passage of the last aid package in May as Republicans hoped the economy would rebound. Now, he acknowledges that additional intervention is needed.

"Regretfully, this is not over," McConnell said during a visit to a hospital in Kentucky.

Here are some highlights from what's expected in McConnell's proposal, though Republicans are divided. As dissenting Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky put it: Supporters of the package "should be ashamed of themselves."

Second stimulus check

McConnell's plan would include new round of stimulus checks earners below a certain income level, similar to the $1,200 direct payments sent in the spring. It also will likely have some version of Trump's demand for payroll tax holiday for workers, which many Republicans oppose.

Unemployment benefits

Republicans want to reduce the $600 weekly unemployment boost that expires at the end Friday to a few hundred dollars a month. Additionally, they are eyeing a return-to-work stipend for workers to get back on the job.

Liability shield

It's a five-year shield for employers that negligently expose customers and workers to the coronavirus, limiting their legal exposure, according to the draft of the plan obtained by The Associated Press. This would protect "schools, colleges, charities, and businesses that follow public-health guidelines, and for frontline medical workers." Supporters say the proposal protects businesses and other employers who adhere to public-health guidelines in good faith. Opponents say it will permit wrongdoing to go unpunished.

Schools

Republicans want to include at least $105 billion for education, with $70 billion to help K-12 schools reopen, $30 billion for colleges and $5 billion for governors to allocate. The Trump administration wanted school money linked to reopenings, but in McConnell's package the money for K-12 would be split 50-50 between those that have in-person learning and those that don't.

Businesses

There is likely to be tax credits to help companies shoulder the cost of safely reopening shops, offices and other businesses. To keep costs down, Republicans are considering redirecting some already approved funds from the popular Paycheck Protection Program of small business loans for a revamped business loan program.

States and local governments

Republicans say $150 billion allotted previously to state governments is sufficient to avert sweeping layoffs and they said more housing protections are not needed to stem what advocates warn will be an eviction crisis.

Coronavirus testing

Republicans have remained largely silent on how much testing money would be made available in the new bill. McConnell said Wednesday the government is "pursuing testing, treatment and vaccines like the country pursued the Manhattan Project in World War II."

Pelosi's $3T bill


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The House of Representatives has passed the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion-plus coronavirus relief bill, but the legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's bill, or the so-called HEROES Act, was approved in May and includes money for COVID-19 testing, reopening schools and assisting cash-strapped states.

The measure would give cash stipends to Americans, and bolster rental and mortgage and other safety net protections.

Here are some of its highlights:

Second stimulus check

The Democrats' plan would also give another round of $1,200 direct payments to Americans.

Extra $600 for unemployment

The House bill extends a $600 per week federal unemployment benefits supplemental payment through January 2021 instead of cutting it off at the end of July.

Schools

The bill gives $100 billion to states, school districts and universities to defray additional costs associated with the pandemic.

Private health insurance

The plan subsidies for laid-off workers to remain on their employer-provided health insurance plans through so-called COBRA benefits and creates an open enrollment period to sign up for "Obamacare" policies on state and federal health insurance exchanges.

Housing

The bill allots $175 billion to states to help renters and homeowners pay mortgages, rent, and other housing costs and avoid default, with much of the money aimed at lower-income people.

States and local governments

The bill provides more than $900 billion to states ($500 billion), local governments ($375 billion), as well as Indian tribes and territorial governments ($40 billion) to help prevent layoffs of public workers, cuts to services or tax hikes.

COVID-19 testing

An additional $75 billion would be allocated for testing for the coronavirus, performing contact tracing to track its spread and treating for COVID-19. This also adds another $100 billion for hospitals and other health care providers.

"Time is running out"


Just as the pandemic's ferocious cycle is starting again, the first round of aid is running out.

Deadlines loom as the extra $600 weekly benefits provided to tens of millions of unemployed workers are set to expire July 31. So, too, does the federal ban on evictions on millions of rental units.

With 17 straight weeks of unemployment claims topping 1 million -- usually, it's about 200,000 -- many households are facing a cash crunch and losing employer-backed health insurance coverage.

"Time is running out," Pelosi said.

Former Federal Reserve leaders are urging Congress to do more to help the economy deal with the devastating pandemic, such as extending increased unemployment benefits and providing assistance to hard-hit states and local governments, something many Republicans oppose.

And Bank of America executives are already predicting the economic recession to last "deep into 2022."

Today, the death toll stands at more than 139,000 in the U.S., with 3.6 million-plus confirmed cases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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