CONGRESS LOOKING TOWARD FOURTH STIMULUS
On Friday, April 3, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) called for a more focused phase four coronavirus relief package to address immediate needs related to the pandemic — a departure from the original broader legislation she and other top democrats were pushing earlier last week. This departure comes after startling new unemployment numbers were released showing a record 10 million Americans applying for jobless benefits in the last two weeks. The numbers are expected to rise dramatically in the coming weeks as federal agencies process claims that were filed in the past few weeks as the coronavirus pandemic started devastating the U.S. economy. This move makes contentious negotiations between Democrats and Republicans as they negotiate the fourth stimulus less likely.
Pelosi has made it clear she would like the fourth package to be an extension of the massive $2 trillion signed by President Trump two weeks ago, providing more money to aid states, cities and small businesses, expanding unemployment benefits and delivering another round of direct cash payments to Americans. She also said she’d still push to adjust the classification of the nation’s capital, allowing Washington, D.C. to receive an amount of federal aid in line with what states are eligible for and pushing for additional federal worker protections for first responders and emergency personnel.
The initial package proposed by Pelosi was met with staunch opposition from Republicans, who support a slow-go approach; however, Republicans are acknowledging they will need to act again - mostly in terms of extending the benefits for small businesses to pay employees and cover expenses for beyond eight weeks. A timeline for any legislative action remains uncertain - both the House and Senate are out of session until April 20 and that could be extended even longer if congressional leaders feel it isn’t safe for members to travel to and work in the Capitol.
Unemployment Insurance Claims
On Thursday, April 2, the Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a second week of record-shattering unemployment insurance claims - topping 6.6 million. The advanced figure for seasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims for the week ending March 28 was 6,648,000, an increase of 3,341,000 from the previous week’s revised level of 3,307,000 - up 24,000. This marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series. The 4-week moving average was 2,612,000, an increase of 1,607,750 from the previous week’s revised average of 1,004,250 from 998,250. Total job losses over the past two weeks almost reached 10 million - for comparison, the Great Recession of 2007-2009 piled up 15 million job losses over 18 months.
The unemployment rate - which is likely already in double digits - will start to drag the long-term outlook of the economy and put pressure on Republicans and Democrats to come to agreement on a phase four coronavirus stimulus. The March unemployment rate of 4.4 percent didn’t capture the more than 10 million new claims for unemployment. The coronavirus relief bills approved by Congress last month will expand unemployment insurance benefits up to 39 weeks and add $600 for every recipient through July 31. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees will be required to provide employees who are sick with coronavirus or quarantined up to two weeks' sick leave at full pay. Gig workers will be eligible to apply for up to 39 weeks of state unemployment benefits funded entirely by the federal government. The April jobs report will provide a much clearer picture of the damage to U.S. employment and put extra pressure on Congress for even more economic stimulus.
Click here to read the DOL BLS report.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the timing of the annual appropriations process into uncertainty, with markups and hearings all canceled for the foreseeable future and members of Congress home in their districts until at least April 20. Congressional appropriators were set for a relatively straightforward spring with subcommittee and full committee action on spending bills for the next fiscal year before the pandemic, which has now consumed the legislative agenda. Right now, Congress is focused on finalizing parameters of a fourth relief bill - likely delaying or even derailing the calendar for finishing funding bills. Congressional appropriators say they’re committed to finishing their work in a timely fashion with House Democrats aiming to clear all 12 spending bills by the end of June, while the Senate wants to finish markups for all or most of the fiscal 2021 measures by the July Fourth break.
Congressional leaders are already acknowledging they will have to make up for lost time in the coming months. On Tuesday, March 31, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) told members that the lower chamber will likely extend work weeks and cancel upcoming recesses in order to make up for lost time.
One arena the coronavirus crisis has injected new momentum into is the long-stalled massive infrastructure package, which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) has said she wants to include in the fourth coronavirus package. Pelosi described the proposed massive infrastructure investments as a ‘recovery’ effort. President Trump has backed Pelosi’s idea, calling for a $2 trillion investment into repairing the nation’s roads, bridges and highways - a commonsense strategy for creating jobs amid massive unemployment due to the pandemic.
The Department of Education announced, while it is still encouraging career and technical education leaders to submit their CTE plans for fiscal years 2020-23 by April 15, the deadline will be extended to June 15 for states and local groups to submit their plans to receive Perkins V funds due to the coronavirus. The funds allow state and local education agencies and institutions to receive federal support for CTE programs. The flexibility will allow state and local Perkins recipients to receive their first installment of funds on time - even if they need an extension.
Small Business Loans
Small businesses could begin obtaining support from the $350 billion small businesses lending program as soon as Friday, April 3. One key feature of the small business loans is that they can be forgiven if businesses maintain their payrolls, but, with demand expected to be high and the emphasis on keeping employees paid, the administration said no more than 25 percent of the forgiven amount can be for non-payroll costs.
Department of Education
On Friday, April 3, President Trump nominated Andrew A. De Mello to be inspector general of the Department of Education, a position which heads oversight of the Department’s distribution of more than $30 billion in emergency education assistance under the stimulus law.
Click here to read the full April 13 weekly legislative update.