Senate drafts first pieces of possible second COVID-19 relief package

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Members of Congress are still putting together potential legislation for a second round of federal relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislators approved a first wave of relief under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security — or CARES — Act in late March, and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said he hopes the final version of a second relief bill can be sent to President Trump's desk by Aug. 6.

"There probably would have been one of these bills even if the virus had not shot up as it has in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida," Grassley said during a July 17 interview.

Chuck Grassley

Iowa's senior senator said a number of issues could possibly be addressed in the bill, but he said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set two broad parameters for the bill — it must not exceed $1 trillion, and it must include limitations on lawsuits connected with the virus. Grassley said he supports the second point because the virus spreads relatively easily, and a person would not necessarily know how they became infected.

Grassley, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, on Monday released a drafted bill which could be part of the relief package. The senator said in his floor remarks Monday the bill would increase federal reimbursement to local governments for unemployment insurance from 50 percent to 70 percent in order to help prevent layoffs. The bill would also expand tax credits, not only for small to medium-sized businesses but also to "larger employers hiring people currently receiving unemployment insurance." New operational expenses brought on by the virus, such as buying personal protective equipment or increased cleaning in the workplace, would qualify for a new tax credit.

Medicare premiums would also be frozen at 2020 levels if the bill were to pass. Grassley said this would "head off a predicted spike next year." Medicare telehealth options — which health providers are using more during the pandemic — would also be extended under the bill. Local healthcare officials had expressed concern earlier this month that Medicare might cut reimbursement for telehealth appointments by 28 percent in August. Grassley said the bill would keep the telehealth options from expiring before Congress can pass more permanent legislation.

The CARES Act granted $1,200 to most taxpayers as well as $500 for each child claimed on 2018 tax returns. Grassley's proposed second round of aid would mirror those amounts.

"Altogether, this proposal sets out a responsible and holistic approach to address the problems our country faces," Grassley said. "I hope my Democratic colleagues are interested in compromise and solutions to the benefit of all the American people."

Joni Ernst

Iowa's junior Sen. Joni Ernst said during a July 8 visit to the area she hoped to include a tax holiday for the essential workforce — from doctors to truck drivers — in the next round of relief. Ernst introduced her FRNT LINE Act on July 21, which would suspend federal payroll tax for essential workers who earn up to $50,000 a year. The bill would also suspend federal income tax for essential workers "up to an annual income cap set at the highest level of pay for an enlisted person in the U.S. Armed Forces." The tax holiday would affect taxes from April 1 of this year until the president lifts the federal emergency disaster declaration, but the tax benefit has an automatic sunset date of Dec. 31.

"Our essential workers have risen to the challenge and continued in their daily jobs – to care for and protect Iowans, to produce and deliver food and essential goods, and to uphold our nation’s critical infrastructure throughout this pandemic," Ernst said. "These front line workers —our nurses, truck drivers, and grocery store workers, child care providers, and so many others—have kept life going and our supply chains intact. These men and women are putting the interests of their fellow Americans ahead of their own. Each and every morning they wake up and go to work, and they should be rewarded for their selfless service."

Grassley said he feels there is support for Ernst's idea. His only caution was to specify which workers will be considered essential under the bill to be sure the issue doesn't need to be revisited after the bill is potentially passed.

The U.S. Senate is expected to adjourn for its August recess soon, and it will reconvene after Labor Day.

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