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Advocacy & Policy Update - August 3, 2020

FINAL CORONAVIRUS NEGOTIATIONS CONTINUE; USCM REJECTS GOP HEALS ACT

WASHINGTON UPDATE


Final Coronavirus Bill/HEALS Act

On Monday, July 27, talks on the next COVID-19 stimulus began between Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Chuck Schumer (NY), and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Both parties have said progress has been made, although a deal has not yet been finalized. Democrats seem to have an edge in negotiations because with many Republican senators expressing resistance to another trillion-dollar package, they will be crucial to passing anything.

Also, on Monday, Senate Republicans released the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools (HEALS) Act – their proposal for the final round of COVID-19 relief. The GOP proposal would provide $2.5 billion to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), including $1.15 billion to assist state unemployment insurance operations as well as $500 million for grants to help workers find new employment. The HEALS Act includes approximately $1 billion for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) formula programs – a reduction of $1.5 billion from the Democratic HEROES Act. It calls for $500 million in dislocated worker grants for employment and training activities, including individual training accounts, incumbent worker training, transitional jobs, customized training and on-the-job training. The proposal provides $450 million for adult, youth and dislocated state grants for states and communities to respond to the workforce impacts and layoffs resulting from the coronavirus.

On Monday, July 27, The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) released a statement rejecting the HEALS Act because of its lack of support to American cities and local government. USCM President Greg Fischer released a statement saying the HEALS act “provides no meaningful relief for cities, which have been on the frontlines of this response and are now facing devastating budget shortfalls. Without direct relief to help fund police officers, firefighters, public health workers and other critical public employees, cities can’t do the work to fight this pandemic.” USCM is calling for direct fiscal assistance to local governments so that cities can respond to the crisis and mitigate budget shortfalls.

Click here to access the HEALS Act.

Click here to read USCM’s statement on the HEALS Act.

On Friday, July 31, enhanced federal unemployment benefits ran out after unsuccessful negotiations between Democrats, Republicans and the White House. The GOP HEALS Act extends federal pandemic unemployment compensation benefits at a rate lower than the $600 per week provided in the CARES Act. For two months, the benefits would be set at $200 per week on top of state-level benefits, which vary. After that, states would provide benefits equal to 70 percent of previous wages, with the federal supplement additionally capped at $500 per week. States would be allowed to apply for a waiver to secure up to two additional months to transition to the new calculation.

The Republican proposal will temporarily lower expanded unemployment benefits, then shift states to a wage-replacement model. The Democratic $3 trillion HEROES package, passed by the House last month, extends the $600-per-week boost to January 2021 while also allocating $175 billion for rent and mortgage aid. President Trump was willing to extend the $600 bonus for another week as a bridge while the two sides continued negotiations, but the Senate adjourned as he addressed reporters at the White House on Thursday evening.

Another area of contention is disagreement over whether to provide coronavirus liability protections to businesses, schools and other organizations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has said he will not bring coronavirus relief legislation to the Senate floor unless it includes liability protections, but Schumer and Pelosi countered that there wouldn’t be a deal on the broader package unless McConnell backed down. One of the chief criticisms of the proposal is that it does not require employers, health care providers and organizations to adhere to any one set of standards for protecting workers, patients, and customers.

State and local funding seems like it will be a serious sticking point —with Democrats calling for increased funding and Republicans insisting on giving states more flexibility with money already appropriated.

Appropriations

On Friday, July 31, the House passed a massive $1.3 trillion spending package (HR 7617 (116)), which includes $210 billion in emergency money to help federal agencies fight the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to funding other priorities. The six-bill bundle was cleared by the House on a vote of 217-197, and would fund the vast majority of the federal government next fiscal year, boosting budgets at the Pentagon and the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Energy and more. The legislation doesn’t have a chance of passing the Republican Senate and President Trump has already threatened to veto it; however, it still represents an opening offer from House Democrats in negotiations for FY21 to avoid a catastrophic government shutdown at the end of this fiscal year.

Passage of the massive appropriations package comes after the House approved a smaller four-bill, $259.5 billion bundle last week (HR 7608 (116)), that would fund the departments of State, Interior, Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and other agencies with billions of additional dollars. The House has now passed 10 out of 12 spending bills on the floor with the only outstanding bills being Homeland Security and the bill that funds parts of the legislative branch.

Ongoing negotiations over the next coronavirus relief package have completely stalled the appropriations process in the Senate. The Senate’s failure to move on appropriations paired with election year politics makes a short-term spending package more likely to happen.

Click here to read the division-by-division summary of the four-bill package.

Click here to access the full four-bill minibus package.

Click here to read division-by-division summary of the seven-bill package.

Click here to read the full seven-bill package.

Initial Jobless Claims

In the week ending July 25, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 1,434,000, an increase of 12,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 6,000 from 1,416,000 to 1,422,000. The 4-week moving average was 1,368,500, an increase of 6,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 1,750 from 1,360,250 to 1,362,000. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 11.6 percent for the week ending July 18, an increase of 0.5 percentage point from the previous week's unrevised rate. 

Click here to read the full report.


Click here to read the entire July 27 weekly legislative update.


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©2020 by The U.S. Conference of Mayors Workforce Development Council.

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